“The High Price They Would Have to Pay”: The Israeli Unilateralist’s Logic of “Disengagement”

The Dan Halutz affair is well documented and the main facts are undisputed. Halutz, as commander of the Israeli air force, was
responsible for an order on August 2, 2002 for the targeted assassination of an “alleged” terrorist, Saleh Shehada. Since, among his other evil activities, Shehada happened to live in an apartment building, a one-ton bomb was dropped on the apartment complex, killing Shehada, and another fourteen men, women and children and also wounding and orphaning scores of others. There was quite a scandal. This was a bit too much even around here where people have been conditioned to believe that “targeted assassinations” are the greatest invention in jurisprudence since habeas corpus.

Naturally enough, Dan Halutz became the next commander in chief of the IDF and reenters our story with his role in the disengagement this year. In the furious debate leading up to it, Halutz pioneered an idea that sought to clinch the advantages of the disengagement for the concerned public. The idea was simple. Since we were no longer in charge of Gaza, there would be no cause for restraint in responding to attacks on Israeli settlements or towns bordering on the strip. Halutz “hoped that the Palestinian were aware of the high price they would have to pay” on September 4, 2005 (UNISPAL Division for Palestinian Rights, “Chronological Review of Events Relating to the Question of Palestine: Monthly Media Monitoring Review, September 2005,” 6 October 2005).

This was an open expression of strategic thinking that had been elaborated in the IDF war room in planning the engagement. General (Reserves) Eival Giladi, an advisor to the Sharon government on military and security affairs and the acting court-theoretician, had had already issued a dramatic warning on Israeli strategy in the context of the disengagement: “If pinpoint response proves insufficient, we may have to use weaponry that causes major collateral damage, including helicopters and planes, with mounting danger to surrounding people” (Aluf Benn and Amos Harel, “IAF Fires Missiles at Rocket Launchers in Gaza,” Ha’aretz, 23 June 2005). (File this statement away; it may be the first example of openly planned collateral damage.)

Dove General with Long Claws

Machsom [Checkpoint] Watch, a women’s group for human rights and against the occupation, has recently emerged as one of the most successful protest formations. At a recent conference, they hosted a surprise guest, Gen. (Reserves) Amiram Levin, who created quite a stir by declaring that all occupations, including Israel’s, lead to corruption and are doomed to failure. It seems that Levin, as early as three years ago, had submitted proposals supporting the idea of unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank. But how would Israel maintain order in the event of Palestinian attacks? Levin says with all due candor:

Together with the announcement of the decision to leave the territories within two years, . . . we will publicize the price of terror attacks: one price for an attack against civilians and another price for an attack against soldiers. If you shell Sderot, we’ll consider that a declaration of war, with all that this entails. After a Qassam hits an open field, we’ll give the Palestinians a few hours of warning so that they can evacuate the residents and then we’ll send a D9 to demolish 20 homes. For property damage we’ll raze 50 homes. For bodily harm, we’ll destroy 70 homes, and so on. (qtd. in Akiva Eldar, “Withdraw and Win,” Ha’aretz, 8 October 2005)

The underlying “justification” for this kind of thinking can be traced back to the protracted and often bitter dispute here in dove circles about how to relate to unilateral actions by Israel, e.g. the disengagement. The peace-seeking “unilateralists,” personified by Labor’s Shimon Peres, seduced themselves into thinking that Sharon was doing their job — and only he could do it! Peres and others who saw disengagement as a “historic breakthrough” have delivered most of the sane secular community into Sharon’s camp, and this despite Sharon being quite open about the fact that he was actually forfeiting a minor piece to better impose and defend annexation on the West Bank.

The pro-Sharon doves claimed that they had little to lose. But, it just doesn’t work that way. They praised Sharon so much that one fine morning they awoke to the news that Sharon was the favorite candidate for prime minister of . . . the members of the Labor Party and even of the members of Labor’s Central Council. Shimon Peres was indeed happy with Sharon, and even more important, the illusion of progress to peace was warmly embraced by George W. and Condi. Washington, under siege, needs any kind of hardly credible Israeli concession — incomplete and qualified as it is — to produce as its “good deed for the day in the Middle East.”

At home, Israel’s ostensible largesse pumped up a frenzy of self-righteousness. Since the Palestinians do not recognize our generosity, though it comes in the form of unilateral action by Israel according to its own timing and interests, we will be forced to rachet up the price they pay for resistance, even further. Last week after a serious, but minor incident, one of the hundreds that both sides have been sadly experiencing for years, the IDF decided that two and a half million Palestinian car drivers will have to get off and stay off the roads. Well, this kind of collective punishment — draconian measures against two and a half million people — could seem logical only to an Israeli body politic embittered by the fact the our “unilateral concessions” are seen as weakness.

But this mentality of “now we can get tough” has a logic of its own. It is this “logic” originating with the generals, which has permeated
public consciousness, already steeped in admiration for Sharon. This is the very admiration for Sharon that had been promoted encouraged and enhanced by our unilateral peaceniks.

Mainstream Liberal Gets Rid of His Inhibitions

Yaron London was considered a mainstream liberal the last time anyone looked. London is a prominent media personality on television and in the press. He does not have too many ideas of his own, but he does function well for reflecting public sentiment. London is almost overjoyed at the advantages of disengagement. Even in the absence of any agreement on the border, he is certain that Sharon has granted him one.

This is one of the benefits of a border: An occupying power must distinguish between innocent civilians and hostile ones; between masked men bearing arms and open-faced ones; between motor mechanics and missile mechanics; between “ticking bombs” and sleeping ones. Now, because we are not occupiers, we have freedom of action. If we are attacked, everyone on this side of the border is one of us, and everyone on the other side is one of them. If innocent people are harmed, we might well be sorry, but we will bear no responsibility. (“Border Policy Needed,” Yedioth Ahronot, 16 October 2005)

The temptation to see an opening for peace in the unilateral Gaza disengagement nurtured a unilateral frame of mind. The Israeli unilateralist believes that we do not really need the Palestinians to make peace. And if they disrespect our right to do things our way, let them beware, because the price will be high, very high.

Reuven Kaminer, writer and political analyst, is a veteran activist in the Israeli peace movement and the left. He is the author of The Politics of Protest: The Israeli Peace Movement and the Palestinian Intifada and innumerable articles in Hebrew and English. He is one of the founders and editors of Ha’gada Ha’Smolit [The Left Bank] which is the leading news and commentary website in the country. Over the years, he has been a founding member of various important protest formations such as SIAH (The New Israeli Left), the Israeli Committee for Solidarity with Bir Zeit University, the Committee against the War in Lebanon, and “Dai L’kibush” [End the Occupation]. Along with the late Eliezer Feiler, Yael Lotan, and Latif Dori, he was one of the defendants in a historic court case during 1987-1990 when the four were tried for having met with the PLO in Romania. An independent leftist, Kaminer is now a member of the Control Commission of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality and the local left-leaning branch of Peace Now in Jerusalem.

Kaminer is also a proud grandfather of Matan Kaminer, one of the five Israeli refuseniks who served two years in military and civilian prisons, including ten months of “open detention” in an army camp. The nicest compliment that he ever heard was the comment of a youngster previously unknown to him, who told him, outside the Jaffa Military Court during the refuseniks trial, that some people say that he is the grandfather of all the refuseniks.