In the months that preceded the forcible eviction of all Israelis from their homes and communities in Gaza and northern Samaria, and during last month's expulsions themselves, the commanders of the IDF and police responsible for the operation defined "preventing" or "not exacerbating" the "schism in the nation" as one of their principal goals.
This was all well and good, but it was beside the point. At the end of the day, the fact of the matter is that there was never any schism between the security forces and the residents of Gaza and northern Samaria. This truth was laid bare by the love that the soldiers and policemen and residents showered on one another throughout most of the operation.
If anything, the confrontation which pitted the army and the police against the residents served to strengthen rather than weaken the bonds between those who settle the land and those that carry arms to defend it. And the long-term impact that this engagement will have on both sides is something that no one today can foresee.
And yet, there is a huge and gaping schism that fragments Israeli society. And those fomenting this schism are responsible for bringing about the ill-advised and immoral decision to expel these patriots from their homes and communities, turning them over to the Palestinian terrorists who Wednesday transformed the destroyed synagogue in Netzarim into a Hamas terror museum.
In the wake of the expulsions, the fomenters of the schism were beside themselves with rage at the fact that their plan to "disengage" the nation from the settlers by destroying Gush Katif went up in smoke.
Ruminating on this state of affairs immediately after the completion of the expulsions, Haaretz columnist Orit Shochat cautioned angrily, "Soldiers who experienced the evacuation won't travel to an ashram in India because they discovered that there is an ashram next door. The same Jewish religion that they hadn't seen up close for a long time embraces them into its fold with song and a tear and a common fate.
"They have now sat arm-in-arm at the synagogues in Gush Katif, they have now felt the holiness mixed with sweat, they have now moved rhythmically and sung songs, they have stood in line to kiss the Torah scrolls, they are now half-inside."
She continued, "The army may have planned for months for the evacuation and conducted simulations of every possible scenario, but it didn't think about this scenario."
If she had replaced the word "army" with "our side," her point would have been more accurate. And what is Shochat's side? What is the side that wished so desperately for the destruction of the Jewish communities in Gaza and northern Samaria, in order to destroy the connection between those who settle the land and the rest of the country? If the sides of the schism dividing the country are not the security forces and the settlers, then who are they?
This week, the identities of the two sides of the divide were exposed to all who care to see them when on Sunday the Justice Ministry announced its decision not to indict any policemen for their actions during the Arab riots in October 2000. Twelve Arab Israelis and one Palestinian were killed during those riots, which engulfed the entire Arab sector of the country. The decision sent a shock wave through Israeli society with a force that on its face is difficult to comprehend given that the events occurred five years ago.
The shock of the decision fomented two separate discussions in the Israeli public. The most glaring aspect of those discussions is that apart from the fact that they both were carried out in Hebrew, no common thread connected them. It is in these separate conversations that we find the root of the rift in Israeli society and can identify the two sides of the societal divide.
To understand the significance of the discussions, it is necessary to first recall what happened five years ago. Following months of increased violence and extremism in the Arab-Israeli sector incited directly by the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli Islamic Movement and the Arab members of Knesset, violent riots seized the Arab sector of Israel in October 2000. During the week of riots, Arab Israelis threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli civilian cars throughout the country. Israeli motorists were dragged out of their cars on Highway 65 along Wadi Ara and beaten. An Israeli motorist was murdered when Arabs from Jasser a-Zarka threw a rock at his windshield as he drove down the coastal highway.
In the wake of the riots, the government of then-prime minister Ehud Barak went into a state of panic, concerned that the Labor Party would lose its support base among Arab Israelis. And so, rather than arresting the Arab leaders who incited the riots, banning the Islamic Movement and ending PA infiltration into the Arab sector, Barak sought to appease the very leaders who had fomented the violence. This he did by offering to establish an independent commission led by a retired judge that would investigate the police behavior towards the rioters. That commission, led by retired justice Theodore Or, was given the perverse job of focusing their investigation on the police, as if the officers had simply been firing at ducks in a shooting gallery rather than trying to contend with a violent, heavily incited mob that was paralyzing and terrorizing the country.
Once the Or Commission was established, discussion of the actual events was silenced and replaced by a surrealistic parade of policemen and politicians summoned before a tribunal to defend their actions as if they had taken place in a vacuum. And so, this week's announcement of the decision not to indict any officers in the 13 deaths was the first opportunity that the public has had in five years to actually discuss what happened in October 2000.
The first discussion of the events was the popular discussion. It could be heard mainly in radio call in shows and on Internet news sites. Regular citizens concentrated on the context of the riots, questioning the Arab claim of discrimination.
They noted that the allegation that the police treated the rioters differently from Jewish protesters, by shooting rubber bullets and tear gas at them where none were used against Jewish protesters, ignores the fact that Jewish protesters don't attack the police with rocks and Molotov cocktails. They asked how it was possible for Israel to be embarrassed over what happened in October 2000 when the policemen's lives were in danger and they were massed against the rioters in order to protect the lives of civilians, hundreds of thousands of whom were locked in their homes for days, unable to leave their cities and their neighborhoods for fear of being attacked by mobs calling out "Death to the Jews."
The other discussion of the decision not to indict the policemen was the discussion of the leftist establishment which controls the legal system, the media and the universities. As was the case with the Or Commission, in the discussion that was carried out in the universities, the Justice Ministry and the media – where the public has no voice – the debaters ignored the context in which the 13 died.
On one side were the critics who claimed that the fact that the Justice Ministry's Police Investigations Department could not find sufficient evidence to justify indictments was a flimsy excuse for not conducting trials. They claimed that the fact that the families of the dead refused to cooperate with investigators was no reason not to indict, and the fact that the investigators expected the poor families to cooperate with them was evidence of their racism.
On the other side was the Justice Ministry. On Wednesday afternoon, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz and his deputies held a press conference to defend themselves against th
e attacks of the members of their club. Mazuz and his associates made no mention of the fact that refusal to cooperate with investigators is a criminal act. They made no mention of the incitement of Arab Israelis by the Islamic Movement, the PA and the Arab Knesset members. For them, the deaths of the 13 were an unmitigated tragedy. The only thing that interested them was defending their honor as champions of Arab rights to their establishment colleagues.
One of the questions that has been raised repeatedly since the expulsions of the settlers in Gaza and northern Samaria is why the commanders of the IDF and the police expected the expelled residents to violently attack them. After all, there is no official body in Israel that knows these people better than the army, which had stood by them for 38 years. Why did the army fear them as if they were the enemy?
The answer to this question has the same source as the answer to the question of who the sides of the national schism are. What became clear this week is that on the one side, we have the general public made up of secular and religious Jews, urban dwellers and rural settlers, rich and poor, civilians and the military and police, the hard core and the moderate Zionists. On the other hand, we have the powerful leftist establishment which, through its control of the media, legal system and universities, tells us what we should think and how we should act. Members of the establishment are bothered most by the rare occasions when the fact that their discourse and their rules have little connection to reality is exposed to the rest of us.
The choke-hold that the leftist establishment exerts over the nation has been the cause of the major policy and military blunders that have been made over the past generation. The fact of the matter is that the distorted picture of our reality that is created by the establishment's image makers in the media, the anti-Israeli judgments meted out by our courts and the politically motivated decisions to investigate or not investigate various politicians, social classes and suspected crimes have caused a situation where people make decisions on both private matters and national issues based on wrong information and corrupted priorities.
No, it is true, we did not learn anything this week that we didn't already know. But this week's parallel discussions exposed clearly the fact that those who guide the nation are themselves, like Shochat, alienated from the rest of us and from the reality of the world we live in with all its goodness and horror. And the narrowness of this establishment was also exposed.
The nation has many tools at its disposal to change the status of forces in this country – politics, the military, the Internet and our own creativity – in order to cut the establishment down to size. The greatest challenge that we face as a society is to harness these tools to recover our right to define our world. Only by doing so will we be able to forge policies that are relevant to the many challenges we face.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.