"Black Feet" in Judea and Samaria: The Algerian Evacuation Model and its Relevance for Israel

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While pending the possible decision to evacuate settlements in Judea and Samaria, IDI Research Fellow Yair Sheleg offers a new model of evacuation, based on the Algerian evacuation model, altered to fit Israeli reality.

The future of Judea and Samaria has been under debate in Israel for decades. Both sides are backed by weighty arguments: the national and religious connection to this territory and the security risk of withdrawing from it are pitted against the ethical problem of controlling the lives of millions of stateless Palestinians and the possibility that, by maintaining the status quo, Israel will be pressured into agreeing to a one-state solution, meaning that it would eventually lose its distinct Jewish character.

As these arguments continue to clash, a considerable number of Israelis who object to evacuating Judea and Samaria threaten to resolve the issue by force. They say that even if the decision to evacuate is made democratically, they will prevent its implementation by means of physical, even violent, resistance. The precedent of withdrawal from the Sinai and Gaza Strip will be irrelevant and the violent struggle for Amona will seem like child's play, they warn, if the government orders a pull-out from Judea and Samaria. And, upon hearing these warnings, many Israelis who support the evacuation say it is impossible to achieve and that Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria is an irreversible fact.

To overcome this sense of inevitability, perhaps we should consider a model that differs from that used in the Sinai and Gaza, one that is based on the withdrawal of French forces from Algeria in 1962 (and adapted to the specific needs and character of Israel). The assumption behind this proposal is that regardless of how an evacuation from Judea and Samaria is viewed ideologically, Israeli society cannot permit a minority to forcibly suppress the majority. (It is clear that an evacuation will only take place if supported by a majority of citizens or their representatives.) We must, therefore, find a rational means of preventing this from occurring.


In July 1962, after 132 years of rule, France pulled its government and forces out of Algeria. Throughout the decades of Algeria's annexation to France, a massive number of French citizens settled there, and by the time of the withdrawal their numbers reached 1.2 million.*  The evacuation followed eight years of war between the French army and Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN), enough time to convince the French public that the cost of the war outweighed the benefits of prolonging the occupation.

What was the fate of the French settlers (dubbedpieds noirs, or "black feet," because their skin had darkened in the Algerian sun) during the withdrawal? The French government was adamant about guaranteeing the continued presence of French citizens in Algeria. It signed an agreement with Algeria granting a grace period of three years in which the settlers could hold French citizenship at the same time they were guaranteed all the rights of Algerian citizens. At the end of that period they would need to decide which citizenship to retain—French or Algerian. In the latter case, they would be considered foreign nationals but permitted to hold private property and enjoy rights that were denied residents who did not hold citizenship status.

In fact, relatively few French settlers remained in Algeria. The atrocities of Algerian terror during the war and the fear of a large-scale massacre drove nearly all the settlers to flee the country in panic. Only 30,000 (2.5%) opted to stay. Interestingly, those who stayed came to no harm, and they maintained their high social status. It was the Algerian collaborators, not the French, who were murdered.

Two other points are important to note: The settlers were not forcibly removed by the French government. They were given the choice of staying or leaving. The majority decided that, however comfortable their lives in Algeria, they could not risk living there without the protection of the French government. At the same time, they received almost no monetary compensation—neither for the property they were forced to abandon nor for the emotional distress they suffered. For only a few months, the French government granted the departing settlers 450 francs per month for their organizational needs. Anyone requesting greater assistance needed to arrange for a government loan of 20,000 francs. Many of the settlers arrived in France with few belongings and very little cash, and they lived the remainder of their lives in poverty. There is a direct connection, of course, between the lack of compensation and the opportunity given to remain in Algeria: Since the French government, through its formal agreement with the Algerians, was allowing French citizens to stay, it could justify not compensating them monetarily should they decide to leave.


Is the Algerian evacuation model valid for Judea and Samaria? That is, would it be appropriate to evacuate the settlers from Judea and Samaria, should there be a decision to do so, according to the Algerian model, in which the government allows the settlers themselves to decide whether to remain or return to the homeland? Or is it preferable to re-implement the Sinai/Gaza model, in which the government sent its forces to personally remove each and every settler?

Several key factors differentiate the two political courses of action, one lenient and the other harsh. Israel and Judea and Samaria are not territorially separated, as are France and Algeria. In addition, Algeria has no historical or ideological significance in the minds of the French, as do Judea and Samaria in the minds of Jewish Israelis. The Arabs of Algeria—in clear contrast to Palestinians and their stance, in principle, toward Israel—never raised any claim against France or its territory. And, finally, Israel, unlike the French in Algeria, never officially annexed Judea and Samaria, and there is broad public consensus opposing this move—even among the majority of Israelis who support continued Israeli control over those areas.

Despite these differences, there is still some similarity between the basic dilemma faced by Israel today regarding Judea and Samaria and that faced by France regarding Algeria. Both are cost-benefit dilemmas over continued control of these regions. They are also both delicate human dilemmas with large numbers of citizens—over 250,000 Israelis in the case of Judea and Samaria—living in areas which might be evacuated. Ideological dilemmas aside, however, the Algerian evacuation model may still have relevance for Judea and Samaria.

We should keep in mind, of course, the basic components of the Algerian model. Not only did the French government "suffice" with withdrawing its forces from Algeria, without having to personally evacuate its citizens there; it preceded its actions by seeking an agreement with Algeria to allow French citizens to remain there. In other words, if we want to examine whether the Algerian model is at all applicable to the situation in Judea and Samaria, there must first be an Israeli effort to reach a parallel agreement with the Palestinian Authority which allows Israelis to remain in Judea and Samaria. In essence, Israel would be wise to make this effort regardless of whether it adopts the Algerian model. It is quite problematic to assume that Israeli-Palestinian peace can be achieved only if all Jews leave the newly formed Palestinian state, making it truly Judenrein– the only country in the world that officially bans Jews from residing within its borders. And it is the Jewish nation that would be charged with honoring and abiding by this commitment.

But, even if Israel were to sign an agreement allowing its citizens to remain in Palestinian territory, we see from the Algerian model that it would matter little to the settlers. Though promised, ostensibly, the right to remain there, the settlers would not even take the time to read the fine print—they would be running for their lives. Given the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations and the level of hostility between the two people, this state of affairs is unlikely to change even if the Palestinian state allows its Israeli settlers to stay. (In any case, there appears to be no such agreement on the horizon.) It might take decades to reach any sort of agreement that allows Jews, particularly Israeli Jews, to live within the Palestinian state. Therefore, any realistic scenario based on the Algerian model must leave out this component—an agreement allowing settlers to stay.

Even under these conditions, the Algerian model has two primary advantages. First, it would prevent a violent conflict between the evacuators and the evacuees. Each settler would have to decide for himself whether it is best to stay or leave. Most likely, all but a very small minority of extremists would choose to depart. The approach would avert any conflict (most likely violent) between the settlers and their supporters and the security forces, a conflict that would have serious repercussions for every sector of Israeli society and for the status of the IDF.

The second advantage of an Algerian-type evacuation is that it would deprive the settlers of their strongest legal-moral argument, which is that a government is not permitted to remove tens of thousands of residents from their homes and destroy their communities. Even if this position can be combated with legitimate counterarguments (such as countries that evacuate citizens to clear land for a new road or relocate millions of residents who live on the site of planned dam or other public works project), its power cannot be denied. On the other hand, it is easier to agree that any country has the right to withdraw its forces from a particular region because it has decided to relinquish its control there.

However, implementing the Algerian model in Judea and Samaria could create several significant problems:

  • Exacerbation of the settler-government conflict. The Algerian evacuation process itself was far from smoothly run, and some of the French settlers even formed a violent underground movement that led to thousands of deaths and injuries and more than one attempt to assassinate then-president Charles de Gaulle. Adopting this model for the evacuation of settlers from Judea and Samaria could instigate similar events. It is unlikely that settlers there would demonstrate the same relative restraint as their counterparts in Sinai and Gaza.
  • Damage to the ethos of Israeli-Jewish solidarity. This appears to be the ethos behind two major decisions (both of which depart from the Algerian model) that have shaped Israeli policy toward evacuating settlers. One was to grant considerable compensation to evacuees, even to the point of constructing new communities for those who were interested. The other was to involve the government in actively removing the settlers. Even this cruel, wrenching act of forcibly removing people from their homes is, essentially, a part of this ethos of solidarity. Its inherent message is that the state cannot abandon responsibility for settlers that it itself allowed, at times even encouraged, to move to settlements. Logically, therefore, the state must accompany the settlers every step of the way, from the decision to evacuate them, to their actual removal from the settlements, to their arrival in a safe haven. The main idea is not to abandon them to their fate at any stage of the process.

    An alternative model (such as the one used in Algeria) in which the state takes responsibility for its forces alone and lets the settlers decide their own fate would totally negate the Israeli ethos of solidarity. The question raised by this model, then, is not only practical: how much violence is likely to occur if the settlers are left to their own accord? It is a question of principle that asks whether such an approach is proper.
  • Relations between the settlers and rest of Israeli society after the evacuation. One of the traumas that struck the French settlers was the drastic change in their social and economic status. Leaving their large estates behind, they were forced to make their way back to France and French society with only a few meager possessions in their hands. The same fate could await settlers departing Judea and Samaria. The question is whether the abandonment component, an integral part of the Algerian model, would have even more traumatic effects in Israel, beyond rubbing salt into the open wound of the evacuation itself. It could also lengthen the time it takes the settlers to make the adjustment, emotionally and otherwise, back to Israeli society.
  • Attitudes toward settlers who remain. In Algeria, despite the settlers' rage over the French decision to withdraw and their violent struggle against evacuation, when the final hour arrived the vast majority chose not to stay (though they had the option to do so). The situation in Israel would likely be quite different. The values-based, ideological, and, in some cases, religious and halakhic connection of the settlers and their supporters to Judea and Samaria may lead some to try to remain in these territories even after they are no longer protected by the state. One realistic prediction is that an evacuation from Judea and Samaria, under any conditions, would move several thousand people to form armed militias to create chaos and thwart the government's actions.

    Moreover, the overall nature of the citizen-government relationship in Israel—and the citizens' sense that the government will knuckle under when confronted by an obstinate and vocal public—could lead many (moderates among them) to "test" the seriousness of the government's order to evacuate. This is one scenario the government must take into consideration in determining its policies.

While these are all legitimate concerns, there is an equally valid counter-argument for each:

  • Fear of exacerbating the conflict: The violent response of the French settlers in Algeria was prompted not by the handling of the withdrawal but by the very decision of the French government to withdraw. On the other hand, the forcible removal of tens of thousands of settlers from their homes and subsequent demolition of their entire communities carries a far greater potential for violence than a decision by the government—be it Algeria or Israel—to "suffice" with removing its forces from the area in question.
  • Damage to solidarity: The deep-seated solidarity ethos is countered by the fact that the settlers themselves repeatedly deny the state's right to remove them. In other words, the state's "solidarity embrace" of motherly concern, even as it removes settlers from their homes, feels more like a stranglehold. The ethos of solidarity has become so embedded in Israeli society that anyone interested in adopting the Algerian model will have to eliminate at least two of its key components. Even if the government itself does not take on the task of evacuating the settlers, it must at least guarantee that those who choose to leave, with or without their belongings, can do so in an orderly fashion. Secondly, unlike the French settlers in Algeria, the Israeli settlers in Judea and Samaria should be amply compensated and offered alternative settlement options should they choose to leave.
  • Future settler/society relations: The greatest trauma to settlers, as mentioned, will be the evacuation itself, not the manner in which it is carried out. Its impact will be greater, of course, if the settlers are forcibly and violently removed by arms of the state. Israeli society as a whole is also likely to be traumatized, and its attitudes toward settlers deeply affected, at the sight of violent confrontations between settlers and security forces; it would be far less upsetting to watch settlers either leaving on their own accord or choosing to stay if they so desire.
  • The fate of those remaining: Israel will apparently need to continue providing some measure of security to citizens who choose to remain in evacuated areas. The Israeli-Jewish ethos of solidarity does not permit the state to deliberately abandon citizens who are likely to become the targets of a massacre.

    While the Algerian model calls for the total withdrawal of all forces and curtailment of all government services as of a given date, Israel would need to modify this component of the model and maintain some presence in Judea and Samaria—primarily a military force—in order to protect those settlers who decide to stay. The assumption is that the overwhelming majority of settlers will not want to remain in territory that has been deprived of most major government services, including health and educational facilities. The size of the remaining force would be determined by the number of settlers who choose to stay. Life-saving services, mainly Magen David Adom and emergency supplies of food and equipment, must also be readily available to the remaining settlers. Only later, when despair has led most of the settler militias to pack their belongings and leave, with only the true diehards staying put, will the government be able to actively assist their evacuation.


In conclusion, the Algerian model, if adapted by Israel to its modern-day reality, would need to include three additional components:

  1. The government's guarantee of an orderly evacuation of all interested settlers and their belongings.
  2. Generous compensation, including offers for resettlement in alternative communities within the pre-1967 borders of "little Israel." These should be located primarily in peripheral areas, with attractive benefits provided as incentives for potential residents. The government should attempt to populate these communities with the residents of several former Judea and Samaria settlements and, if necessary, meld them with existing communities within the Green Line.
  3. A two-stage evacuation. Most government forces and services would be removed in the first stage, which is likely to prompt most settlers to leave (with no need to remove them by force). Only life-saving services would remain (soldiers, Magen David Adom, emergency food supply) to protect those who insist on staying. In the second stage, several months to a year later, the remaining settlers would be forcibly removed.

This final component, it seems, is crucial to the efficacy of the model. Israel would have to convince the Palestinians and the international community that a two-stage, prolonged evacuation is the only viable method for evacuating the settlers. Without their agreement to this model, Israel would not be able to conduct the evacuation; the method used in Sinai and Gaza is unfeasible for the much larger-scale effort required in Judea and Samaria. 

All figures in this article are taken from Alistair Horne's book, A Savage War of Peace. 

Yair Sheleg is a Senior Researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute and a member of the editorial board at the daily paper, Haaretz.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's own personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of the Israel Democracy Institute.