First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Gaza and the Israeli Settlers
It's got to be one of the most miserably unimportant places in the world, the Gaza Strip. A bone dry desert by nature, packed with people in the Muslim cities, here and there dotted with patches of green where irrigation has brought relief, it lacks any resources that should make it important to anyone, anywhere.
Except, of course, to the people who live there.
So why has it been in the news? Why are weeping people being forced to evacuate their homes?
The Gaza Strip matters because its people are mostly Muslim -- and once the evacuation of the Jewish settlements is completed, it will be completely Muslim.
From one point of view, the Gaza Strip is a dagger pointed at the heart of a fragile Israel.
From another point of view, it is tiny, powerless land being crushed under the weight of mighty Israel.
How Gaza Is Exploited
Before the June War of 1967, when Gaza was administered by Egypt, it really was a dagger that put Egyptian weapons within seemingly easy reach of Israel's major cities.
Since then -- especially after Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin brought peace between Egypt and Israel -- Gaza has been powerless.
Now and then terrorists based there succeed in killing somebody -- often visitors from outside trying to bring some of the benefits of civilization to the people of the Gaza Strip, like the American diplomats who were murdered there a couple of years ago.
But in terms of posing any kind of danger to Israel, Gaza's only weapon that has meant anything for many years is this:
Nowhere are Muslim Palestinians more packed-in, poor, and miserable-looking. They look great on camera -- if you want to illustrate the suffering of the Palestinians under the rule of the Israeli oppressors.
Never mind that the reason the borders closed and Gazans lost their jobs was because their jobs were in Israel, and Israel had to close the borders to protect themselves from murderous terrorists who crossed the border along with innocent Gazans going to work.
The sadder the lot of the people of Gaza, the worse Israel could be made to look elsewhere in the world -- in Europe and America, for instance, where people are generally unaware that the obvious misery of the people of Gaza isn't actually that different.
The truth is that the Palestinian people have been kept isolated and poor from the beginning -- by fellow Muslims.
The refugees from the 1948 war could have been assimilated into the countries that took them in -- but they were forced to stay in camps, where their poverty could be used as propaganda against Israel.
Give Me Land, Lots of Land
Ironically, it was Israel's conquest of the West Bank and Gaza Strip that opened the door to the existence of an independent Palestinian state. By cutting these territories off from Jordan and Egypt, Israel allowed them to create a separate national identity in a clearly identifiable territory.
The trouble was that to some Israelis, the conquest of these territories was not just about establishing defensible boundaries to avoid further attempts by Arab Muslim states to conquer Israel.
They saw these territories as an integral and permanent part of Israel, where Israelis should be able to buy (or take) land and establish settlements.
Some saw it as the will of God, restoring to Israel much of the inheritance bestowed by God in Torah.
Others saw it as Israel's right, by long-established international law and custom, to regard territory conquered in a defensive war as its own property, paid for in blood.
It was about religion for some, about land for others -- but regardless of the motive, there were Israelis eager to establish Jewish settlements on land that Palestinians saw as their own. (Never mind that many Palestinians see all of Israel as "their own.")
There were far more Israelis who did not actually join the settlements, but supported them politically.
As Palestinians raised an increasing hue and cry internationally against Israeli settlements, within Israel there was such a powerful movement in support of the settlements that it became politically impossible for anyone to block the settlement movement, let alone roll it back.
When Israeli governments tried moratoria or limits on settlements, there would be settlers -- squatters, really -- eager to defy the law and settle when and where they were forbidden. And even the lawbreakers had substantial political support.
So Why Are Settlements Being Evacuated?
The pro-settlement folks aren't the only people in Israel. A much larger group is sick of war, tired of the anti-Israeli propaganda throughout the world, and eager to trade land for peace.
The idea is that if a fully demilitarized Palestine came into existence, then Arabs could misgovern each other to their hearts' content. If they started to build up a dangerous army, the Israeli military would move in and destroy it. But as long as they kept their noses clean, the Palestinians could have their independent state.
Most Israelis understand that many Palestinians are just as sick of war as they are. They hoped -- or wished -- that once Israeli occupation ended, then so would the Intifadeh.
Yasser Arafat -- the worst enemy the Palestinian people ever had -- turned down a chance to get most of the Palestinian land and instead launched a pointless war of murder in order to get ... What? Nobody knows.
So the Palestinians -- or at least Hamas and other terrorist organizations -- continue a war whose goal is either genocide against Israel or ... or no discernible goal at all, since they could easily have political independence now if they'd just stop killing Jews.
The Israeli government, then, has to deal with the fact that peaceful Palestinians are unable to control their murderous brethren (for the obvious reason that if a Palestinian openly opposes the murder campaign he'll be murdered).
So if Israel is to have any kind of peace or security in the long term, they not only have to seal off the border between them and their would-be killers, but they also need to immunize themselves against international opprobrium.
In other words, they need to fight the propaganda war, as well as the on-the-ground physical war against their enemies.
Ariel Sharon understands this, and he's making a bold play to defuse the anti-Jewish, anti-Israel hatred that has swept through "intellectual" Europe and America in recent years.
By removing Jewish settlements from Gaza, Sharon is proving that Israel will act in good faith to restore Palestinian territory.
Analyzed one way, it's a no-lose proposition. Either the Palestinians will grow up and govern themselves sanely, no longer allowing Gaza to be a staging area for murderous attacks on Israel ... or they won't.
If they do maintain the peace, then Israel's trade was a good one. They would then have a sound basis for trading more land for peace on the West Bank.
But if -- as everyone expects -- Hamas and other murderers persist in using Gaza as a staging area for missile attacks and terrorist assaults against Israel, then Israel has proof that nothing they concede to the Palestinians will lead to any good end.
Therefore Israel can hold onto rational world opinion, having seized the high ground and proven that the Palestinians are not ready to abide by international law.
On the other hand, to the Palestinian diehards, Sharon's action will doubtless be seen as a sign of weakness, and the murderers will tell each other that if they just keep killing Jews, they can get it all back.
But that attitude -- and those actions -- will play into Israel's hands. Because nobody with any moral sense would expect Israel to concede another inch of territory when it clearly does not lead to peace.
It's a demonstration, then. And those pictures of weeping Israeli settlers being forced from their homes are every bit as good a propaganda tool for Israel as those poor suffering Palestinians have long been for the other side.
It wouldn't really have been half so effective if all the settlers had left peacefully. The world needed to see Israeli troops forcing the settlers to leave. They needed to show how much pain was involved. How much it cost. How serious the Israeli government was about sacrificing for peace.
That's why Sharon took the enormous political risk of alienating his own core supporters by dismantling settlements. He's playing longball here, hitting for the fence instead of bunting.
He may lose his position at the head of Likud. But he knows that whoever his successor is will not be able to roll back this change and reestablish the settlements.
Sharon is willing to risk ending his own career for real and important benefits to Israel over the long term.
That's how I define "Statesman."
Copyright © 2005 by Orson Scott Card.
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