Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Elul 5765 - September 15, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Israel Leaves Gaza; Palestinian Mob Burns Shuls, Loots

by M Plaut and Yated Ne'eman Staff

After 38 years, since the Six Day War in June, 1967 (5727), Israel withdrew from Gaza on Monday. All Israel was relieved when the final stages of the withdrawal, the pullout of the last 3,000 soldiers of the IDF, proceeded in an orderly fashion with no casualties. On Monday morning at 7 a.m. the gates of the Kissufim crossing were closed and barricaded with a huge pile of earth, after Colonel Aviv Kochavi, the last commander of Gaza, walked through. The IDF held a small ceremony marking the incident. The Palestinians did not attend.

Government spokesmen said that the withdrawal was coordinated with the Palestinian Authority (PA). That appears to have meant that the IDF informed the PA of what was going to happen at every stage. The PA did not project a strong presence, though PA police often moved in right after the IDF left their positions at the various places.

A major topic of discussion in Israel over the days leading up to the final withdrawal was whether Israel should destroy the shuls of the Jewish settlements. The issue was before the Cabinet several times and was also argued before the High Court several times.

The rabbinical establishment was unanimous in arguing that Jews should not destroy the synagogues, regardless of what will happen to them after the Palestinians are in control. In the end, the rabbinical position prevailed. Although the High Court ruled that the government may destroy the shuls, the Cabinet voted overwhelmingly to leave them intact, reversing its earlier decision to destroy them.

Leading the effort to leave the shuls intact was Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. Late last week, after the High Court rejected a final petition not to destroy the shuls, he suddenly asked to discuss the issue at the upcoming Cabinet meeting, indicating that he had changed his mind and was against destroying the synagogues. Soon, other Likud ministers, including Sylvan Shalom, Danni Naveh, Yisrael Katz, Limor Livnat, Tzachi Hanegbi and Gideon Ezra also announced that they would vote to preserve the shuls. Labor minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer and Shalom Simchon announced that they too wanted to leave the buildings intact.

Although the last soldier left through the Kissufim gate on Monday morning, the IDF pulled out of most of the settlements late Sunday night.

One of the last images engraved in the memory of the pullout from Gaza was a picture of IDF civilian volunteers working to hang signs reading "Holy Place" in English and Arabic on the botei knesses left standing.

Yet within less than an hour, sometime after midnight early Monday morning, a mob of Palestinians was shattering, breaking, plundering and burning the botei knesses. Palestinian police, who had already moved in, stood off to the side, making no effort to stop the barbaric acts.

The first beis knesses to be torched was in Netzarim. The IDF forces had not even reached the Karni Checkpoint on their way out of the Gaza Strip before hearing radio reports the Palestinians had already set fire to the beis knesses. Turning around, the soldiers could see bullets streaking in the air and a large fire rising up from the beis knesses. The stunned soldiers and officers were consoled by the fact their exit, besiyata deShmaya, had gone smoothly and without injuries.

After midnight the Palestinians from Khan Yunis raided the beis knesses in what had once been Morag. The mob flew PLO and Hamas flags as they shot in the air and launched fireworks. "Tomorrow we will liberate all of Palestine," shouted the mob. They then proceeded to cart off everything in sight: tables, chairs, furniture and even window frames and electrical poles.

The next target was the beis knesses at Neveh Dekalim. Thick clouds of smoke billowed up after the Palestinians torched it along with the remains of other buildings.

PA Chairman Abu Mazzen hurried to dispatch an announcement saying the botei knesses had been razed by the PA. "The Israelis left behind empty structures that were previously botei knesses. But they removed all of the religious articles and therefore they are no longer holy places," he determined.

National Security Advisor Jibril Rajoub also said the that PA would remove all of the structures left by Israel in order to remove every trace of "Israeli aggression." Rajoub attacked Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, calling him a "liar." He said a large portion of the structures did not serve as places of worship but were used for other purposes and only preceding the withdrawal were sifrei Torah brought in and the structures made sacred. "We are resolute in our decision to remove them," said Rajoub.

Meanwhile "liberation" songs were playing on the sound systems of Gaza mosques. Residents issued cries of joy over the loudspeakers. Some of the Gazans marching to the evacuated settlements held aloft pictures of members of their organizations who were killed during the Intifadah. Others kneeled down on the ground as they entered the settlements, kissing the ground and issuing further calls against Israel.

The fires caused little structural damage in the fortress- like concrete and stone structures, but the Palestinian Authority said the buildings would be destroyed.

The synagogue buildings were among the few buildings left standing. Israel sent in bulldozers to level all the houses, leaving only a few public buildings and the synagogues.

Since the evacuation of the settlers, rabbis from Israel and all over the world mounted a high-profile campaign to save the buildings, demanding that the government try to see to it that they would be protected by the Palestinians or by international organizations. The Palestinians refused to protect them. "They left empty buildings that used to be temples, but they removed all the religious symbols, and they are no longer religious places," a spokesman explained.

The United States issued a statement criticizing the Israeli change of policy, complaining that it put the Palestinians in a position "where it may be criticized for whatever it does."

President Moshe Katzav referred to the burning of the botei knesses by Gaza Palestinians as an act of vandalism. The Palestinian Authority and the local police did nothing to prevent the burning of the botei knesses and the masses destroyed the buildings purely for the sake of vandalism said Katzav. "This is an inhuman and uncultured act," he added. "The responsibility falls on the Palestinian Authority, which did not try to prevent this act."

Katzav said he does not dream of returning to Gaza and hopes "our neighbors will allow us to conduct negotiations to create permanent borders between us and them."

Yesha Council leaders said they would not alter the organization's name based on hopes of one day returning to Gaza to rebuild Gush Katif. (The full name is the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza; "Yesha" is an acronym for the Hebrew Yehuda, Shomron ve'Azza.)

Southern Commander Gen. Dan Harel expressed regret over the destruction of the botei knesses as well as hope that the PA would restore order. He noted the IDF has retained attack capabilities should the necessity arise. In response to questions by reporters he said the PA and Egypt are responsible for preventing weapons smuggling over their shared border and if they fail to do so the IDF would use the means at its disposal to stop weapons smuggling into Gaza.

PA Chairman Abu Mazzen said the pullout from the Gaza Strip is a first step toward the end of the conquest of Palestinian land. "This is an important step and a first day of joy the likes of which the Palestinian people have not known for the past 100 years." Still many further steps are needed, he stressed, and the issue of border crossings, especially at Rafiach, must be solved to prevent the Gaza Strip from turning into one big jail.

"I am pleased the soldiers were unharmed during the evacuation of the Gaza Strip," said Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres. "Buildings that were destroyed can always be rebuilt." Peres called the Israeli presence in Gaza a historical error and said he was proud Israel found the strength to rectify it. He said efforts should be made to ensure the Gaza Strip does not turn into a big jail and a soup kitchen and that the Palestinians should be allowed to live there in a dignified manner.


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