Balagan Revisited: 10 Years After the Gaza Withdrawal

by Jerry Gordon (August 2015)

The menorah that once graced the synagogue of Netzarim, a town in Gush Katif that was destroyed in 2005.
Photos: Yehoshua Halevi

August 15-18, 2015 marked the 10th year following the Israeli unilateral withdrawal from 21 settlements in Gaza and four in Samaria. The legendary Israeli PM Gen. Ariel Sharon, aka “the bulldozer,” convinced his cabinet with the aid of a complicit Israeli press corps to adopt the plan on June 6, 2005. The forced withdrawal witnessed 45,000 IDF troops and Israeli police in their largest non-combat operation eject residents and destroy settlements on the sand dunes in Gaza over several days. Four settlements in Samaria were similarly evacuated and destroyed ten days later. It was traumatic for the 8,500 Jewish settlers who came to Gaza in the 1970’s creating high tech green houses that produced most of Israel’s floral and herbal exports valued at over $120 million annually. The withdrawal was estimated to have cost over $900 million. Israel lost over 70 percent of its fresh produce. Many were dragged screaming pleading to remain where they had established flourishing communities. Despite Fatah and Hamas terrorists who attacked and killed residents they employed Palestinian greenhouse workers and befriended local fishermen. Many of the thousands of evacuees are still housed in temporary communities inside Israel. Many have not been adequately compensated for their homes and business losses. Many are still disillusioned with how the State of Israel treated them. Within hours of the last IDF troops leaving on September 21, 2005, the gift of high tech green house to Gazans, paid for by American Jewish moguls, and abandoned synagogues were desecrated and destroyed. A small museum in Jerusalem tells the story of the Gaza withdrawal from Gush Katif with relics from destroyed synagogues and communities.

Source:  BBC

The irony was as the forced evacuees departed, the first of the home made Kassam rockets fell on the Gush Katif settlements. Within months Hamas ejected Fatah from Gaza leading to establishment of a terrorstan that has triggered three wars and launched more than 12,000 rockets and missiles at Israel over the past decade.

Sharon cabinet members like current Israeli PM Netanyahu, Moshe Ya’alon Defense Minister and Natan Sharansky, now Jewish Agency head, resigned in 2005 over Sharon’s ill-advised effort. Conferences and interviews on this tenth anniversary reveal how calamitous the unilateral withdrawal was to appease world opinion. Sharon was rewarded with back slapping praise from the Bush Administration and others in the corridors of the UN in September 2005. Several months later in 2006, Sharon suffered a stroke from which he would languish in a moribund state until his death on January 11, 2014.

The left in Israel applauded Sharon’s move at the time with polls indicating that 3/5ths of Israelis approved of his action. The left wanted to punish Jewish settlers for occupying Gazan lands. The settlers believed that Jews once lived there and that all of Israel was a covenanted gift from Ha Shem. Polls taken during the 10th anniversary indicated that the majority of Israelis now consider the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza a mistake. Trading land for peace didn’t pay off with the Palestinians. Rather Israelis feel they do not have a peace partner in the Palestinian Authority leadership they can trust, given terrorist acts committed against them.

Shaming IDF troops Neve Dekalim, August 17, 2005
Source:  Tom Gross Media

The Gaza Withdrawal: Balagan 2005

In  June 2005, I published an American Thinker piece entitled “Gaza Disengagement: Balagan:” 

Balagan is a slangy Hebrew word, derived from Russian, used by the Israel Defense Forces to describe what is happening with Sharon’s Gaza disengagement strategy: ‘chaos; a screw up!’

It is less than 60 days before the 8000 residents of more than 20 villages that make up Gush Katif in the coastal Gaza district are to be moved to Netzarin, an oceanside setting in the northern Negev. The Sharon government has plied the Gaza settlers with the carrot of millions of shekels and the stick of preventive detention for their children should they balk at leaving under duress of military supervision.

The red—tiled villas and greenhouses on the sand dunes on the Gazan coast are brilliant green and red slashes in the satellite photos of Gaza, when viewed from outer space; the rest of the surroundings are barren.  The economic dislocation will be significant: Gush Katif greenhouses account for a major portion of Israel’s flower exports.

The disruption of a forced evacuation is all the more distressing because in 1982 Sharon, then Defense minister in Prime Minister Begin’s government, supervised the removal of settlers from Yamit, a small town in the northern Sinai. This previous removal was one of the last disengagement matters for  the  Egyptian peace treaty fashioned by President Carter, Begin and Egyptian strongman Anwar Sadat at Camp David in 1979. Sadat was assassinated before he could see the withdrawal of the settlers.

The videos of IDF troopers pulling screaming Yamit settlers away from barricades of smoking burning tires on rooftops made an indelible impression in the minds of those who viewed the evacuation.  Where did many of the ousted Yamit settlers end up?  In some of the northern Gaza strip settlements, doomed to face yet another trauma of the same nature.

But Yamit in the Northern Sinai wasn’t the only disengagement that Israel has undertaken with disastrous results.  Witness the pell mell rush out of Southern Lebanon in May 2000 that emboldened Yassir Arafat to ignite the Second Intifada, leaving more than 1,700 dead and 10,000 wounded Israeli soldiers and civilians. That strategic blunder by former Israeli PM Barak created a vacuum in Southern Lebanon instantly filled up by Hezbollah. Hezbollah, with the only armed militia in Lebanon, became a cat’s paw for predatory Syria and its ultimate backer, the hooded mullahs in Iran.  Now, with Lebanon’s parliamentary elections over, there is Hezbollah in complete control of Southern Lebanon, with well—stocked Katyusha rocket bases in the Bekaa Valley and 21 seats in the Beirut Parliament.

Will these ‘balagans’ of 1982 and 2000 occur again in Gush Katif in 2005?

Meanwhile Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom have just concluded discussions with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who will find out from General William Ward, the US security coordinator, and former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, the Quartet ‘supremo,’ that ‘fragile’ President Abbas  isn’t capable of controlling the truculent and roiling chaos in the West Bank and Gaza. Amalgamating the 14 warring PA security services, let alone dismantling the terror groups is beyond him. 


Condi Rice’s objective is to get Israel to go along with the fig leaf of a failed peace process long dead in the wake of the Second Intifada. Arafat’s legacy is perpetual war.  No matter, Bush wants Gaza freed from Israel ‘occupation’ so that he can trumpet this Middle East peace offering to the cynical Russians and Eurabians: the Quartet partners.

Is it surprising then that former IDF Chief of Staff ‘Bogey’ Ya’alon, former Sharon cabinet Member and Human rights icon, Natan Sharansky and Bibi Netanyahu all believe that Gaza disengagement will put Israel and its citizens at great strategic risk when the 21 settlements in Gaza and Northern Samaria are evacuated under Sharon’s plan?

Prescient, given what ensued.

Natan Sharansky, Jewish Agency head, July 2015
Source: United with Israel

Sharansky Recalls his Exchange with Sharon

In late July 2015, Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post interviewed human rights icon and George W. Bush favorite, Natan Sharansky, now head of the Jewish Agency. Sharansky had his own peace plan views that required cautious confidence building steps under IDF security protections to achieve a possible agreement. His exchanges with Sharon about the time of his resignation from the Cabinet in May 2005 were illustrative of the myopia that griped Sharon. Note Sharansky remarks from July 2015:

“It is a riddle for me until today why exactly Sharon did this,” Sharansky said during an interview in his office at the Jewish Agency.

“I had a meeting with him two days before I wrote that letter [of resignation], and told him what I was going to do. I said I really didn’t understand [what he was doing].

“He told me that the world is against us,” Sharansky recalled. “He said there was the Geneva Initiative [a plan drawn up by previous Israeli and Palestinian negotiators that Sharon opposed], and it was only a matter of time before the UN would pass a resolution against us and things would only get worse and worse.”

Once Israel left Gaza, Sharansky quoted Sharon as saying, “it will be clear, and I quote him, ‘We will be here, they will be there. If they shoot one missile at us, we will destroy them, and at least for 10 years – I am not naïve, I can’t say forever – but at least for 10 years if they fire one shot we can do whatever we want because it is a border, a clear border.

“‘We are not there, it is all theirs, they can do whatever they want. We know how to fight. We will destroy everything there, and the world will be with us. I can’t promise forever, but for 10 years I guarantee that they will be with us’.” Sharansky quoted Sharon as saying.

Sharansky, who said he had a very good relationship with Sharon, remembered replying to Sharon: “You will not have 10 days, let alone 10 years.”

“I couldn’t believe then, and I don’t believe now, that he believed what he was saying,” Sharansky added. “Maybe he believed that we could slam them, but I didn’t believe he really thought the world would be with us.”

Sharansky then compares Sharon with Netanyahu currently embroiled with implacable opposition to the Iran nuclear deal:

Netanyahu could easily turn that tide by dropping his fierce opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, or by taking some dramatic initiative with the Palestinians, as Sharon did.

“He could easily now get the support of the New York Times,” Sharansky said, “Tom Friedman would be glad to praise Netanyahu if he would come down off the tree. But he doesn’t, because he believes it.

“Though the image of Arik was the one it was impossible to move, and that Bibi moves from place to place, Arik is the one who made the big move. Bibi is consistent.”

A week before Sharon took his victory lap at the UN in September 2005, Netanyahu, then his chief political rival, sarcastically noted – playing on the Hebrew phrase for trading land for peace (shtachim tmurat shalom) – that Sharon traded land for red carpets (shtahim tmurat shtihim).

Jewish woman weeps surrounded by IDF soldiers at Neve Dekalim southern Gaza,
August 18, 2005. Source: Tom Gross Media

Secular Hate for Religious Zionists Remains

David M. Weinberg wrote an opinion piece for Israel Hayom and The Jerusalem Post about the lingering hatred from Israeli secular leftists he found at a July 2015 conference, “The Malice of Gaza Disengagement.” He cited what Ha’aretz editor in chief David Landau said to Canadian journalists just after the abandonment of Gush Katif settlements in 2005:

“The reason why the disengagement is so important; the reason why it is so historic a move; the reason why it makes Ariel Sharon into such a great hero; the reason why it fills me with hope for the future – the reason is…” Landau barked, “because we crushed Religious Zionism!”

“We crushed the Religious Zionist rabbis and settlers! We destroyed their Gush Katif towns, and we smashed their political power! We decimated the Religious Zionist lock-hold on Israeli politics. Now there may be, finally, true hope for peace!”

Weinberg then turns to the Begin-Sadat Center Conference in July 2015 assessing the aftermath of the Gaza Withdrawal and notes the attitudes of Sharon’s Cabinet aides:

This ugly truism was borne out at conferences marking the tenth anniversary of the disengagement, held at the Israel Democracy Institute and the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at [Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv].

None of Sharon’s aides who spoke at these conferences – Dov Weissglass, Yisrael Maimon, Amos Yaron and others – could cobble together a convincing diplomatic rationale for the expulsion; a logic which stands the test of time. Nor did they express any remorse, despite the obviously catastrophic security consequences of the unilateral withdrawal.

Intellectual figures like A.B. Yehoshua and Fania Oz-Sulzberger were no better. No regrets, no political repentance, no recalibration of their ragged strategic worldview.

“The settlers are just a bunch of fanatic right-wing crybabies,” Yaron London roared. “So they had to move a few kilometers away, so what? I moved 16 times in my lifetime and never demanded compensation from anyone!”

Then London let the cruel cat out of the bag. “We had to get out from under your strangling grip,” London told former National Religious Party MK and Gush Katif resident Zvi Hendel, with whom he shared a stage. “The domination of Israeli politics and policy by messianic settler forces was much too overwhelming. So we clobbered you, and I am not sorry.”

Maj. Gen. Gershon HaCohen (res.) Yesha Council Conference June 15, 2015
Source: Times of Israel -Miri Tzahi

How IDF senior Officers Felt about the Gaza Withdrawal

At the Begin Sadat conference there were perspectives from three experts about the security implications drawn from the Gaza withdrawal: Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon HaCohen, Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser,and Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror.

HaCohen who was designated in charge of the withdrawal is religious and perhaps for that reason was chosen by Ya’alon. HaCohen endeavored to avoid bloodshed and give it a “Zionist” context. HaCohen personally opposed the withdrawal and suggested that no such alternative should be considered for the disputed territories, Judea and Samaria. Kuperwasser presented a litany of reasons and examples of why the disengagement in the end failed to protect Israel. It was left to Amidror to have the last word: 

“I thought it was a stupid act at the time, and I think so today,” said Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser and head of the National Security Council in Netanyahu’s government, of the withdrawal.

“But that doesn’t mean we can go back to Gaza today,” he said. “We cannot unscramble the eggs. I suggest we forgo this dream.”

Tsafrir Ronen z”l

For many of us there was a personal aftermath of the Gaza withdrawal; the death of the late Tsafrir Ronen, a self declared secular leftist who opposed the Gaza and Samaria settlement withdrawals. We got to know him when he came to New York on frequent trips endeavoring to market an Israeli version of the History Channel. This was crystallized in his legacy project, Hadrian’s Curse. Ronen who was a Sayeret Matkal veteran led annual marches to the ruined settlement of Chomesh in Samaria. Tens of thousands of Israelis, secular and religious would make the trek. Ronen died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 53 in 2008. His legacy, many of us believe, has been carried on by Naftali Bennet, Netanyahu cabinet Education Minister and leader of the Habayit Yehudi (Jewish  Home) Party in the Knesset. The balagan of unilateral withdrawal from Gaza remains unrequited for the evacuees. At least Israelis and all who call themselves Zionists can recall the war cry of withdrawal opponents wearing their orange tee shirts emblazoned with the slogan “not one inch.”

Watch this YouTube video documentary, Withdrawal from Gaza:

WITHDRAWAL FROM GAZA – Documentary (Formerly ‘Unsettled’) from Gaza Withdrawal on Vimeo.

For pictures of the Gaza withdrawal visit the Tom Gross media website, here.




Also see Jerry Gordon’s collection of interviews, The West Speaks.


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