Israel evacuates Gaza Strip settlements

John Hewitt
Dan Daranciang

Over the past month, a historical drama has been unfolding in a 360-square kilometer strip of land on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The withdrawal of Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip is an event fraught with controversy whose impact is felt on campus, where many students study the Middle East and participate in clubs devoted to discussion and advocacy of issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The evacuation of Israeli settlers began at midnight on August 15. It marked the end of a 38-year long Israeli presence in the region that started with the armistice at the conclusion of the Six-Day War. Living in a densely populated region home to 1.4 million Palestinians, the Israeli settlers were a tiny but highly political minority of 9,000. The potential effects of their absence are a subject of significant debate.

“The disengagement was a painful but necessary step towards peace.ÿBy withdrawing from Gaza, Israelÿhas shown its commitment to the peace process, and the world must now look to the Palestinians to see whether Israeli concessions will be met with calm or with more terrorism,” said sophomore Ben Yungher, president of Washington University Students for Israel. “Few question the legitimate grounds for discontent that settlers in Gaza have;ÿnobody deserves to be uprooted from their home.ÿ However, the Israeli government has recognized these problems and is doing its best to financially compensate evacuees.”

Securing Israel from further attacks is one of the original justifications for the maintenance of an Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip. Although Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers are still occupying the area, they will be withdrawn in late September according to the disengagement plan timeline. After the soldiers withdraw from their installations, the IDF will still control the region’s borders.

“While we feel that Israel has made a wise decision in pulling out of Gaza and several West Bank settlements, it does not settle the major problems that Israel imposes on the Palestinians. Their unilateral pullout will hopefully do much to prevent further violence in the region, but further withdrawal from West Bank settlements to allow Palestinian freedom of movement and employment will be a true test of Israeli intentions,” said sophomore Rashied Amini, internal vice president of Sakina, a Palestinian advocacy and discussion group.

“…While it is important to understand the grief and trauma suffered by those Israeli settlers who were displaced in the withdrawal, it is only a small fraction of what Palestinian refugees have been experiencing for over half a century,” said Amini.

Neither Amini nor Yungher’s views are meant to represent the stance of their respective groups.

The plan has been criticized as a method for freezing the peace process and bypassing solutions brokered by international law. Critics cite an interview in the Haaretz newspaper with Dov Weisglass, one of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s most senior advisors.

“The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process,” said Weisglass. “And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda…and all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress…”

“The disengagement is actually formaldehyde. It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians,” said Weisglass.

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