A REPORT FROM
by Doug Ward
Why did Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decide to carry out such
a painful "disengagement" process? What will be the consequences of
this policy? On
who grew up in the Chicago area, has written for the Post since 1999.
The son of Jewish immigrants, Hoffman was raised with a love for
Hoffman explained that issues of demographics and security
were the main motivations behind the disengagement plan. In the Gaza Strip
about eight thousand Israelis, guarded by 30,000 IDF troops, lived in the midst
of a Palestinian population of over a million. The presence of the Israeli
settlements made strategic sense in the 1970s, when they served as a buffer
The agonizing prospect of evacuating so many people from their homes deeply divided the Israeli people. Hoffman observed that most Israelis favored disengagement, perhaps because so many had had to serve in the Gaza Strip during their compulsory stints in the IDF. Soldiers as young as eighteen years old, manning Palestinian checkpoints, had been faced with decisions about which Palestinians to allow through the checkpoints and which to detain as possible terrorists.
On the other hand, a vocal minority strongly opposed the
evacuation of the settlements. The settlers had worked hard for thirty years to
build beautiful communities, including 38 synagogues. Agriculture flourished in
the settlements, with vegetable exports amounting to some $ 120 million a year.
When Prime Minister Sharon was running for office, he had spoken against
disengagement, so his change of plans left a bad taste in people's mouths.
Furthermore, how could the Prime Minister overrule God?
The debate intensified as the time for disengagement approached. Those who opposed the plan wore orange, while those who favored it wore blue. Hoffman, who as a member of the press did not want to take sides, ended up wearing olive green when he was called up to serve in the IDF as a liaison to the foreign press. In that position, he witnessed the evacuation firsthand.
The disengagement process was painful. One settler, a
Holocaust survivor, talked with the press about the prospect of being
"evacuated again." (Hoffman noted, though, that his next stop this
time would be at a five-star hotel rather than a death camp.) No Israeli wanted
to destroy the 38 synagogues, so the job was left to rejoicing Palestinians.
While those synagogues were being destroyed, Israeli troops guarded mosques in
Hoffman noted that the evacuation required only six days, less than the time originally projected for the process. He gave two reasons that the disengagement had gone so smoothly. One was the sensitivity of the Israeli soldiers, who allowed the settlers to have their say and keep their dignity as they left their homes behind. The second was the fact that the settlers knew where to "draw the line." It was important to the settlers to send a message through the press, but they did not want to attack or injure fellow Israelis. Hoffman was encouraged to see the Israeli people working together in such a difficult situation.
What will be the consequences of the disengagement? In the
short term, Prime Minister Sharon's international "approval rating"
has risen. He is now regarded more favorably in
As far as prospects for peace are concerned, the ball lies
in the court of the Palestinians, Hoffman said. Would the Palestinians continue
to embrace the "culture of death," teaching their children to become
suicide bombers, or would they opt for a peaceful solution and come to the
negotiating table with
Hoffman's lecture was inspiring as well as informative. The
audience appreciated his optimism about the future of
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