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A Different Take on Disengagement

Last week's painful and violent withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank never had to happen.
 
 
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If Ariel Sharon had been willing to negotiate a genuine peace agreement with the Palestinians in which Israel withdrew to the 1967 border (with slight border modifications along the lines suggested by Yossi Beilin in the Geneva Accord of 2003), one part of that agreement could have allowed all settlers to stay in their homes in Gaza and the West Bank as long as they agreed to be law-abiding citizens of the Palestinian state that would be governing that area. If they were not willing to give up their Israeli citizenship and live in peace with their neighbors,  they could voluntarily leave their homes and return to Israel.  That is the same choice that Arabs faced once Israel was established in a land that they once governed. It should have been the choice offered to Israeli settlers as well.

There never had to be the horrible scene of people being dragged from their homes.

So why did it happen?  Because Ariel Sharon's entire plan -- as explained to the Israeli public by his assistant, Dov Weisglass -- was to sacrifice the settlers of Gaza precisely in order to have the painful images that dominated the media, so that Sharon could argue "Of course no one can ask us to do this kind of thing to the 300,000 settlers in the West Bank, given the pain everyone has seen us go through in Gaza."

As Sharon's aides tried to tell the settlers, the Disengagement was intended to preserve the Occupation, not undermine it. And so, Sharon is moving ahead to finish construction of the Separation Wall and cut off from the West Bank the 150,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem (not to mention many other Palestinians living in proximity to the Wall), expropriate more and more Palestinian land, and "create facts" on the ground that will be hard to change.

There are some who celebrate this Gaza withdrawal as the first step in the process of dismantling settlements. Rabbi Lerner asks them the following: "At what point, how many years from now, while the Occupation continues of much of the West Bank, will you acknowledge that this was simply another part of the scheme that Sharon has--to hold on to close to 50 percent of the West Bank while offering Palestinians a state that will be neither economically nor politically viable, a state that, when they refuse it, or when they accept it and then ask for more, will be used as 'proof' that nothing will ever satisfy them?"  So, Rabbi Lerner argues, we should understand that all the pain was part of an elaborate ruse--and though the immediate victims are the Gaza settlers, the real victims are all the peoples of Israel and Palestine who will have to endure the ongoing suffering that the continuation of the Occupation guarantees.

This was not a move toward reconciliation and open-heartedness between two peoples, but a unilateral move by a pro-occupation government, aided by an international media that systematically tells the story from the standpoint of the Israeli government. When was the last time the media gave this kind of attention to the systematic uprooting from their homes of Palestinians by the Israeli occupation, though the number of those who have been uprooted far exceeds those of Israelis uprooted? When was the last time the media raised the issue of how many Israelis today are living in homes that belonged to Palestinians before 1948? 

We raise these issues not to challenge the right of Israel to exist or to flourish, but precisely for the opposite reason--because we believe that only when Israel opens its heart to the fate of the Palestinians and seeks a reconciliation based on justice and kindness and a spirit of generosity (not a unilateral decision by Ariel Sharon imposed on the Palestinian people) can Israel be truly secure.

This is the key lesson of a spiritual politics: that security comes not through power and domination, but through love and generosity. The forced withdrawal of settlers from their homes this past week did not generate a higher level of love or generosity of spirit from any of the different groups in the Middle East. Even the Palestinians in Gaza, relieved that they no longer will have to go through IDF checkpoints, couldn't feel that the withdrawal was a part of a new spirit of generosity by Israel. Why have it imposed rather than negotiated as part of a peace agreement?, they asked. And how generous was it when Israel decided to destroy the houses of settlers lest Palestinians occupying those houses be seen by right-wing Israelis as a "provocation" that might lead to new acts of violence? And how generous was it when Israel still insisted that it would control the borders of Gaza, including from the sea and by air, thus making Gaza an enclave without freedom of access to others in the world except through continued Israeli consent.

Is this what you'd call freedom? And if in this circumstance, Hamas would be able to say that it was not Israeli generosity but Israeli desire to avoid more conflict that had forced them to leave, and thus Hamas -- rather than Palestinian non-violence under Prime Mininster Abbas -- that deserved the credit for the withdrawal, would this really surprise Sharon, or rather be exactly what he wants -- a further 'proof' that abandoning territory to Palestinians would only lead to the extremists taking over, so certainly no one could ask for that in the West Bank? Thus, on every level, this had not been a move of spiritual wisdom, but a move calculated to increase Israel's ability to dominate the West Bank.

We don't pretend that in the contemporary world it is easy to get people mobilized around a spiritual politics when they've been so indoctrinated with the message that domination is the only common sense approach, that one can never trust the other, that the world is filled with fear and anger, and that one's only protection is to dominate the other before they dominate us. But at the very least, lets recognize how completely at variance with the deepest message of Judaism and of the other spiritual visions of the world is this "common sense" that guides American policy, Israeli policy, and the policies of most other countries in the world today. We can't condemn Israel without simultaneously acknowledging that the same condemnation is appropriate for every state on the planet, almost.  But we can lament how far Israel has strayed from the highest teachings of Judaism. For as God taught the prophets, "Not by might, and not by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts."

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine , and author of 'Spirit Matters: Global Healing and the Wisdom of the Soul.'