An evacuated Jewish from the Gaza Strip
Eitan Abramovich  /  AFP-Getty Images
An evacuated Jewish settler from the Gaza Strip settlement of Atzmona folds his prayer shawl on Monday inside the temporary tent camp of Netivot in Israel, which was build to house uprooted settlers waiting for a definitive place.  
By Martin Fletcher Correspondent
NBC News
updated 8/22/2005 10:20:41 AM ET 2005-08-22T14:20:41

TEL AVIV, Israel — As the Gaza resettlement comes to a close, the bottom line is that the Jewish settlers and their right-wing backers set out to turn the disengagement into a national trauma, but they failed.

From the moment Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced his plan to leave the Gaza Strip, the settlers knew they could not hold on to it.

But, they wanted to sear into the national psyche such terrible images of mass grief and suffering that no politician would ever again dare dream of surrendering more land they believe God gave the Jews.

In fact, the tug-of-war over the land that was expected to take a month fizzled out within days — delivering a landslide victory to the Israeli security forces, and a resounding slap in the face to the right-wing plans to traumatize the nation.

Choreographed violence
Apart from a few dozen children and youths who punctured the tires of army jeeps and press cars, a few garbage containers they set on fire, and a final last stand on a synagogue rooftop, there were few images of violence.

Noisy scenes of struggling youths fighting to hold on to window grills and stairwells, or onto each other as police pulled and sweated, merely looked silly.

The carefully scripted use of children, who some parents dressed up in fake concentration camp uniforms decorated with the Star of David — as if the children taken from their homes and put into temporary accommodation in Israel were actually being led to their slaughter in holocaust gas chambers — only earned the settlers the anger and disdain of most Israelis.

Making the children walk with their hands in the air as if surrendering to the Nazis, while screaming and wailing in fear, prompted psychologists and parents to wonder whether the mothers and fathers who did this were fit to raise their children.

Endured painful chapter together
Moreover, the overwhelming reaction of the residents of the Gaza settlements to these Hollywood moments was fury. I witnessed many local settlers screaming at the outsiders who came to incite and provoke the troops, telling them to go away and let them struggle and express their pain in dignity and peace.

However, it was hard to film these telling moments to show the world as the inciters routinely threatened the press with violence. They hoped to control the message by beating the press and breaking their cameras.

Not that the nation of Israel, glued in fascination and horror to their TV sets, did not sympathize and share the pain of the settlers and their children who were forced from their homes.

It was terrible to see these moments rich in intensity and historic significance. The country cried in its living rooms, even as soldiers and settlers routinely embraced and cried together.

But the right-wing threats to bring the nation to a standstill — by bringing a 100,000 people onto the roads to block traffic; having tens of thousands of protestors sit on the Gaza access roads to stop the army from moving; and creating fears that fanatics would launch so much violence against the Arabs that the disengagement would have to stop — were mostly duds.

One Jewish extremist killed four Arabs. A woman set herself on fire and survived with 70 percent burns. There were small, short attempts to block a few roads.

Final victor? Democracy
But the final headline — "Settlers Lose Homes, Not Much Happens" — is perhaps cruel, but true.

So can Israel give up more land, this time in the West Bank, without too much resistance? That isn't really the point.

Israel proved that if the government wants to do something, it has the power and the will to carry it out. Neither the right wing is big enough or irresponsible enough to stop it, and nor would the left wing be.

The vast center held in the face of a painful historical turn in Israel's history.

Democracy won.

Martin Fletcher is the NBC News Tel Aviv bureau chief and lead correspondent.


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