Betrayed in Gaza

By Eugene Robinson
Friday, August 19, 2005

On television, the tumult in the Gaza Strip looks like nothing less than a pogrom -- soldiers dragging Jews out of their homes and synagogues for immediate, involuntary, permanent relocation. Does it matter that the soldiers are Jewish, too? Not to the Jews being hauled away. Does it matter that some of the most vociferous protesters don't even live in Gaza and are just there to make a point? Not if you remember all the Freedom Riders of the civil rights era who came from Massachusetts or Michigan, not Mississippi.

What's happening in Gaza is geopolitically and historically correct, and when seen from the proper altitude -- high enough that individuals blur into groups -- it's morally correct as well. I agree with a succession of U.S. presidents that the Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank are a roadblock to peace. I'm pleased that the Palestinians are joyously reclaiming land that was taken from them in 1967, and I hope this is a step toward the viable Palestinian state they deserve. I believe the evacuation makes Israel more secure, not less.

In other words, I adhere to the orthodox liberal position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's not a great position, I realize, just far better than all the others.

But I can't watch those images from Gaza and ignore the low-altitude personal tragedy that's unfolding. Histrionics and political theater aside, children are being turned out of their homes. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told the settlers they should blame him, not the soldiers. And they should.

They should also blame every one of the many Israeli politicians who used them like pawns all those years and now are forsaking them for the greater good. They should blame the hawks who encouraged them to move to the occupied territories as a way of staking a claim to Greater Israel. They should blame the doves who disingenuously allowed them to stay in Gaza so that one day they could be used as a bargaining chip.

Yes, they should blame Ariel Sharon and the other leaders who planted the dream in their minds, nurtured it, encouraged it to take root and grow and blossom -- and then killed it. It was an overzealous dream, a foolish dream, a dream so single-minded and devoid of empathy -- this land is ours, although we have just arrived; you are usurpers, although your great-grandfathers turned this soil -- that it was always precarious, a castle made of Gaza sand. Imagine living amid such hatred and resentment that you have to sling a loaded Uzi over your shoulder to take your family to the beach.

But I've met such settlers, not in Gaza but on the Golan Heights, which Israel took from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War. There, smiling farmers carried their Uzis when they went to work in the avocado orchards. They, too, were zealots, but they weren't monsters -- they were just participants in what Sharon and others told them was a grand national project to redefine the nation's borders.

I imagine what the news from Gaza must look like to the hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers on the West Bank, men and women who bought that same line. Sharon reassures them that their day of reckoning will never come, but at this point how can they possibly believe him?

I don't know; I've never thought of myself as the kind of person who's weighed down by the burdens of history. But even though I hold the view that peace will never come to the Middle East until Israel leaves all the occupied territories, I'm still deeply unsettled by seeing Jews rousted from their homes in what, let's face it, is an act of ethnic cleansing. Never mind that it's self-inflicted. I feel the same unease when I see black people being racially profiled by police, even when the officers doing the profiling are themselves black.

A friend once observed that for African Americans and Jews, the word "paranoid" has no meaning. That's because history proves that it's not our imagination: They are out to get us.

So can I recognize the necessity, the inevitability of the autopogrom in Gaza without cheering its execution? I guess I don't have a choice, since that's what I feel. I'm sorry for those people, long misguided and now betrayed. Some may be religious fanatics and others political extremists, but their sugar-plum-fairy visions of Greater Israel didn't just pop into their heads.

Their political and religious leaders put them there. And now, as those leaders do what they must, they should feel the deepest sorrow and shame.

eugenerobinson@washpost.com


© 2005 The Washington Post Company