The Building Blocks of Hope
Pay Palestinians for razed
homes and give them Gaza settlements.
By Uri Dromi
May 26, 2004
Now that Israeli forces are withdrawing from Rafah after a weeklong operation
to uproot Palestinian terrorists and crack down on weapons smuggling,
there are talks in high-level military and legal circles in Israel about
compensating Palestinians whose houses were demolished in the heat of
This is a very good idea. Though a handful of inhabitants were willing
hosts to terrorists, the majority were innocent people who were in the
wrong place at the wrong time — when Hamas and Islamic Jihad were
taking shelter in civilian neighborhoods. In fact, a senior army officer
admitted Monday that of the 56 houses Israel says were demolished, only
two of the owners had been implicated in terrorist activity. It is therefore
only fair and just to compensate the others.
Less encouraging is the news coming from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's
office that, when and if Israel finally moves its settlers out of the
Gaza Strip, the settlements themselves — the houses and other buildings
that have gone up over the decades — will be demolished. This folly
must be avoided at all costs.
It appears that, having finally reached the conclusion that keeping 7,500
Jews in the midst of 1.5 million Arabs was not such a good idea after
all, Sharon's angry and childish reaction is: If I can't have it, they
won't have it either.
Unfortunately, when it comes to Sharon, there is nothing new in the sinister
idea that when you withdraw, you leave to your enemy only a patch of scorched
earth. In 1982, as defense minister, Sharon orchestrated the destruction
of the Israeli settlements in Sinai before handing the area over to the
Egyptians. Many in Israel wondered then why, instead of that brutal step,
Israel couldn't just give the Egyptians those settlements as a token of
friendship, a gesture of goodwill that would have smoothed the way to
true peace between the two sides.
The president of the United States, on the other hand, seems to understand
that winning wars militarily is not enough; more important and more difficult
is to win the hearts and minds of one's former enemies. In his speech
Monday, George W. Bush outlined the five steps needed to rehabilitate
Iraq: handing over authority to a sovereign Iraqi government; establishing
security; rebuilding the infrastructure; mobilizing more international
support; and holding elections.
It appears that Bush has a vision — or at least a hope — of
helping the Iraqis open a new chapter in their history, while making them
friends of America.
No one knows if and when the United States is going to pull out of Iraq;
Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, however, is already in the cards. That's
why Israel should do its utmost to heal the wounds of this recent, bitter
episode. Compensating those people whose homes were demolished is a good
first step toward that goal. Operation Rainbow, as the recent Israeli
incursion was called, could thus bring some hope to the local Palestinians
instead of only deepening their animosity toward Israel. And instead of
demolishing the settlements once they are evacuated, Israel should generously
hand them over to Palestinians who desperately need better housing.
It also behooves Israel to spearhead a world effort to create a viable
economy for the people of Gaza. The greater their chances of making a
decent living, the less likely they are to be influenced by extremists.
This move would neither diminish the strength of Israel nor harm its security.
On the contrary, it would prove that Israel is not only mighty but also
magnanimous; not running away but pulling out in a thoughtful, positive
Time and again Israel has defeated the Arabs on the battlefield, but it
has scarcely ever succeeded in turning them from enemies into friends.
The time has come to try a new approach.
Uri Dromi is the
director of international outreach at the Israel Democracy Institute in
2004 Los Angeles Times