This month marks a heartrending anniversary, one with ruinous consequences that continue to plague the Jewish state.
It was thirty years ago, in April 1982, that uniformed soldiers pledged to defend Israel and its citizens were given the order to uproot and destroy the Jewish community of Yamit in northern Sinai.
The move came in the wake of the peace treaty with Egypt, when Menachem Begin agreed to a complete withdrawal from all 23,000 square miles of Sinai, which necessitated the forced evacuation of over 7,000 Israelis, including those in Yamit.
Years of toil and sweat, of pioneering spirit and determination, were mercilessly swept away by bulldozers, and by April 25, 1982, Yamit was no more.
Indeed, if you open Google Earth, the popular online mapping program, you can still see the barren site where a thriving community of 2,500 Jews had made Yamit bloom. It looks as if a giant eraser had rubbed away the terrain, leaving behind scars where homes, schools and synagogues had once stood.
This act of destruction was overseen by then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, and the agonizing scenes of Jewish soldiers dragging Jews from their homes in Yamit were seared into the nation’s consciousness.
The traumatic significance and symbolism of the expulsion from Sinai cannot be overstated. After more than 100 years of Zionism and settlement, Israel was vividly turning its back on some of its key core principles, all for the sake of a dubious peace with a dictatorial neighbor.
Many fail to realize just how important Sinai was. It constituted over 90 percent of the territory Israel had liberated during the 1967 Six-Day War. Israel had more than 170 military installations and dozens of early-warning stations scattered throughout its vast deserts, which were also home to the Alma oil fields.
Sinai provided Israel with strategic depth, the potential for petroleum independence, and new frontiers to explore.
But all that was torn away by the withdrawal.
And while it may have brought us three decades of a cold peace with Egypt, conceding the Sinai will likely prove to have been a colossal mistake.
Consider recent events in the region, which underline the perils inherent in turning territory over to our neighbors.
With the fall of the Mubarak regime, there is no telling who will be running Egypt a year from now, or whether they will feel bound to preserve bilateral relations with Jerusalem. The sweeping victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s parliamentary elections certainly doesn’t bode well for the future.
So despite having given up the Sinai for the sake of peace, Israel might end up with neither, which is the worst of all possible scenarios.
Moreover, look at how the territory Israel gave to Egypt has been transformed into a staging area for anti-Israel smuggling and terrorism, as the Grad rockets fired at Eilat from Sinai earlier this month clearly demonstrated.
And most of the weapons Hamas has succeeded in stockpiling in Gaza were smuggled in through the infamous tunnels connecting the strip with Sinai.
Needless to say, an Israeli civilian and military presence in Sinai would have prevented this from occurring.
But with no Israeli forces stationed in the area, there is little that Israel can do about the terrorist threat other than to plead with Cairo to act.
In retrospect, the pullout from Sinai also had still another catastrophic effect on the Jewish state: it set the stage for later expulsions and launched a three-decade long period rife with Israeli retreat. The domino that fell in Sinai would later topple Bethlehem, Hebron and Jenin, and ultimately Gush Katif and Amona.
And now the world wishes to see Judea and Samaria, and Jerusalem too, fall as well. But this is not a child’s game. It is about the very existence of the state of Israel and the Jewish people. Our future is at stake, and we must resolutely turn back the clock and forestall any more withdrawals.
The steady march of capitulation that began in Yamit and continued on through the Oslo process has brought this nation to the brink of disaster, resulting in increasing violence and bloodshed.
We must put an end to this headlong rush towards calamity.
Let us use this anniversary of the original sin of the Yamit withdrawal to draw a line in the sand, literally and figuratively, and declare once and for all: never again will Israel uproot Jews from their homes.
We cannot allow the mistakes of the past to dictate future events.
Yamit’s legacy is one of desolation and despair. Let’s make ours one of destiny and hope.
Michael Freund is chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), which assists lost tribes and hidden Jewish communities to return to Israel and the Jewish people.