Seven years ago today, on August 15, 2005, Israel unilaterally disengaged from Gaza. Some 8,600 Israelis were asked to leave their homes–homes they had built legally following Israel’s decision to settle the area with Jewish villages.
I was living with my family in Pittsburgh at the time, serving as the community shlicha (emissary). I was asked repeatedly by the local media, friends, and members of the Jewish community how I felt about the disengagement. My answer was consistent: I support my government and at the same time embrace and cry with my Israeli brothers and sisters who are uprooted from their homes.
Israel made the decision to evacuate 21 civilian settlements located in the Gaza Strip as part of the State’s overall attempt to improve the region’s security and Israel’s international status, as well as safeguard the lives of its soldiers, who were in constant danger protecting a small number of settlements.
Between 50-60 percent of Israelis supported the decision to disengage from Gaza, but the large minority opposed to the move felt betrayed and deceived. These Israelis felt angry and disappointed that Jewish soldiers would drag them out of their homes, and even many Israelis who supported the disengagement were torn by the heartbreaking scenes.
On May 24, 2000, Israel unilaterally disengaged from Lebanon after 18 years. The vast majority of Israelis supported this move, feeling that it was necessary. Both unilateral disengagements were bold attempts to seek security and save lives of Israeli soldiers and civilians. But both acts were interpreted by the Arab world as acts of weakness and surrender. Since the evacuation from Gaza, terrorists have fired over 8000 missiles towards Israeli towns in the surrounding areas. They are still firing missiles on a daily basis. And on July 12, 2006, Hezbollah kidnaped two Israeli soldiers from the border with Lebanon, which led to the second Lebanon war.
This week in Jerusalem, artists from across the country will present their work at the largest Israeli art fair, which takes place by the Old City walls every year at the end of the month of Av. Av is a time of remembrance and mourning, so how beautiful it is that the eternal capital of the Jewish people commemorates and then celebrates art, creation, life.
This is our essence: remember and commemorate, celebrate and create. The disengagement from Gaza was, and for many still is, a painful memory and a heartbreaking reality, but we must look forward to a better future with hope for peace, creation and growth.
Leah Garber, Vice-President, JCC Association Israel Office