We are only days away from the lowering of the last Israeli flag in Gaza and the withdrawal of the last Israeli soldier. As one of the Jewish people’s and the Zionist enterprises’ most moving and profound dramas comes to a conclusion, many pens and keyboards will pour forth with punditry and wit of greater or lesser insight and value. There will undoubtedly be both inner and public struggles to gain perspective and understanding as to the meaning and significance of Israel’s first formal and final relinquishment of claim on territory of the Land of Israel.
No matter where one stands on the political spectrum, there will be a struggle to understand what it means, to the future of the state and the Jewish people, to have lost one of the greatest battles of the past century: the battle for settlement throughout the land. For surely, we have lost that battle, though I believe that it is possible to lose even a great battle and not to have lost the war. The vision and dream of settling the whole Land of Israel is not lost forever. History is often full of unexpected turns of events.
Beset by visions of expulsion and destruction, it cannot help but to appear that the victory of 1967 is somehow tarnished, lessened and in some ways even for naught — if we forget for a moment that the war was fought not to gain territory but to stave off destruction. A victory that was of such biblical proportion that even a secular writer like the late Leon Uris was moved to write an essay called the “Third Temple” is a victory that transcends one lost battle, however traumatic. Not only did the Six-Day War bring territory, greater security and even prosperity, but it also was a watershed in Jewish identity throughout the world, and it played no small part in the revival of Jewish life in the Soviet Union and an important role in the downfall of that once powerful colossus.
Nor are the achievements, the valiance or the heroism of the settlers themselves any less valiant or heroic against the background of bulldozers, rocks and rubble where there were only a few days ago roses and gardens and bit of paradise. The beauty of what they built and their strength in the face of so much adversity must always be part of the Zionist epic as we go on to new challenges and try to learn the lessons of this particular defeat.
One hopes at least that they take comfort in the tears of the soldiers who came to evict them and in the outpouring of support from around the country. Perhaps in the encounter between the soldiers and the settlers — such as those who danced together in Atzmona — and in the tears of young men and women called on to undertake such a sad task, there will be rekindled a sense that we are all one people, with one fate, sharing together this tear-stained land.
It will take some time to understand the lessons of Gaza and northern Shomron and to find a way to prevent this episode from becoming some kind of turning point, leading as some have said to an inevitable decline and perhaps failure of the whole Zionist enterprise. We can be fairly certain that had 80,000 Jews moved to the Gaza coast instead of only 8,000, they would probably be there forever. There is strength in numbers and perhaps even permanence.
The settlement movement had several decades in which it could have inspired the youth, young families and even veteran families to live the Zionist dream beyond the old boundaries, just as after World War I the Zionist movement had nearly two decades in which it might have persuaded European Jewry to leave Europe before the gates were locked and the destruction began.
Somehow inspiration failed and not only was there pitifully insufficient settlement, but the hearts and imagination of Tel Aviv and Kfar Saba and even nearby Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beersheva never were inspired by the rightness and justice of the idea. There is still time to correct this failure, lest Gaza becomes an example not of how hard it is to uproot, but of how possible it is.
Ben Dansker is a partner in the Jerusalem-based consulting firm Atid EDI. He lives in Efrat in the West Bank.