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Monday, October 27, 2003 Cheshvan 1 - 5764 Israel Time: 01:59 (GMT+2)
The terrorist attack early on Friday morning at Netzarim, which ended in the deaths of three soldiers, two of them women, and the wounding of two others, makes tangible the absurdity of Israel continuing to hold on to the Gaza Strip. It would be an error to examine the incident merely in the light of an operational mishap or mistaken considerations by the commanders and to try to learn lessons from it regarding the local deployment of the Israel Defense Forces. This is a national failure and all Israeli governments since 1967 are party to it, as is the society of this country, which gave them backing.
The Gaza Strip was a tract of land that was left in Egyptian hands after the War of Independence. It fell into Israeli hands after the Six-Day War, together with its hundreds of thousands of residents, most of them Palestinian refugees. The Gaza Strip had no sentimental value in the Israeli national ethos, as did the West Bank; nevertheless, the governments headed by the Labor Party and, later, those of the Likud, were foolish enough to covet it and establish settlements upon it, and in this way to create a commitment to it. This was an untenable settlement enterprise that cost a fortune, was in no way useful to the country's development, caused grievous suffering to the Palestinian population, placed a heavy security burden on the IDF and presented Israel as a state that inflicts injustice.
The basic facts have indeed led to an unfortunate result: 1.3 million Palestinians who mostly live in extremely deprived conditions scuffle with 7,000 Israelis who generally live in spacious settlements, over the control of an area of 340 square kilometers, amid constant mutual bloodshed. The IDF invests enormous resources and deploys huge forces to protect the Israelis in the Gaza Strip but nevertheless the settlers there and the soldiers keeping guard over them are subject to uninterrupted attacks and assaults. Over the past three years, they have suffered the greatest number, relatively speaking, of shellings, roadside bombs, shooting incidents and infiltrations to their settlements.
This reality must change forthwith and in a drastic fashion: Israel should declare that it is evacuating its troops from the Gaza Strip and redeploying them, together with a security fence, alongside the Negev settlements that border on the Strip. Israel should evacuate the residents of the settlements from the Gaza Strip and offer them appropriate compensation or alternate lands within the country where they can establish themselves and flourish. If, heaven forbid, the assaults from the Gaza Strip continue in the wake of such an evacuation, Israel would have the right, by any criterion, to defend its border and its residents.
It would be better if the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip were carried out according to an agreement with the Palestinian Authority, as part of a comprehensive blueprint for settling the conflict. However, in circumstances where no diplomatic progress is visible, there is no choice but to decide unilaterally on leaving the Strip. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has sufficient political power and public support to carry out the move. If Sharon continues to abide by his decision to leave the situation as it is, with a barren balance between suffering assaults and carrying out attacks, he will then sentence the residents of the Strip, Israelis and Palestinians alike, to continue to wallow in blood, pain, hatred and despair.
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