No Retreat from Gush Katif
By Howard Teich
April, 1982. We commemorated Israel’s Sacrifice for Peace at Park East Synagogue in Manhattan. It was the completion of Israel’s multi-year withdrawal from Sinai, giving back a land-mass larger than the entirety of today’s Israel to bring peace and normalization.
I remember being in Yamit, a wonderful town built by Israelis in the Northern Sinai, with greenhouses and flowers, children and families, bringing life to the desert. That was before Jews were forced to leave Yamit by the Israeli government, seeing their homes torn down. The first land for peace deal brought desert back instead of maintaining life.
Many of the same Jewish families of Yamit moved from Sinai to the Northern Negev to live in Gush Katif in the early 1980’s, continuing their dream of making the desert bloom, and creating a life on new land for themselves and future generations. And it was not only their dream, it was the dream of then Prime Minister Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, and Ariel Sharon.
Today, Gush Katif thrives with nearly 10,000 residents in 21 communities. I just recently learned some other specific facts, important facts that I share with you. Exports from Gush Katif total $100,000,000 annually, producing 95% of Israel’s bug-free lettuce and greens, 70% of its organic lettuce, 60% of its cherry tomatoes, as well as 60% of its geranium exports to Europe. Its community of Atzmona has Israel’s largest flower and plant nursery, and the Katif barns with 800 cows are the second largest in Israel.
The point being this is no small settlement. This is a solid community with solid enterprises composing what we’d call a township or perhaps a county, with a full complement of activities and institutions. As an example, there are 40 kindergartens for the children, and 36 synagogues, with a membership of 450 in one alone. There are 50 stores and a community and cultural center, 3 beaches, and beautiful houses and gardens. All this would be erased for the Jewish people.
We, as Jews, are about life. Le Chaim. We best take a hard look at what we are being asked to accept in giving up on life in Gush Katif, and asking, no, forcing Jews to leave their land and their homes, their life. Jews forcing Jews to leave is a very dangerous precedent, and there’s time yet to say , NO, and that’s what I now say in this article, which reflects my thinking.
I am not a crazy activist. I am someone who has devoted a most significant part of thirty plus years to the Jewish community, taking leadership roles in many Jewish organizations. I know I cannot be silent now on an issue that is as important as any that I have weighed in on during these years. For I was essentially born with the State of Israel, and it is the responsibility of my generation to safeguard Israel for future generations. Although I may not live in Israel, I am equally committed to the future of Israel as those who do live in Israel.
We must never forget what Israel has already sacrificed for peace when we view this one-sided retreat from Gaza. It should not take place without a commensurate action of substance on the Palestinian side. And that is not happening. Terrorists are not laying down their arms. They are strengthening, emboldened by what they can only see as the weakness under pressure of the Israeli government. No one can convince me that Arabs seeing Jews being forced to leave their homes by the Israeli government can serve a future of peace.
Here’s a basic premise for me that cannot, and must not be broken. No Jew should be forced to leave any land. There is no excuse, nor any reason, for a Jew in the 21st Century not to be able to live in any land of choice. If Jews want to remain in Gaza, then clearly they should be able to. For a Jewish leader in Israel to force them to leave is really a mark on our Jewish people. And any one who remains silent, and allows this to happen, is simply an accomplice in a future not of peace in Israel and in Diaspora, but of a Jewish world once again straining for survival.
Think of the future in what Israel is doing now, and the implications are grave for all of us. You set up a situation in which a precedent is established far beyond the borders of Israel. Removing Jews for safety in today’s world is no longer security, it is preparation for self-imposed long-term suicide. There is a time to take a stand, and it is now. How many more places in this world that had Jewish civilizations for centuries and millennia should be cleansed of Jewish populations in our time.
Haven’t we learned anything from our history? Are we so blind that we don’t see or don’t want to see that the enemies of Israel won’t be satisfied except to have their return to the entirety of Israel, with the destruction of the Jewish State? I want to believe differently, and yet there is little evidence to give me optimism.
Today, there is so little talk of one, unified Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and virtually no pressure on our United States government to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Only a few years ago, this was a priority and was an expectation. Just as a requirement only a few years ago was a demilitarized Palestinian entity, and today that no longer appears to be a requirement. Israel keeps giving, with little in return.
Well, it’s time that there be a change, and we who have been silent speak out. Enough! Unless the surrounding Arab countries recognize Israel, and start the normalization of Israel, then Israel, with Judea and Samaria, Gaza and the Golan, and the entirety of Jerusalem should remain status quo as part of Israel. For Israel has made its great sacrifice for peace, with little resulting thankfulness from its neighboring countries and from the world.
We, as a Jewish people, were led into Israel in Biblical times, and our return to Israel was for secular reasons in protecting the future of the Jewish people, and for religious reasons as part of a continuing covenant with G-d. The surrounding Arab countries, and the world, in 1947, 1956, 1967, 1973, and until now, have done their utmost to limit the land-mass of Israel, and to harm the Jewish people. We must recognize that fact, and stand our ground in Gaza, and not retreat from Gush Katif.
We as a Jewish people must not be divided, as we were 2,000 years ago, for we will lose Israel once again. We must be one, unified Jewish people, in Israel and in Diaspora, to tell the world that we are entitles to the land of our heritage. Where we have a thriving community of Jews, we must tell the world, we will no longer accept that we will be forced to move. And the issue of Gush Katif is on the front burner today.
It is ironic that in 1947, Egypt could make a land-grab of Gaza, and in fact Jordan, of the West Bank, without a whimper from the world, and yet today Israel is under the greatest pressure for remaining. We must know our history, and believe that we will be protected from fighting for long-term justice in Israel. The world constantly must be reminded that we will neither be pushed around, nor be afraid. And that particularly pertains to leaving lands when the going gets tough. It deserves an outcry from all our Jewish people that the Israeli government is not standing up for our people now in Gaza.
The line in the sand must be drawn at Gush Katif.