September 13, 2004 - Demonstrators numbering in the tens of thousands gathered in downtown Jerusalem yesterday protesting Sharon's plan to disengage from Gaza. To their credit, many of the speakers denounced the use of violence.
However, Rabbi Yigal Kaminetsky, the Chief Rabbi of Gaza, struck a dangerous chord. Addressing the crowd, he stated:
“We have embarked on a struggle to win the hearts of the nation and to oppose the plan to withdraw from Gush Katif, and we must devote 100% of our efforts to averting the expulsion. But we must remember that there is One who is in charge of this world, and we are merely striving to help Him help us.”
The choice of the word "expulsion" rather than "withdrawal" is significant. It evokes the image of a third Jewish exile from the homeland and seems meant to be inflammatory. The statement itself leaves open whether to "devote 100% of our efforts to averting the expulsion" means forcibly resisting efforts by the Israeli government to evacuate the settlements.
More worrisome is the invocation of God in support of the cause. True, the God of the settlers does not condone suicide bombing or the intentional murder of civilians. Nevertheless, Islamic extremists are trying to define this conflict as a religious war, and they must not be aided in this effort.
For either side to claim certain knowledge of God's will is arrogant. We are also no longer living in the days of Joshua. Both Jews and Arabs have a legitimate presence in the land. The time has come for Israel to leave the Gaza settlements, as Ariel Sharon, who planned the settlements years ago, has now come to realize. One may argue about what extent and timing of the withdrawal best serves Israel's security. But to invoke God as a reason not to withdraw is anachronistic, dangerous, and immoral.
It is not in Israel's interest to attempt to rule indefinitely a hostile population that may become a majority in the region sooner rather than later. It is not in Israel's interest to maintain autonomous civilian enclaves in what is essentially foreign territory. These are not an asset to Israel's security, they are a liability. They are targets whose defense has become increasingly costly.
Religion must be kept out of this conflict. Any side that invokes religion against the other is flirting with self-destruction.
Time, unfortunately, will bear this out.
"Opponents of Gaza Expulsion Protest in Downtown Jerusalem." Israel National News, September 13, 2004.
Peace with Realism