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Tenth Anniversary of Gaza Withdrawal

Photographer: Jim Hollander


By all accounts, it was in December 2003 that then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel “Arik” Sharon decided unilaterally to withdraw all of Israel's Jewish settlers and all of its army from the entire Gaza Strip. This came as a complete surprise to Israel's top army commanders and indeed the entire country.


Sharon's decision was bold – to evacuate every single one of the some 10,000 Jewish settlers and dismantle sprawling military camps and remove all of the Israeli soldiers, amounting to about one division, providing security for the settlers. This decision was partially based on the fact that thousands of missiles fired from within the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip were landing in the settlements in the southern Gush Katif settlement block and the northern Israeli settlement near the Israeli border, as well as inside Israeli border towns such as Sderot.


The Israeli Army's Chief of Staff at the time, Moshe Ya'alon, who has gone on to become the current Minister of Defense, commented that the 'disengagement,' as it became known, would promote Palestinian “terrorism,” and would encourage Jihadist groups to battle Israel.


By the winter of 2005 a 'Disengagement Weekly' meeting was being held to determine exactly how this would be carried out and Israeli Police and Border Police were being trained in ways to forcibly evacuate settlers. There were constant protests directly aimed at the Prime Minister and broader right-wing supporters within Israel who would turn out in their tens-of-thousands in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.


The color orange was adopted to symbolize the settlers' plight, after all the decades of Israeli governments, both left and right-wing, promoting Jewish settlements. And the color orange was seen everywhere.


The Israeli military's view was that the disengagement would decrease terrorism as Israel would return all the Gazans' land to them and they would rebuild and grow from the experience. Some in the army thought that Hamas might take over Gaza, but the government voted yes to the Disengagement. No rallies nor protests or preparations could keep the disengagement from happening. There was a deadline set – August 14, 2005 -- and the settlers were given cardboard boxes and containers to voluntarily pack and move, or face evacuation.


The “Disengagement” did go forth as expected but with some alterations – it only took a week instead of the planned three weeks . Major discussions and rules for the press fell apart immediately and it became a total free-for-all but with very open coverage. It was difficult – for all concerned. It was emotional as well -- for all concerned.


Palestinians immediately swarmed into the Gush Katif when the disengagement was complete and scavengers carted away all electrical wires, tubing, plumbing fixtures and roof tiles that were not pulverized by the army's bulldozers when they demolished almost every standing building in all the settlements. The Palestinian Police mainly stood by.


What followed in the ensuing years were thousands of rockets once again fired into southern Israel and a Hamas take-over from Fatah of the entire Gaza Strip. And then more and more rockets, leading to war and the Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip in 2012. Two years later in 2014 an intense 50-day conflict ended with a non-binding ceasefire. Thus the Prime Minister's stated objectives of ending Hamas' military capabilities, and stopping the rockets from raining into Israel went unfulfilled.