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Understanding The Significance Of Jewish Memory And The Expulsions From Gaza

The Hebrew concept of memory and the lessons of history: A reflection on the Ninth and Tenth of Av

The Hebrew language—the language of the Jewish people—lacks a concept of history. The closest term to history is zikharon, or “memory.” Although both concepts—history and memory—relate to past events, they relate to those events and to the nature of time itself, in entirely different ways.

The concept of history involves thinking about time linearly. Time is circular in memory. History is the study of events that happened in the past. Memory is a process of absorbing past events into the present and the future.

Memory for Jews is a collective, national concept. For instance, we remember the Exodus from Egypt not as a historical event that happened to other people 3,400 years ago. We remember it as an event that happened to our people. And the imperative of Jewish memory is not to simply learn of the events of the past. Jews are commanded to relive them, to recall them and experience the memory as if we were there, and teach it to our children, so the memory will be transported into the future.

This week we marked two days of national memory. One happened 2,000 years ago. The other happened 18 years ago. The first day—the Ninth of the Jewish month of Av, or Tisha B’Av, which we marked on Thursday—is the national day of mourning for the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.

Friday, the Tenth of Av, is the day the government of Ariel Sharon forcibly expelled 10,000 Jews from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria. The media, in particular, likes to overlook this day. It is mentioned in passing or with features about particular families that were expelled. Our collective memory of those events and what they teach us as a people are deliberately ignored.

For the past seven months, due to the left’s refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the right’s electoral victory, and it’s right to carry out its plan to reform the legal system, Israel has been plunged into a deep domestic crisis. While the events of today are unprecedented in many ways, their closest parallel—or rather, antecedent—are the events that preceded the expulsions of the Tenth of Av.

In 2003, Ariel Sharon led the Likud Party to a landslide victory in the Knesset elections. Sharon’s opponent was Labor Party head Amram Mitzna. In the midst of the Palestinian terror war still raging at the time, Mitzna ran on a platform of unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Sharon, in contrast, ran on a platform opposing all withdrawals.

Sharon knew well (as most Israelis did) that a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza would be disastrous. During the elections, Sharon coined the phrase Din Netzarim k’Din Tel Aviv. Roughly translated it meant, “As goes Netzarim (the most isolated, vulnerable community in Gaza), so goes Tel Aviv.”

In December 2004, Sharon stunned the country when he announced that he was adopting Mitzna’s electoral platform. “By the end of 2005,” he declared, “there will be no Jews in Gaza.”

A means to improve Israel’s security?

What followed were eight months of domestic strife and rancor unprecedented in Israeli history—until, that is, these past seven months. Between December 2004 and August 2005, the media ran a continuous campaign of incitement and demonization of the Jews of Gaza. Never mind that there was literally no truth whatsoever to its constant claim that the Jews of Gush Katif—the largest bloc of communities in Gaza, along the border with Egypt—were dangerous fanatics.

Never mind that when the expulsions took place, fully a third of the cadets in the IDF’s male officers training course were residents of Gush Katif. Never mind that Gush Katif farmers were the most innovative, successful farmers in the country, or that there was virtually no crime there.

For eight months, the media subjected the public to something approaching a brainwashing program. Israelis were made to believe the 8,500 Jews of Gaza were demonic, parasitic thugs who forced Israeli soldiers to die just to protect them.

With the active support of the Supreme Court led by then president Aharon Barak, the Justice Ministry issued draconian orders to quell peaceful protests and delegitimize opposition to the expulsions. Buses carrying protesters to lawful, licensed protests were interdicted by police en route to the protests and forced to turn back. More than 6,000 Israelis were arrested protesting the planned expulsions—an average of 22 per day. 

As then-chief public defender Inbal Rubenstein explained in a Knesset hearing after the expulsions, the state prosecution, with the active collusion and support of Supreme Court justices, deliberately trampled the basic civil rights of protesters. They were collectively accused with no evidence against any specific suspect provided to the court. 

They were remanded to custody pending trial—for months in many cases—with no evidence of wrongdoing provided. Minors as young as 13 were held for months in jail without indictment. With Barak’s support, prosecutors justified their actions by saying that denying basic civil rights to protesters was necessary as a “form of deterrence,” to prevent others from joining the protests.

The expulsions and withdrawal were presented to the public as a means to improve Israel’s security. Gaza without Jews would become a new Singapore, Sharon’s top adviser Dov Weisglass insisted. 

The decision to adopt Mitzna’s plan was made by Sharon and his political consultants without any consultation with the Israel Defense Forces. The obvious fact—that Sharon ran an election campaign on just months before—that surrendering Gaza to Palestinian terrorists would endanger Tel Aviv was castigated as demagoguery.

In the event, Gaza became Afghanistan. Thirty days after the withdrawal, the Palestinians began their now 18-year projectile war against Israel by shooting rockets on one of the cities closest to its border, Sderot.

In the 18 years since the withdrawal, Gaza has been transformed from a tactical nuisance into a strategic threat. The Palestinians from all terror groups operating in Hamas-controlled Gaza field rockets, mortars and missiles. Their range covers most of Israel.

Israel has been compelled to fight a half-dozen mini-wars against Hamas since 2005 and carry out innumerable airstrikes. Iran has become the Palestinian terror groups in Gaza’s largest state sponsor. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps supplies Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror forces with missiles, mortars and money. They, in turn, do Iran’s bidding.

Who sets the national agenda?

So, 18 years after the Tenth of Av 5765, the main question that must be answered is why? Why did Sharon order the operation? Why did the left want it so badly?

These questions speak directly to our situation today. In regard to the left, the answer was given by leading writers both before and immediately after the expulsions. And it had nothing to do with security. It had to do with the same issues at the heart of the left’s protests today.

Ariel Sharon and Netanyahu.jpg
Former first deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Stanley Fischer (C), poses with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (L) and Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) for photographs in the Prime Minister’s Jerusalem offices on Monday, 17 January 2005. In December 2004, Sharon stunned the country when he announced that he was adopting Mitzna’s electoral platform and declared that by the end of 2005, there will be no Jews in Gaza. LIOR MIZRAHI/GETTY IMAGES.

Six weeks before the expulsions, Haaretz ran an editorial explaining their rationale.

“The disengagement of Israeli policy from its religious fuel is the real disengagement currently on the agenda. On the day after the disengagement, religious Zionism’s status will be different. 

The real question is not how many mortar shells will fall, or who will guard the Philadelphi Route connecting Gaza with Egypt, or whether Palestinians will dance on the roofs of [the village] Ganei Tal. The real question is who sets the national agenda.” said Haaretz.

In other words, Haaretz, speaking for the left, declared it was reasonable to undermine Israel’s national security to maintain the left’s power to set national policy. The best means to preserve that power, the Israeli newspaper argued, was by destroying religious Zionism through a program of expulsion and demonization.

Haaretz’s editorial board wasn’t alone. Opinion-makers from Dan Margalit and Ari Shavit to Yair Lapid jumped on the anti-religious bandwagon using their prominent positions in the media to gin up hatred for the 8,500 Jews of Gaza and their supporters.

Margalit called for the imposition of a numerus clausius against religious Zionists serving in the IDF. “Strict limits, must be placed on the number of religious Israelis permitted to serve as officers,” said Margalit.

Lapid insisted that the Jews of Gaza weren’t his brothers and he wouldn’t have a problem going to war against them.

Shavit wrote the Jews of Gaza deserved no protection from the IDF because as far as he was concerned, they weren’t even Israelis.

So, for the left, religious Zionists—and regular Zionists, for that matter—were their enemy, not the Palestinians shooting their mortars at Israel. The goal of the expulsions was to defeat them in order to preserve the left’s power to dictate national policy.

And what of Sharon? The answer to the riddle of what motivated him leads us again to precisely the point we stand at today.

Just ahead of the 2003 elections, a prosecutor named Liora Glatt-Berkowitz leaked to Haaretz that Sharon and his sons were under investigation for bribery. When she was caught, Glatt-Berkowitz said she had hoped to swing the elections to the left by publishing the information.

Most of the people involved in executing the expulsion plan who weren’t part of Sharon’s inner circle agree that the bribery investigation convinced Sharon to take the step he knew would devastate Israel’s security. Sharon understood that the prosecution and the courts were dominated by hard-left ideologues. To convince them to go easy on him and his sons, he adopted their policies and helped them to destroy their enemies: his voters.

Moshe Ya’alon was IDF Chief of General Staff when Sharon announced the withdrawal and expulsion plan. Ya’alon is now one of the leaders of the left’s anti-government insurrection. But he saw things far differently in the past.

In his 2009 memoir, Ya’alon wrote, “I have no doubt Sharon’s decision derived from external considerations.” “When he found himself in personal distress because of the criminal investigations against him … Sharon decided to turn the tables and take a dramatic step that blatantly contradicted his worldview and didn’t jibe with his grasp of reality,” said Ya’alon.

Most historians believe that the destruction of the Second Temple wasn’t inevitable initially. The Jews couldn’t beat the Romans in a frontal battle. But they had sufficient stores of food in Jerusalem to withstand years of siege, during which they could perhaps exhaust the Romans through attrition. 

The destruction became inevitable, however, when a tiny group of fanatics called the Sicarii burned all the stores of food. The Sicarii wrongly believed that the Jews could defeat the Romans, but the only way to get them to do so was to leave them with no choice other than to fight. Hence, they burned the food.

The question in Israel now is who are today’s Sicarri? The left insists that the Netanyahu government is because it insists on implementing the judicial reform agenda it ran on. The right insists that the leftist elite burning the country in a bid to preserve its power and privilege protected by the judicial system are the Sicarri.

By preserving the memory of the events of the Tenth of Av 5765, we find the answer to the question regarding the Ninth of Av. Jews who want to prevent the destruction of the Third Commonwealth— the State of Israel—must remember that time and that day, and live by its lessons.

Produced in association with Jewish News Syndicate

Edited by Priscilla Jepchumba and Judy J. Rotich

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