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Why Shouldn’t Israel Get Out of Gaza?

Michael Freund, The Jerusalem Post December 4, 2002
 
Although the polling booths had not yet even closed in the Labor party’s recent primary on November 19, 2002 Amram Mitzna was already making concessions to the Palestinians.
 
In an interview that day with the Associated Press, Labor’s new chairman went out of his way to emphasize that if he becomes Prime Minister, one of his first acts in office would be not to intensify the war on terror, nor to dismantle the Palestinian Authority, nor even to wage an unrelenting struggle against inflation and unemployment. Rather, said Mitzna, he would carry out an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, pulling back all troops and forcibly removing Jewish settlers from their homes.

And this, he asserted, would be carried out unilaterally, even without prior negotiations with the Palestinians.

The idea of leaving Gaza, of course, is hardly new.  

Back in 1992, Yitzhak Rabin made it a central theme of his election campaign, promising the Israeli public that he would “take Gaza out of Tel Aviv”.

Then, as now, the proposal was aimed at an electorate conditioned into thinking that Israel has no business being in Gaza in the first place, with its very presence there serving as an invitation to further violence and bloodshed.

Indeed, Gaza is almost always portrayed by the media as a teeming hotbed of hatred, one in which tiny Jewish settlements live alongside masses of Palestinians seething with anger against the Israeli army. The picture that is painted is so one-sided, yet so forceful, that even some on Israel’s right have said that they would see little problem in abandoning Gaza to its own devices.

Given that this is the case, then why the heck would any Israeli want to hang on to Gaza at all?

The answer, however, is quite simple: because Gaza belongs to the Jewish people, and it is time we started treating it as such.

Put aside, for a moment, all the pre-conceived notions you may have about the area, and consider the following: Gaza has a long and rich Jewish history, one which stretches back to Biblical times. After the Exodus from Egypt, when each of the tribes of Israel was apportioned various parts of the Promised Land, Gaza was given to the Tribe of Judah, (see Joshua 15:47 and Judges 1:18) as a share of its eternal inheritance.

Since we are celebrating the festival of Chanukah this week, it is worth recalling that the Hasmonean king Yochanan, brother of Judah the Maccabee, retook Gaza in 145 BCE, and his brother Shimon sent Jews to settle there, hundreds of years before the advent of Islam.

In the fourth century, some 1600 years before the establishment of the PLO, Gaza served as the primary port of commerce for the Jews of the Holy Land.

Nearly forty years ago, on the outskirts of Gaza city near the sea, Egyptian archaeologists discovered a mosaic floor from an ancient synagogue which dated from the sixth century. It is one of the oldest, and the largest, ever found in the Land of Israel.

During the Middle Ages, Gaza was home to a thriving Jewish community which boasted its share of prominent rabbis, including Rabbi Yisrael Najara, author of “Kah Ribbon Olam”, the popular hymn sung in Jewish homes around the world every Sabbath. He served as Gaza’s Chief Rabbi until his death in 1625, and he was buried in the city’s Jewish cemetery.

The great medieval kabbalist Rabbi Avraham Azoulai also lived in Gaza, where he authored his famed work, Hesed L’Avraham, along with a commentary on the Bible.  

After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and Portugal at the end of the 15th century, a number of the exiles made their way to Gaza, where members of the Jewish community worked in various trades, such as merchants, silversmiths and farmers.

Centuries ago, the great scholar Rabbi Yaakov Emden ruled that Gaza is an intrinsic part of the Jewish people’s national heritage. “Gaza and its environs are absolutely considered part of the Land of Israel without a doubt,” he wrote in his work Mor U’ketziyah, adding, “there is no doubt that it is a mitzvah to live there, as in any part of the Land of Israel.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that even though Jews have been expelled from Gaza at least six times over the past two thousand years, they have nevertheless returned to resettle it with increased determination and vigor.

In 61 CE, the Roman governor Gavinius evicted the Jews from Gaza, as did Napoleon, the Crusaders and the Ottoman Turks.

In August 1929, when Arab rioters threatened to slaughter Gaza Jewry, the British army forced the community to evacuate.

In October 1946, on the night following Yom Kippur, the Gaza Jewish settlement of Kfar Darom was established. It lasted just a year and a half, until the outbreak of Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, when Egypt overran the area and occupied it.

Finally, in 1967, in a war of self-defense, Israel retook Gaza, making it possible once again for Jews to reside there. Hence, the 7,000 Jews currently living in Gaza are neither invaders, nor occupiers, nor intruders. They are indigenous residents who have returned home, treading on the very same ground as that of their ancestors before them.

There are plenty of military and security reasons to justify Israeli rule over Gaza as well, if only because it serves as a gateway from the east to seizing control over the entire country.

Conquerors throughout the centuries, from Titus to Napoleon to the British, all entered Israel by way of Gaza, setting the stage for its eventual capture.

Thus, to abandon Gaza, as Amram Mitzna now suggests, is to overlook the key strategic role it has played throughout history. But more importantly, it also ignores the fact that Gaza is an intrinsic part of the Land of Israel, the Jewish people’s patrimony. By suggesting that Israel withdraw, Mitzna is essentially implying that we have no right to this strip of territory.

And that, quite frankly, is an affront, not only to Jewish history, but to Jewish destiny as well.

The writer served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister’s Office