As the world learns how Hamas succeeded in duping the Israelis into complacency ahead of the barbaric Simchas Torah massacre, what stands out is the tragic ease with which the current government allowed itself to be deceived.
“We made them think Hamas was busy with governing Gaza, and that it wanted to focus on the 2.5 million Palestinians there and had abandoned the resistance altogether. All the while, under the table, Hamas was preparing for this big attack,” boasted senior Hamas terrorist Ali Baraka in an interview last week with RT (Russia Today).
In other words, writes prominent news analyst Caroline Glick in JNS, “Hamas pretended it was a credible partner for negotiations” [for a two-state solution], “and Israel let itself be played.”
Israel let itself be blinded to facts on the ground that its leaders know all too well: the depraved nature of Hamas and other Palestinian terrorists, whose foremost agenda is to annihilate the Jewish state and to glory in the torture and murder of every Jew they lay hands on.
Fatal self-deception and underestimation of the enemy have driven other critical moments in recent Israeli history. One thinks immediately of the disastrous 1993 Oslo Accords under Yitzhak Rabin and later, the ill-fated Gaza Disengagement under Ariel Sharon. With the perspective of time, these initiatives have come to be recognized by many as gross failures of leadership and judgment.
Deceptively called “peace plans,” these fateful events witnessed Israeli governments making reckless concessions based on empty or imagined promises, only to endure vicious waves of terror when freshly armed terrorists were empowered to slaughter Jews with impunity.
The Hamas tactic of faking out the world about its true intentions is nothing new for the Islamic jihadists, asserts Caroline Glick. It has its roots in the modus operandi of arch terrorist Yassir Arafat and his comrades—and this deceit should have informed a key component of Israeli counterstrategy.
“In the P.A.’s early days in the 1990s, Arafat would routinely condemn Hamas terror attacks against Israel in English and then call for the Palestinian Arabs to slaughter the Jews through jihad in Arabic,” the author notes.
Hamas’s current “pretend separation” from Islamic Jihad, and its use of Islamic Jihad as the bad guy while Hamas wore the mantle of “good guy” to persuade Israel and the U.S. that it had “moderated,” was the same trick.
The Israeli government has known the truth all along, yet allowed itself to be lulled by Hamas into a false sense of security and to fall asleep at the wheel.
“Hamas was able to deceive Israel and the U.S. for two years because they wanted to be deceived. Israel’s generals wanted to believe that the Palestinian Arabs aren’t implacable foes,” notes Glick. They can be appeased. We don’t have to defeat them,” was the wishful thinking of the government’s leaders.
Historic Backstabbing by Ariel Sharon Lay The Groundwork
A classic case of Israeli leaders falling prey in a similar way to a hallucinatory pipe dream is the 2005 Gaza Disengagement, when the Israeli government under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew all military forces and all civilians from Gaza. Strikingly, he did so one-sidedly, without negotiations, as a “free gift” to the Palestinians.
Sharon’s Disengagement Plan followed five years of relentless suicide bombings of the Second Intifada beginning in 2000. Israelis’ belief in the possibility of peace had faded and Sharon, known as “The Bulldozer,” had been elected on the strength of his reputation as a military hawk. The expectation was that the new government under Sharon would deal with the Palestinians with an iron fist.
Sharon had been a champion of the settlements, believing that they created “facts on the ground” that would impede the forfeiting of land captured in the 1967 war to the Palestinians. The relinquishing of territory, any territory at all, was something he had always campaigned against.
Yet the new prime minister, with two thirds of the Knesset supporting him, stunned his voter base shortly after he was elected by abandoning those who had helped put him in office, and all the residents of Gush Katif who saw him as their “protector.” Sharon had literally run on a platform promising not to leave Gaza. His drastic turnaround was seen as backstabbing, an unforgiveable betrayal.
The towns and kibbutzim in Gaza, collectively referred to as Gush Katif, were not a haphazard bunch of trailers or tent cities. Gush Katif in the south of Gaza was home to almost 9,000 Jews in a block of 18 towns boasting fully built communities with roads, industry, countless shuls and schools, much of which had been in place for decades.
No one on the Palestinian side had even made a show of promising Sharon anything in return for the mass expulsion of Israelis from their homes. For reasons not clear to this day, Sharon had totally sidestepped the Palestinians, pursuing his withdrawal plan without extracting a single concession from the other side.
The theory is that he anticipated that the sweeping evacuation would win Israel (and himself) international favor, and induce the Palestinians to abandon their long-running intifada—a terror campaign that had claimed 134 Jewish lives in a five year period. Sharon made grandiose promises to Israeli citizens that the Disengagement would grant them “the maximum level of security and minimize friction between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Having bought in to this delusional thinking, he then swept much of the country with him, and in the end resorted to ruthless tactics to force the plan through.
A Passionately Divided Israel
Not everyone fell under the enchantment of the Gaza “peace” initiative. The Disengagement Plan passionately divided Israeli society. For many to the political left of Sharon, the challenge of protecting almost 10,000 Jewish settlers surrounded by more than a million Palestinians was not worth the drain on military resources. They, along with a sizable percent of the Israeli public, fell under the spell of Sharon’s confident predictions of “maximum security” and supported the withdrawal.
Many on the right argued that the settlements in Gaza served as a buffer to Palestinian violence. They warned that if the settlements were removed, Gaza could turn into a terrorist breeding ground and a launching pad for attacks against all of Israel. Hamas helped prove these critics right when in 2004—after the Disengagement Plan was made public—the terror group fired 882 mortar shells and 276 Qassam rockets at Israel.
For many religious Zionists, the Disengagement violated a cherished lynchpin of Zionist doctrine—settling the land of Israel. Some feared this was only the beginning; dismantling the settlements in Gush Katif would lead to the uprooting of more and more moshavim in Yehuda and Shomron, giving up on the Zionist dream of a “Greater Israel.” See Sidebar One and Two
Almost every Jew has seen heart-wrenching images of Jewish families in Gush Katif being dragged out of their homes by soldiers of the IDF. Many spent their final hours in the area davening and crying in the beautiful shuls in the community. There are many stories of soldiers crying with the residents as they removed them from their homes. Some refused to carry out orders and simply davened together with their brothers and sisters.
Ultimately, every single settler was evicted. Even the dead were expelled, their graves dug up for reburial in the new borders of Israel. Every last Israeli soldier was also withdrawn from Gaza.
The full Operational IDF Plan for the Evacuation of Gaza is now a matter of public record. Reading through it, one is stunned by the flagrant trampling of civic rights that accompanied the expulsion of the settlers—as if these families were enemies of the state.
The plan, called “Operation Eshel Tz’chiach,” details all military and logistical aspects of the expulsion, including psychological warfare to maximize the shock of surprise and neutralize residents’ resistance.
The IDF document singles out certain radio stations as necessary to jam, to prevent accurate information from reaching evacuees: “The Communications Corps will jam the cellular phone networks in the entire Gaza Strip and nearby area,” the document reads. “It is necessary to prevent in any way possible radio broadcasts from the Arutz Sheva ship or similar ones, and to locate transmitters operating throughout Israel and the territories.”
We know all too well what happened in the immediate aftermath of the evacuation.
Violent Hamas Takeover
In less than a year later, Hamas won elections in Gaza and went on to violently seize control of the territory from the Palestinian Authority, which was controlled by the rival Fatah terrorist movement (that still governs the West Bank.)
Some may recall how in the fight with Fatah, Hamas fighters were reported to have executed their opponents by dragging them up steep staircases and throwing them out of windows. Around 600 Palestinians were killed from early 2006 to mid-2007 from Palestinian infighting within the strip.
Since then, no further elections have been held in Gaza. Instead of building up the economy and infrastructure and providing for Palestinians’ daily needs, the Hamas leadership used hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian aid and supplies to wage war on Israel. Thousands of rocket attacks were launched at civilian population centers. Materials were repurposed to construct miles of underground tunnels in order to infiltrate Israel and conduct terror attacks, abductions, and smuggle weapons.
The continuous terrorism and rocket attack barrages provoked Israeli military retaliation, resulting in three consecutive wars in Gaza between 2008 and 2014 that claimed hundreds of lives.
The unrelenting violence and murderous aggression also led Israel to enforce strict borders — both on land and sea — to prevent further terrorist activity and Israeli civilian casualties. A few years later, Egypt enforced strict borders with Gaza on their side as well.
‘Mowing the Lawn’—A Doomed Policy
Israeli government policy toward these wars has been guided by a strategy of “mowing the lawn”—reducing terrorism without uprooting the terrorist infrastructure, or “kicking the can down the road” so it becomes the problem of future prime ministers and army generals. That way the crisis will be postponed so current government leaders will not have to risk their political futures by staging a lengthy all-out war.
Hamas exploited the periods of calm in between wars by greatly extending its military capacities, to an extent barely imaginable a decade ago.
“When Israel left Gaza in 2005 the range of the Palestinian rockets was barely 5 km. (3 miles), and the explosive charge they carried, about 5 kg. Now their missiles have a range of over 100 km. and warheads of around 100 kg,” writes Dr. Martin Sherman of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.
“When Israel left Gaza, only the sparse population in its immediate proximity was threatened by missiles. Now well over 5 million Israelis, well beyond Tel Aviv, are menaced by them.”
A Gadol’s Prediction
One of Ariel Sharon’s most outspoken critics was Rav Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of the Shas party, and the posek hador for much of the Sephardic Jewish world until his death in 2013. Rav Yosef repeatedly condemned the Gaza Disengagement, slamming Sharon’s promises of “a maximum level of security” as worthless.
He argued passionately against unilateral action outside the framework of a peace agreement, saying that empowering the Palestinians without a commitment to end terror would imperil Jewish lives.
Widely reported in newspapers around the world, Rav Yosef referred to Sharon “as a cruel person” for ruthlessly driving Jews out of their home. He predicted that “The Holy One will strike him down. He will sleep and never wake up.”
These words proved eerily prescient. Less than seven months after the last Jew was removed from Gush Katif, the prime minister suffered a massive stroke. He fell into a coma and drifted into a vegetative state for the next eight years from which he never awoke. He died in 2014.
Sharon was spared from witnessing any of the harrowing fallout from his misguided plan. He saw neither the Hamas takeover nor the explosion of terror that dominated the region after the Disengagement, culminating 18 years later in the unspeakable horrors of the Hamas massacre of over 1300 defenseless Jews.
The following editorials by Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz, editor of Yated, were written just days after the Gaza Disengagement. They offer a fascinating perspective on one of the most confusing and emotionally charged issues of the day.
August 3, 2005
A Prayer for The People of Sharon
Everyone wants to know what the gedolei Yisroel say about the Disengagement. I had the occasion this week to discuss the matter with my rebbi, Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, and what he tole me was most enlightening.
Rav Shmuel remarked with a pained expression how awful it is for the people living in Gush Katif to be evicted from their homes and that we must all feel their pain. “Bochoh sivkeh balaylah,” he quoted from Megillas Eicha, noting how applicable that poignant passage is to the present situation.
The settlers believed that their moving to Gaza would hasten the arrival of Moshiach. Ariel Sharon dashed their dreams. His original plan was to complicate the givebacks of captured land by creating large settler blocs. By urging people to settle in places like Gush Katif, the day of reckoning would be delayed or even avoided entirely.
I remember him showing me maps over ten years ago and proudly pointing to places all along Yehuda, Shomron and Azza, to ensure that no leftist government would ever be able to return that land to the Arabs. Who would ever have imagined he would totally abandon this position as prime minister.
The pawns in this chess game, the people who settled formerly barren areas and built up homes and communities, have known terrible suffering. The Arabs of Gaza have been unrelenting in their attacks on Gush Katif. Katyushas and other flying bombs have rained down on the region for close to three decades, murdering good people who made the ultimate sacrifice for their ideals. Hashem yinkom damam.
And now, the very same Sharon who stood behind them all these years and pointed with pride at their towns and cities, has ordered their evacuation.
While we love Eretz Yisroel with much passion, we realize that Moshiach has not yet come. Even in Israel we are in golus.
We put Jewish lives ahead of nationalist agendas.
But there is the pain.
It is very hard for us to stand by and witness the despair of our brethren in Gush Katif.
Yes, they bought into a lie and are now paying the price, but they are our brothers and they are heartbroken. And when our brother is down, we are down. We pray for them to be able to survive this crushing blow and rebuild their lives.
We are not sure that living in Gush Katif was ever a smart thing to do. We don’t know how wise it was for the people who moved and lived there to endanger themselves, their families and so many soldiers. But now as they stand on the threshold of expulsion, as they hold their heads in agony contemplating the wasted lives sacrificed on the altar of Sharon’s lie, our hearts go out to them.
Divine Message From the 16th Century
Rav Shmuel had a further insight. He went on to say that during the Gezairos Tach v’Tat, the devastating pogroms against the Jews in Poland and Russia that wiped out 100,000 of our people, the Tosfos Yom Tov said that the reason for the terrible persecutions was revealed to him from Shomayim.
He said that the Jews of that period did not show proper respect for shuls and botei medrash. He aroused the community to take the Divine message to heart and wrote a special tefillah on behalf of those who would restrain themselves from talking during davening.
If shuls and botei medrash in Gaza are about to be blown up and the Jews who frequent them are being chased from their homes, this wrenching prospect may carry a message for us as well. Let us take that message to heart and merit the yeshuos the Tosfos Yom Tov prayed for during the bitter Gezeiros Tach v’Tat.
August 25, 2005
Move To My Settlement
The period of Jewish, Zionist settlement of Gaza has ended. There are no longer any Jews living in the Gaza strip. The man on which so many pinned their hopes spurned them, threw them out of their homes and snuffed out their dreams.
The media dispatches from Gaza are full of raw emotion. Rarely do we read of such an outpouring of grief when not concerning death or dying. Women cried, men cried, children cried, soldiers cried. Why the extraordinary level of pain and tears? Let us probe the history of this sad debacle in an effort to understand.
Decades ago, at great risk to their lives, the settlers moved to a forsaken desert. They made it bloom, building beautiful houses and farms. They believed that building Jewish settlements would help hasten the arrival of Moshiach. They felt they were keeping the enemies of Israel at bay by living in the midst of so many bloodthirsty Arabs.
Soon after his election as prime minister, Ariel Sharon, who had been their champion and protector, decided to expel them from the paradise they had carved out. None of their heartrending entreaties could budge him. No miracle intervened to reverse the dreaded evacuation. The Tisha B’Av deadline arrived and the soldiers with their orders were at the door, ready to carry fellow Jews out of their homes.
The tears gushed as cameras snapped, recording the grief for posterity. To be thrown out of your home is devastating; to be homeless is a nightmare. To have fought dearly for something and lost is deeply painful, but I think there is an even deeper dimension to the tragedy.
I think the settlers were crying because they believed they were doing G-d’s work; they were fighting for Zionism and they lost. Their life’s mission was uprooted. In the words of one settler quoted in The New York Times as he was being dragged from his home, “This is not about our house. We are fighting the battle for Zionism.”
The Mizrachi religious Zionist movement was founded in 1902 in a bid to work together with the secular Zionists to settle the land of Israel. Following the wars of 1967 and 1973, followers of Rav Kook’s son, Rav Zvi Yehuda, saw an opportunity to help speed the arrival of Moshiach. They teamed up with the secular Ariel Sharon and planted settlements of Jews all across parts of Eretz Yisroel and Gaza that had been captured in the Six Day War of ’67.
The settlements exerted a powerful emotional pull and religious Jews in Israel and around the world supported the mitnachalim. In the wake of the demoralizing losses of the Yom Kippur War, the growing settlement movement infused new hope and optimism. The moshavim morphed into complete towns, with yeshivos, factories and beautiful houses—like a gan eden in olam hatachton.
An Elter Yid’s Foresight
During the heady days of their founding, Rav Shach would frequently speak against the settlement activity, saying we have no need for them and that it was forbidden to establish them. He was mocked and vilified for his position. A talmid once approached him, pleading to understand. “Rebbi, why do you keep on criticizing the settlements? You’re not accomplishing anything, your words are being scorned.”
Rav Shach answered that he had no faith in the country’s leaders and did not trust their motives. He knew the day would come when they would relinquish the land they had liberated and return it to the Arabs. The settlers invested so much religious zeal into those settlements, he said, that he feared their loss would be so devastating, it would shatter their emunah.
Rav Shach went on to say that he felt compelled to repeat his message so that when that future time arrives, the settlers would remember that there was once an alter Yid in Bnei Brak who stood and darshened that the settlements were not needed and were not destined to last, but our people would survive without them.
Let them remember that when the day of betrayal comes, he said. Then they will not despair and will not forsake their faith in the religion of our forefathers.
Alas, the bitter day the alter Yid foresaw has arrived. And now it is our duty to call out to our sorrowful brothers who have been turned out of their homes and repeat that message. With brotherly love, we cry out to you to come join our settlements of Ponovezh, Mir, Brisk, Chevron and Slabodka. They are ready to absorb you. They reach out to you with hearts full of compassion.
Let us join forces. We can work together building yeshivos and Torah communities. Help us reach out to the tinokos shenishbu and bring them to lives of Torah.
Now that you have been dumped across the country while your homes are bulldozed into oblivion, perhaps it is time to take stock. Perhaps the state and its army do not deserve the religious awe and respect with which you have honored them.
The Zionist dream has failed the Jewish people; it has neither ended anti-Semitism nor engendered respect for our nation. The words of Rav Saadya Gaon echo: “Ein umaseinu umah elah b’Torah,” Torah is what binds us and defines us, not land, not a flag and not settlements.
We live in historic times; Moshiach is knocking on our door. Can’t we join together and do what needs to be done to let him in?