The destruction of Gaza Jewry has begun. It's hard to believe that we have reached such a point in the nation's history. After so many years of struggle and sacrifice, those once celebrated as pioneers by successive Israeli governments are now jeered at as they face expulsion from their homes.
Yesterday's heroes have been transformed into villains, with Gaza's Jews demonized as obstacles to peace and treated with contempt by much of the media. Withdrawal under fire - once derided as capitulation to terror - has now become government policy, as the Palestinians celebrate their success in chasing out the Jews and speak of Jerusalem as being within their reach.
And, in an unprecedented move, the Israel Defense Forces have been deployed against the citizens of their own state, with the express purpose not of defending the Jewish people but of exiling them from parts of their ancestral patrimony.
Is this the end of Zionism? Could it be that the 2,000-year-old dream of the Jewish people to return to all parts of our land has been vanquished?
Some Israelis certainly seem to think so. Nahum Barnea, a veteran Israeli journalist, wrote in a July 1 column in Yediot Aharonot that "Israel can live without Gush Katif. It can even live without Jerusalem."
But I, for one, refuse to call it quits. Despite the heartbreaking scenes from Gush Katif over the past few days, and the folly of the government's withdrawal, this is no time to yield to despair or give up hope.
Zionism suffered a terrible blow as the Jewish state unilaterally retreated in the face of terror. While many may be cheering this move, anyone with even an ounce of human, Zionist and Jewish dignity still remaining surely recognizes just how painful and traumatic this turn of events is for the Jewish people.
But this is hardly the first setback we have suffered in our long and sometimes torturous return to Zion, and it's almost certainly not the last. Indeed, every ideological movement inevitably encounters stumbling blocks and impediments on the road to reaching its goals, and Zionism in this regard is no exception.
The real test of a movement's strength lies not in whether it can avoid such difficulties, but in its ability to get up after a fall and continue marching forward.
Take Gaza, for example, from which Jews have been expelled seven times in the past two millennia.
The Roman emperor Gavinius threw out Gaza's Jews in the year 61 C.E. Subsequently, they were exiled by the Crusaders, Napoleon, the Ottoman Turks, Arab rioters in 1929, the Egyptian army in 1948 and now by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Each time, however, the Jews eventually returned, guided by their determination and their faith that this land truly belongs to them. They rebuilt Jewish Gaza, in the land of our ancestors, and I have no doubt they will do so again one day, once the situation permits.
Economists like to speak about what they call the "elasticity of demand," which is essentially a measure of how consumers respond to changes, such as price. I'd argue that Zionism and the belief in "Greater Israel" is essentially inelastic, meaning that even in the face of setbacks and defeats, the Jewish people will continue to cling to the justness of our cause. People on the left, such as Barnea, might differ, but their perspective is ultimately narrow and shortsighted, and ignores the long sweep of Jewish history.
Even in the darkest and most foreboding periods of exile, Jews never doubted that they would one day return. Massacres and pogroms, inquisitions and expulsions never broke our collective spirit, and neither should the events of this month.
The fact is, Sharon and the left may be able to withdraw from Jewish history, but they cannot withdraw from Jewish destiny. They can bend and twist and stretch classical Zionist and Jewish beliefs, but they cannot break them. Even in the face of uncertainty, the dream of return lives on.
Michael Freund is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.