What Was the Correct Choice? Getting Out of Hellish Gaza!

A consensus seems to have formed in Israel that the disengagement from Gaza was a deadly mistake. It says that it caused a steep escalation of the Kassam rockets falling on Sederot and, most recently, allowed Hamas to take over the strip.

In all, according to the new Israeli wisdom, the removal of Israeli settlers and soldiers from the Gaza 21 months ago has badly weakened Israel's security.

This consensus, for the most part, is a crock.

The Israel Defense Force office reports that about 1,550 Kassams have landed on Sderot and its environs since the disengagement in mid-September 2005. But the Kassams started landing on Sederot four years earlier, when the IDF was dug in the Gaza Strip and Israeli settlers were living in Gush Katif. In those last four years before disengagement, Palestinians in Gaza fired some 4,600 Kassam rockets on the Israeli border town.

So nothing's changed on that score. There are no more rockets hitting Sederot now than there were in the "good old days." However, the number of Israelis killed by Gaza Palestinians has changed dramatically since disengagement — and for the better. Since the last IDF soldier left the area until now, eight Israelis have been killed by Palestinians in Gaza: four civilians in Sederot, and four soldiers, according to the Foreign Ministry's Web site. Another soldier, Gilad Shalit, was been kidnapped last summer.

By comparison, in the five years from the start of the second intifada until disengagement, 148 Israelis were killed by Gaza Palestinians — 91 soldiers and 57 civilians. In addition, 11 foreign civilians were killed by Gazans in that time.

So in terms of bloodshed, there's nothing to discuss — Gaza was many, many times more deadly for Israelis before the disengagement than it's been since then.

People seem to have blocked it out of their memory, but Gaza — when we Israelis were occupying it — was a local synonym for hell, for the worst place on earth. Gaza was where 8,000 Israeli settlers and thousands of Israeli soldiers were surrounded by 1.4 million Palestinians. That's why we got out of there, and that's why everybody except the hard-line right was deeply relieved and grateful to Ariel Sharon for making it happen.

Regarding Hamas' "coup," does anybody remember which Palestinian organization in the strip was the strongest, by far, on the eve of Israel's departure? Was it the Khan Yunis branch of Overseas Republicans? No, it was Hamas.

What happened in Gaza this month wasn't a coup at all; it was more of a Hamas mopping-up operation against Fatah. The status quo in Gaza was hardly affected; now, Hamas is 100 percent in control, instead of only 98 percent. The outcome of that brief, almost completely one-sided civil war only formalized Hamas's position; de facto, it has been ruling the Gaza Strip for years, even under the guns of the IDF.

The disengagement isn't to blame for Hamas. This is just nature taking its course in Gaza — and thank God Israelis are outside the killing fields, instead of in the middle of them.

I agree that Hamas' dramatic victory is fearful. It could be disastrous, but on the other hand, it could be the start of something better — a more urgent approach by Israel and Egypt to deal with the smuggling of weapons from Sinai, through the tunnels dug underneath the Philadelphia corridor into the waiting hands of Gaza's Palestinians.

Weapons-smuggling is the one thing that's clearly gotten worse since disengagement. The intifada in Gaza didn't run on homemade weapons, nor did it run on the "Oslo rifles" given to the Palestinian Authority by Israel. It ran on the arsenal that was transported through those tunnels, which have been dug there for the last 20 years, and which the IDF never succeeded in shutting down.

As things stand, disengagement has not lived up to those expectations. The Kassams are still flying, and the Egyptians haven't shut down the smugglers. This is why so many Israelis consider disengagement a failure.

But if you compare the amount of suffering and death the Gaza Strip is causing us today to the amount it caused us before we left, then disengagement remains, on balance, a real success.

And remember: Getting out of Gaza was only necessary because Israel, in its arrogance, decided after the Six-Day War to keep it. The occupation, not the disengagement, was the real mistake; it was the original sin.

Larry Derfner is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.


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