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On this day: An anti-disengagement protest

January 12 2004: 100,000 gather against Sharon’s plan

    It would be the first major rally in opposition to Israeli Prime Minister’s proposal to unilaterally withdraw from parts of the West Bank and Gaza – but by no means the last.

    At the rally, held in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, one settler proclaimed: "It will bring hundreds of casualties to the Israeli side because everyone will understand that terrorism will win in this war.”

    At this point, disengagement was merely a plan, a second option if the Bush administration’s Road Map to peace collapsed. In summer 2005, it became a reality, against a backdrop of a bitterly divided Israel. Ariel Sharon broke ranks with his party for the plan, staked his career on something much of Israel not only opposed, but were willing to fight with everything they had.

    The largely right-wing anti-disengagement “side” chose orange as their colour, brandishing posters, placing banners on cars and scrawling furious graffiti across the country.

    Whatever ones views, disengagement by no means offered a quick solution to the problems of the Middle East. If Ariel Sharon had not departed from office prematurely, following a dehabilitating stroke in January 2006, the impact of disengagement and the Israeli and Palestinian futures could have been very different.

    As it was, a year after Israel left Gaza IDF soldier Gilad Shalit was captured at the border; he has remained a prisoner of Hamas ever since.

    That same summer brought the tragedy of the Second Lebanon War and, after years of Kassam rockets fired by Hamas terrorists from Gaza into Southern Israeli towns and cities like Sderot, in December 2008 Israeli troops returned to the region.

    Seven years after that first major rally, the debate over the future of settlements remains as important as it was then; this time as a new US administration under President Barack Obama attempts to make solving the conflict in the Middle East a part of his legacy.

    For many, even a freeze to settlement construction is tantamount to the same betrayal as disengagement.

    What the JC said: No one said the disengagement from Gaza would be easy. The sight of Israeli soldiers removing Israeli citizens from their homes, whatever one’s political outlook, is distressing. The very ethos of the Jewish state is based upon finding a permanent home for the Jewish people; using that same state’s army to eject Jews from houses and farms that they built from scratch, in an inhospitable area, is an ideological impossibility for a large number of Israeli citizens… The withdrawal from Gaza does not guarantee peace…No doubt, in the coming weeks, we will see Palestinian victory parades, celebrating the removal of Jews from the Gaza Strip. These scenes will be as hard to stomach as those that we are seeing now but it should be kept in mind that the short-term pain — and it is a very real pain for a large number of Israelis — is very much in the long-term interest of the Jewish state.

    See more from the JC archives here

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