Soldiers, Police Praised After Evacuating Settlements

By Ofer Shelah

Published August 26, 2005, issue of August 26, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

EIN HASHLOSHA, Israel — As the residents of Netzarim, the last Israeli settlement in Gaza to be evacuated, left the area Monday, the respective commanders of the Israeli military and police southern commands, Dan Harel, a general, and police chief Uri Barlev, met the press in what was tantamount to a victory ceremony.

They maintained a collected, professional demeanor, but definitely had a lot to celebrate: The first and most difficult phase of the disengagement plan was complete, two weeks ahead of schedule and with very few serious incidents. A well-earned feeling of achievement hung in the air.

This week, the evacuation of four settlements in the northern West Bank went just as well, despite predictions that Israeli forces would encounter higher levels of violence than they did in Gaza.

In the span of a week, it seemed the swift and efficient execution of the disengagement operation transformed soldiers and the policemen into national heroes. One commentator declared that the Israeli public had re-established trust with the organizations in charge of its security. This may be an overstatement — the Israeli army is a perennial leader in polls regarding the level of trust enjoyed by different Israeli public institutions — but it reflected the mood among the vast majority of Israelis.

The media was quick to reflect this mood. Yediot Aharonot even published a special supplement praising the troops’ poise, determination and the way they carried themselves in the face of constant badgering and cursing from the evacuees. Hour after hour, news broadcasts showed soldiers stoically facing settlers who used every insult possible: comparing the troops to Nazis, threatening them with godly vengeance or simply calling for them to disobey orders. Some soldiers wept openly, others said that the deluge of offensive words had scarred their souls. But almost all of them went on with their tasks. There were only two cases of disobedience, neither of them in the units that actually carried out the evacuation.

Ironically, the army and the police have long been powerful supporting forces of the settlers. The report issued by Talia Sasson, a former senior official in justice ministry, regarding the illegal outposts in the West Bank was clear about the Israeli army’s role in helping the settlers carry outactivities that were illegal, though supported by senior officials, with the blessing of Prime Minister Sharon himself. The report found that troops provided an armed escort to mobile homes, making their way to outposts the government never formally decided to establish; senior officers, aware of the settlers’ pull in the prime minister’s office, allowed representatives of the settlement movement to join planning discussions and let them influence operative decisions. This had gone on for decades: No wonder the settlers were dismayed when the same military force was directed against them with the August 15 launch of disengagement.

The pullout was indeed a vast logistical operation. Close to 20,000 soldiers and policemen participated in the evacuation, vastly outnumbering the settlers and their supporters, who had infiltrated Gaza in the weeks preceding the operation. The troops were well trained, patient and immovable. They also encountered much less opposition than expected: Except for a single case in the Gazan settlement of Kfar Darom, in which youth barricaded themselves on the roof of the local synagogue and showered the police with paint and caustic soda, there were almost no physical attacks by the evacuees. Whether this was because of the overwhelming force of the army and police or the lack of organization by the opposition is still not clear.

The police had even more reason for pride than the army did. The military’s popularity is a well-established fact of Israeli life, while the police are much less heralded. Only five years ago, during the October 2000 riots in which 13 Israeli Arabs were killed, the police force was exposed as an inefficient and under-equipped outfit that seemed incapable of handling mass demonstrations without using excessive force. The disengagement changed that perception, as the black-vested riot police became the force most in demand in making sure the evacuation went smoothly.

Police chief Moshe Karadi, who personally led his forces throughout the operation, told the Forward that this was a unique opportunity for his organization. “We are not the army,” Karadi said. “They are used to this kind of operation. For us, moving 10,000 police around and using them simultaneously is unprecedented. I hope this will be a step for us, a new platform we can use for the future.”

It is unclear, however, whether the political support that Karadi enjoyed during and prior to disengagement — a plan to sack 1,500 policemen was shelved because of the urgent needs of the withdrawal — still would be at his disposal once he and his officers resume their daily work of chasing “common” criminals, and, among other things, sticking their noses into the improper dealings of important people.

Meanwhile, many foot soldiers were basking in the new popularity of the armed forces and the police. Israeli military spokeswoman Miri Regev, who fought hard to keep the field of operations open to everyone, received high praise: The open-door policy, against the natural tendency of many in high command, showed the brave face of the troops to all of Israel and abroad. Some observers still wondered whether the army and the police would be as polite and patient come the day after disengagement. The sentiment was well expressed by a cartoon in Ha’aretz: It showed a citizen getting a speeding ticket from a policeman, and responding with: “Okay, but at least give me a hug.”






Find us on Facebook!
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.