Monday, July 26, 2004

Depending on who you listen to, between 150,000 and 200,000 people formed a human chain linking the Gaza strip to the Kotel yesterday. Whichever way you look at it, the 90km chain, apparently the third longest in history, is an impressive achievement and a show of solidarity that will send a strong message to the Government.

Of course, it is possible to argue, that if there were 200,000 people showing support for the settlements of Gaza, there were approximately 5,800,000 Israelis who weren't. Opinion polls suggest that an overwhelming majority of Israelis support a withdrawal from Gaza and this indeed, seems to have become a part of the consensus - the question is no longer whether, but when.

I have a huge amount of respect for anyone who chooses to live uncompromisingly according to their ideology. I recognise that it is a rare phenomenon in this day and age to forsake the comforts of a normal lifestyle and to put oneself and one's family on the front line. The phenomenon of 7,500 Jews, living amongst 1,300,000 Arabs is something that I have an intrinsic problem with however and that is why I was not amongst those who linked hands yesterday.

Although I have huge admiration for a person who puts himself on the front line, the dividing line between ideology and madness is an extremely fine one. Why a parent would even consider brining up children in a place where they are in the firing line is a mystery to me. Even whilst the chain was formed yesterday, 6 children were wounded when an anti tank rocket was fired at their community centre in Neve Dekalim, from the neighbouring Khan Yunis.

That a disproportionate number of our soldiers are being sent into Arab cities in order to defend a tiny section of the population doesn't seem right to me. As the human and financial costs of protecting the Gaza settlements rise, so to will public support for the idea of withdrawal.

That 1,300,000 Arabs in the Gaza strip are restricted in their movements due to a tiny minority of settlers is another point that I find extremely problematic. To be perfectly clear - I wholly believe that the fact that they became refugees and are still refugees is a tragedy, but it is a tragedy of their own making. Were it not for the Arab nations repeatedly making war on Israel; were it not for the fact that having made war, those same Arab nations have abandoned the refugees that were the result, then they would not be in the situation that they are in today. At the same time however, it is important to recognise that they are human beings and have rights. These rights are severely curtailed at the moment and I don't feel comfortable with the idea that nothing is being done.

I cannot possibly even being to understand the personal tragedy of the 7,500 settlers who I believe will be forced to give up their homes. My heart goes out to anyone who is forced to leave against their will and all the more so for the settlers who have already been moved on once when Yamit was dismantled. I believe this to be the lesser of two evils however and that is why I will grudgingly support the withdrawal. If it means fewer of our boys being killed, if it means secure borders, if it means our moral conscience is assuaged then I believe, painful though it will be, that it is the right thing to do.

Amongst the protestors interviewed by the news teams was the daughter of Yonatan Basi who has been appointed by the PM to head the disengagement administration. Basi, a member of Kibbutz Sde Eliahu hit the front pages this weekend after the head of the religious kibbutz movement likened him to a Holocaust era bureaucrat. He has also been pilloried by some members of the Kibbutz in a manner that borders on incitement as a result of his agreeing to take the position. Shoah comparisons generally disgust me and have no basis in rational discourse. Basi has been treated in a shabby manner and I have already been sent a number of petitions which support him. It's a dirty job but someone's got to do it and I'm sure that he has been chosen as the best man for the task.



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