The Political and Social Ramifications of Evacuating Settlements in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip (Hebrew)

Disengagement 2005 as a Test Case

Policy Paper 72

  • Publication Date:
  • Center: Religion and State Program
  • Price: 45 NIS

In this volume, IDI Research Fellow Yair Sheleg discusses controversial issues surrounding the implementation of the Disengagement Plan: the decision-making process regarding the evacuation; the form of compensation; the process of rehabilitating the evacuees; the participation of IDF soldiers in the evacuation; protest actions by opponents of the evacuation; and the attitude of law enforcement agencies toward these activities.

The disengagement from Gush Katif and northern Samaria and the evacuation of 21 Jewish settlements led not only to sharp ideological debates among the citizens of Israel, but also to disagreements regarding the implementation of the plan. This study by IDI researcher Yair Sheleg explores controversial issues related to the disengagement plan, such as the participation of IDF soldiers in the evacuation, the opposition of settlers and the response of law enforcement agents, the amount and type of compensation that was granted to the evacuees, etc.

The author explores the issue from two perspectives: one focuses on the past and explores the process that the State of Israel underwent in 2005, while the other is directed toward the future, and aims to learn lessons from the disengagement that will help define to delineate guidelines for managing evacuations plans in the future, if necessary.

For the English version of the book click here.

In the summer of 2005, Israeli society, no stranger to tough external conflicts, was faced with one of the most significant internal predicaments in its history – the evacuation of 8,500 Israelis from 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and Northern Samaria. This was, of course, a traumatic occurrence, first and foremost for the evacuees themselves, but also for their friends and ideological supporters, in that it combined three forms of hurban (destruction): ideological destruction, of the faith in
Israel's need and right to maintain its hold over the evacuated areas; personal destruction, of the individual homes reduced to rubble after the many years of love and toil invested in them; and destruction, or at least a mortal blow, to the evacuated communities.

An outpouring of anger erupted over the anticipated evacuation, inevitably giving rise to a mass of questions for the evacuating society as well: what is the legitimate, democratic method of deciding on such a far-reaching measure when it is argued in some quarters that a move of this type is essentially illegitimate, since it constitutes a deadly and disproportionate strike against the right of individuals to their homes and lands, and is unjustified under any circumstances? What is appropriate compensation for the evacuees, and what is the proper way to get them back on their feet? Which body should be responsible for handling the evacuation on a practical level? What are the legitimate bounds of protest and opposition to a move of this type, and to what extent are legal authorities expected to tolerate forceful expressions of resistance?

The present study considers all of these questions; however, since the Israel Democracy Institute is an apolitical think tank, this policy paper does not explore the question of whether or not the evacuation was justified. Its sole concern is the way in which Israeli society should deal with an evacuation of this type. Moreover, this study is not intended to offer a chronology of the disengagement plan, from the point when it was first announced in December 2003 by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, to its implementation in August 2005. Rather, it is concerned with the basic question of how Israeli society should approach such a traumatic step. The study also looks to the future, drawing lessons from "Disengagement 2005" in the event that the government of Israel decides to evacuate additional settlements at a later point.

From this perspective, the present study is a continuation of the previous one, published by the Israel Democracy Institute about two months before the announcement of the disengagement plan.1 At the time, it was a position paper dealing with what was ostensibly a theoretical issue. The present study seeks to use the actual event of "Disengagement 2005" as a basis for conclusions regarding the core issue: the political and social ramifications of evacuating settlements in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip. Accordingly, we have retained the title of the original paper from 2003, adding the subtitle: "Disengagement 2005 as a Test Case."

For the same reason, the chapters are divided along thematic rather than chronological lines, based on the major issues that emerged from "Disengagement 2005", in an effort to study these issues in depth and derive lessons from them for the future. The topics are as follows: the form and content of the decision-making process surrounding the evacuation; the debate over the nature of the compensation (its amount and whether it should take the form of money or alternative settlements); the involvement of the army in the act of evacuating civilians, particularly since Israel's IDF is a "people's army" whose conscripts include opponents of the disengagement; the nature of the protests carried out by opponents of the evacuation, and the attitude
of law enforcement bodies toward the protesters' activity; the status of the evacuees two years after the evacuation, and an examination of the rehabilitation process in general; and the impact of the evacuation on various sectors of the Israeli public: Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) settlers in Judea and Samaria, who will be facing the threat of evacuation in the future; religious Zionists, who constituted the bulk of the evacuees, as well as the majority of the opponents of disengagement; and Israeli society at large. Lastly, because Israeli society has undergone two further traumas since the evacuation that are relevant to the relationship between the religious Zionist community and society as a whole – the clash in Amona in February 2006, and the Second Lebanon War in July of that same year – the effect of both these events on trends that evolved following "Disengagement 2005" was also examined.

The paper focuses on the grim state of the evacuees two years after the disengagement. It also details the emergent nuances in attitudes toward the state and its institutions among various theological streams within religious Zionism – those who continue to espouse the worldview that preaches the religious sanctity of the state; those who distinguish between the state (which they still value) and compliance with the governing authority; and those for whom the disengagement sparked a feeling of estrangement from the state and a decidedly post-Zionist mindset. The assessment which emerges from the study is that in Torah-observant circles that responded theologically to the cataclysm of the disengagement, ideological shifts indeed took place, but not necessarily a crisis. The change itself, and even the rumblings against the state, testify to the community's vitality. By contrast, it is actually many "middleclass" religious Zionists, whose world is not structured in theological terms, who are apparently experiencing a more significant crisis: they do not possess an alternative ideological narrative to the Zionist one, yet they believe that Zionism is in danger, and at times feel betrayed on the societal level by their non-religious counterparts. As a result, a decline in the motivation to volunteer and to contribute to the country is experienced within this community, even if it is not coupled with a fundamental theological declaration of a change in attitude towards the state.

The following key recommendations are included in this policy paper:

  1. In general, care should be taken to avoid a broad evacuation; it is preferable to first attempt to pursue political avenues, including allowing the settlers the possibility of remaining in their settlements even under Palestinian sovereignty. Alternatively, the number of evacuees should be kept to a minimum.
  2. A "special majority" should be required for Knesset votes on the evacuation of settlement communities or, at the worst, a simple majority of Knesset members.
  3. The preferred form of compensation should focus on the construction of alternative housing as a community and not on monetary damages.
  4. The timetable for an evacuation must be lengthy enough to take into account the establishment of alternative communities (at the very least, temporary ones).
  5. To the fullest extent possible, the evacuee recovery program should be implemented by members of their own community or individuals with a similar value system and not by outside "professionals," however qualified and highly motivated they may be.
  6. Future evacuation administrations should be given independent resources and authority so that they will not be dependent for every decision on government ministries, with their customary bureaucracy.
  7. It is preferable for an evacuation to be carried out by the police rather than by soldiers.
  8. The willingness of evacuees to cooperate with state bodies in the process of their rehabilitation should be encouraged, even though they are allowed to exercise the right to wage a legitimate political struggle against the evacuation itself.
  9. Efforts should be made to institute a central leadership of settlers and evacuees to serve as a single body for dialogue with the authorities. At the same time, this leadership should try to establish its authority over all the opponents of evacuation, including extremists, and promote ongoing discourse with all groups.