Israel had an anniversary of sorts this month. It was by no means a celebratory event.
There was no excitement, as there is with Yom Ha’Atzmaut, when we commemorate the occasion of Israel’s birth as a nation in 1948. There was no exultation, as there is on Yom Yerushalayim, when we remember the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. In fact, many people failed to note that there was a date on the calendar worth remembering.
This month marked the ninth anniversary of the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. In August 2005, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon oversaw one of the most dark and disturbing chapters in Israel’s history when he ordered the expulsion of approximately 9,000 Jews from Gaza. Entire communities were uprooted, over 2,500 homes were destroyed, and countless families were displaced.
The images of Jews forcibly removing fellow Jews from their homes left an indelible mark on the psyche of the Jewish nation. Watching men and women, young and old, weep as they were escorted from their homes was especially painful, and seeing children forced to leave the only homes they had ever known was absolutely heart-wrenching.
We watched with horror as Jewish residents who refused to leave willingly clashed with the Jewish soldiers tasked with evicting them from their homes. As the residents barricaded themselves inside synagogues and climbed atop the roofs of their homes in acts of defiance, we shuddered and wondered how the situation has spiraled out of control so quickly.
Ultimately, every Jewish resident was evacuated from Gaza and shortly thereafter the Israel Defense Forces completely withdrew from the area, thereby ceding control of Gaza to the Palestinians.
Following the expulsion from Gaza, the situation for the former residents worsened considerably. The financial compensation promised by the Israeli government never fully materialized. People were relocated to temporary domiciles. The unemployment rate among the residents skyrocketed. The sociological ramifications of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza were quite dire.
The political consequences, as we know, were calamitous. Although Prime Minister Sharon believed the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza would improve Israel’s security and burnish its reputation in the international community, his dream never materialized.
Hamas took control of Gaza and quickly turned it into a hotbed of terrorism. What had just recently been vibrant bastions of Jewish life morphed into the main command center for Hamas’s jihad against Israel.
Over the past several weeks, more than 3,300 rockets were fired from Gaza by Hamas terrorists. Those are in addition to the 11,000-plus rockets fired at Israel from Gaza since the withdrawal in 2005.
In addition to Operation Protective Edge, Israel was forced to embark on Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 in response to relentless rocket fire from Gaza. In 2008, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in an effort to impair Hamas’s ability to launch rockets at Israeli cities.
While hindsight is 20/20, at this juncture it is easy to ascertain that the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip nine years ago did not enhance Israel’s security. The fact that over 5 million Israelis live under a constant threat of rocket attacks emanating from Gaza is a stark and scary reminder of how vulnerable Israel has become after it chose to vacate Gaza.
Rather than questioning Sharon’s decision to leave Gaza devoid of any trace of the Israeli presence that existed prior to the withdrawal in 2005, we must look to the future and ask: What now? What happens next?
The reality is that over the past several weeks we’ve witnessed the increased firepower that Hamas has amassed, including long-range rockets that can strike Israeli cities that until now had been considered out of harm’s way. We saw the callous disregard Hamas has for human life and the intense hatred it harbors for Israel.