The disengagement is past us physically and practically. Yet in the Jewish world’s political discourse it will persist. This essay is an attempt to clarify the reasons for this historic act in all its dimensions: the question of Jewish rights to the Land of Israel, the real (not imaginary) alternatives facing any Israeli government vis-à-vis the occupied territories, the real (not imagined) cost of the settlements vis-à-vis my own notion of the true task of Zionism, the complex security consequences of the decision and finally the question of whether it was democratic.
The Question of Rights
I agree with David Ben Gurion that the Jewish People have an absolute moral and historical right to the entire Land of Israel but that we have also have the right not to exercise this moral and historical right if it interferes with other more vital rights and needs of the Jewish People.
The People of Israel is the hub of my concept of Zionism, not the Land of Israel. The People is the aim, the Land is the means. To make the Land the aim and the People the means is pagan. To make the Land an absolute value for which real human persons must sacrifice their lives, their treasure, their self-realization as human beings is a modern manifestation of human sacrifice. We are Jews not Incas. Since the destruction of the Temple we do not even sacrifice animals anymore.
Judaism advocates the moral and intellectual autonomy of the individual, even vis-à-vis God himself. Erich Fromm in his book You Shall be as Gods portrays it as God choosing to be a constitutional rather than an absolute Monarch. Human beings are born free, with the freedom to choose. Indeed, without freedom of choice there can be no morality. Without freedom of choice we are robots not human beings. Jewish tradition and culture are rife with examples.
The entire concept of Bar and Bat Mitzvah, when Jews are become adult and must assume absolute responsibility for their lives is the most familiar example. They cannot blame their parents, their teachers, their social workers or the circumstances of their life. This is the hand they have been dealt and they are morally obligated to make the best of it. No excuses! You are now obligated to be human (literally being human or human being) or as we say in Yiddish to be a Mensch.
But there are other instances of the primacy of human volition trumping even godly commandments. For example: the explanation given by the sages for why Abraham received the covenant rather than Noah. God tells Noah he is going to destroy the entire world – including all of humanity. What does Noah do? He doesn’t argue with God; he goes and builds an Ark to save himself and his family. God tells Abraham he is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorra. What does Abraham do? He argues with God that while Sodom and Gomorra are indeed evil and deserving of destruction in doing so God might kill innocent individuals. Because in the end 10 innocent individuals are not discerned and the cities are destroyed we often ignore the fact that Abraham won the argument.
What is the moral of the story? That God did not create blind slaves to his will – robots programmed (or pre-destined) to “just follow orders”, but volitional beings with moral and intellectual autonomy: beings that literally “wrestle with God”. The concept of limitations of power – which lies at the root of constitutional democracy – has its beginnings in the story of Abraham’s relationship with God.
There is also the remarkable Talmudic story of Rabbi Eliezer (“Bat Kol”) trying to convince his colleagues of the justice of his position by calling on God. When a heavenly voice indeed declared that Eliezer was right, Rabbi Jeremiah, representing the opposition majority opinion responded that: “Torah was given to us on Sinai and hence we have no need to pay heed to a heavenly voice”. In other words once God gave us the general rules of behavior we are on our own and must decide for ourselves what is right and proper.
Those that argue against any kind of territorial compromise often refer to past Talmudic prohibitions against this. They also refer to the sanctity inherent in the suffering of past generations. Our task in their minds is to use the future as a means to put into practice the principles of the past and not to use the past as an inspiration to create a different future. But giving the past such dictatorial control over our actions is to abrogate our very humanity as volitional, morally and intellectually autonomous, human beings. This position is in its very essence anti-Jewish and Pagan. If we cannot be dictated to by God how can we be dictated to by the past?
The past indeed has a voice but it in no way has a veto.
The Real Alternatives Facing Israel
1. Annex the territories and give all its inhabitants full rights as citizens. Consequence: the end of the Jewish State by democratic means.
2. Annex the territories and not give all its inhabitants full rights as citizens. Consequence: Apartheid and the end of the Jewish State by international sanctions.
3. Annex the territories and “transfer” all of its inhabitants. Consequence: Ethnic cleansing and the end of the Jewish State by international sanctions.
4. The disengagement
5. The status quo
The Price of the Status Quo (and the settlements)
The settlements in the territories are not immoral, they are not illegal (despite the chattering nonsense of the postmodern Left), they are not the primary obstacles to peace (Arab intransigence is) and they are justifiable in light of the historical rights of the Jewish People. The problem, therefore, is not legal, moral or historical – the problem is political and politics is fundamentally a question of smart or stupid.
The argument for or against the settlements in the occupied territories must be made on the basis of whether they are smart or stupid in regards to what is good for the Jews. The question Jews must ask themselves is what value do these settlements contribute to the Zionist project in the 21st century.
A good case could be made that some of the post Six-Day War suburbs of Jerusalem and the middle class settlements contiguous to Israel’s pre-Six-Day War borders (such as Alfei Menashe) contribute to Israel’s vital interests.
The isolated ideological settlements, on the other hand, have been a tremendous burden on and detriment to all the vital components of Zionist value. They have not contributed economically but rather have been an economic drag. They have not contributed socially as the vast funds poured into them could have been put to better use expanding educational services and building infrastructure.
They have not contributed security but have been a tremendous burden on the Israeli army, consuming security resources that could have been better used elsewhere. The vast number of man-hours spent guarding settlements has undermined the army’s training regime, damaging its preparedness. A more subtle process has been the damaging of the human quality of the officer corps. People who are good at fulfilling the duties of an occupation are not necessarily those who would be good at hand to hand combat with the Syrians. Most obvious is the fact that the settlements have presented the army with a border that is in effect over 1,500 kilometers long, over four times the length of the border before the Six-Day War. Simple security calculus dictates the following: ever-diminishing concentrations of soldiers on ever lengthening lines of defense equals less security, while ever thickening concentrations of soldiers on ever shorter lines of defense equals more security.
The settlements certainly have not contributed politically. Almost every embarrassing political difficulty Israel has experienced since the Six-Day War has been because of these ideological settlements or their supporters and not a single country in the world has changed its mind regarding the official, legally constituted borders of the State of Israel because of these settlements.
Neither have the settlements contributed spiritually to Israeli society. For many segments of Israeli society the settlements have been the cause of a great deal of alienation, tarnishing the label of Zionist, and weakening the spiritual fortitude and moral certainty of Israel at large. Many Israelis find the sub-culture of the settlements abhorrent and resent doing reserve duty because of them.
One of the causes for increased shirking of reserve duty may be the unwillingness of many otherwise good and patriotic Israelis to guard the settlements. Most important, however, is that by identifying Zionism with the settlements and calling opponents of the settlement project post-Zionists and even anti-Zionists, the settlers themselves have unwittingly contributed to the spread of that nihilistic Post-Zionism now infecting Israeli society. The erosion of Zionist moral self-confidence on the part of large segments of the Israeli public begins with the misguided settlement project.
The question, therefore, is not whether the settlers are brave and idealistic but whether the settlement project is smart or stupid, whether it contributes to or detracts from the values, goals and aims of Zionism as it redefines itself in the 21st century.
The British Light Brigade was composed of men who were brave and idealistic beyond measure but their famous charge was an example of colossal stupidity. General Lee’s Confederate soldiers were brave and idealistic beyond measure, but that doesn’t mean that Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg was smart or that the cause they represented was sublime. I often wonder if Israel’s settlement policy is not the political equivalent of the ill-fated British landing at Gallipoli in World War I, upon which the German Admiral De Robeck commented "Gallant fellows, these soldiers; they always go for the thickest place in the fence." Israel's settlement policy compels Israeli diplomacy to always try to break through the thickest part of the diplomatic fence, the one and perhaps only place where Arab political superiority is manifest.
In political life stupidity is the greatest sin, not immorality or illegality. It is stupidity that does the greatest harm to human endeavor. If we were to judge what is pro-Zionist and what is anti-Zionist according to their contribution to or their deleterious effect on the economy, security, society and overall morale and moral fortitude of Israel, we would be forced to conclude that the ideological settlements in the occupied territories constitute the most anti-Zionist activity conducted by any group of Jews since the advent of the Zionist project itself.
Security Consequences of the Disengagement
I will address this issue from the Grand Strategic, Strategic, Operational and Tactical point of view.
Grand Strategy: the economic, political, military, social and moral resources of a people and how best to optimally mobilize them in order to minimize weaknesses and achieve vital goals. Grand Strategy defines the criteria and priorities, by which we determine policy goals; it is the filter through which we pass our policy goals to see if they are appropriate. In a sane and rational entity Grand Strategy determines policy more than ideology. Ideology might strive for an ideal but in real life we must construct policies based upon reality. The disengagement strengthened our grand strategic position immensely: politically, economically, morally and socially. It has also created a new situation vis-à-vis the Palestinians. One I would term cautiously optimistic.
Strategic threats: Strategic threats (as opposed to tactical threats) are those threats that endanger the very existence of the State. There are two fundamental existential threats to Israel as a Jewish State: Iran’s nuclear weapons and Palestinian demographics. The disengagement strengthened our strategic position by ridding us of one and half million Palestinians thus greatly lessening the demographic threat.
Operational advantages: Operations has to do with the rational and most efficacious deployment of military assets in order to achieve a security aim. By removing the army from Gaza – and the requirement to defend 8,000 settlers in dozens of small communities – we have shortened our lines of defense and placed our armed forces on defensible borders. As I said above: ever-diminishing concentrations of soldiers on ever lengthening lines of defense equals less security, while ever thickening concentrations of soldiers on ever shorter lines of defense equals more security. The disengagement strengthened our operational position by enabling the more rational deployment of military assets.
Tactical: The Palestinians now have significantly greater freedom of movement and can bring their Kasam rockets closer to the border with Israel enabling them a greater ability to fire on Israeli settlements within the green line. But Israel also has greater freedom of response to such attacks (in regards to world opinion) since we have withdrawn. The withdrawal from Lebanon entailed the same dangers yet since then attacks on Israel have lessened and have earned the condemnation of world opinion. The disengagement may have weakened or strengthened our tactical position – we do not yet know.
What we do know is that Grand Strategy, Strategy and Operations all trump tactics.
The Question of Democracy
Was the decision to disengage democratic and constitutional? In my opinion yes!
A democratically elected government, exercising the State’s sovereign right of eminent domain, decided to remove some of its citizens from a certain area and relocate them for the greater public good: that greater public good being the rationalizing of the lines of defense, weakening the demographic threat to Israel, improving our general standing in the world and giving a jump start to the possible resumption of meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians.
The government voted to endorse the plan and it was ratified by the Knesset. The decision was reviewed by the Supreme Court in regards to its legality and constitutionality. The Court overwhelmingly ruled in favor (with only one dissenting voice).
Tsvi Bisk is an Israeli Futurist and author of Futurizing the Jews (Praeger, 2003). For more, see http://www.zivgroup.co.il/