Website of Rabbi Shai Gluskin


Withdrawal from the Cities

Haaretz Editorial, Friday, November 2, 2001 Chesvan 16, 5762

Withdraw from the cities

Hopefully, when the IDF finally leaves the five Palestinians cities in the northern West Bank, we and the world will not be exposed to ugly scenes of physical destruction such as we saw after the withdrawal from Bethlehem and Beit Jala at the beginning of the week. The tanks did not penetrate Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, Qalqilyah and Tul Karm as deeply as they did in Bethlehem; these cities' alleys are not as narrow; and the firefights at the beginning of the incursion were not as intense. Nonetheless, the human damage and the harm done to chances of conciliation by the armored embrace of these cities is likely to be even more destructive, due to the incomprehensible and intolerable duration of the stay.

Two weeks after the invasion, it can be said that never before - throughout all the sieges and closures that were imposed and lifted in the past - has the paralysis of civilian life been so harsh as it has been these past two weeks. Tens of thousands of residents of the cities and tens of thousands more in the villages around them have essentially been jailed in their homes, prevented from going to work and school. Their suffering intensifies their hatred. They see themselves as victims of a collective punishment, of revenge for revenge's sake. And naturally, their support for those they perceive as resisting the arbitrarily vengeful punishment only increases.

The government and the IDF claimed at the start of the operation, and continue to claim today, that they have no intention of and no desire to undermine the Palestinian Authority's foundations. But the inevitable cumulative result of the lengthy occupation is the dangerous weakening of this authority, as it appears impotent to its people.

Government spokesmen demand, as a precondition for the troop withdrawal, that the PA take vigorous security measures, particularly by arresting members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the various Islamic organizations. But in Bethlehem this week, where Israel's precondition faded away under withering international pressure, it turned out (so far, at least) that it was actually the withdrawal of the IDF forces that led to calm, because it allowed the PA's security forces to operate.

Therefore, it is clearly in Israel's interest to make urgent efforts to turn the local arrangements that were made in Bethlehem and Hebron - where the army also withdrew from Palestinian neighborhoods and quiet was maintained - into a precedent for Israeli pullouts from the other parts of Area A where IDF forces are deployed. After all, it has not been proven that the continuing presence of tanks and armored personnel carriers on the outskirts of Palestinian cities, brutally confining so many innocent, peaceful people, has contributed to the prevention of terrorist acts by a demonic few. Nor has it been shown that the IDF's offensive to prevent terror attacks has been helped or supported by the armored deployment in the suburbs.

It is unacceptable that Bethlehem's holiness in the eyes of the Christian world granted it wise Israeli political and military behavior, while five other Palestinian cities, which were not mentioned in the Pope's sermon, must suffer the claustrophobia of a suffocating military presence that only grows more damaging the longer it lasts.