Jewish World Review August 22, 2005/ 17 Av 5765

Wesley Pruden

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In an angry land, a promised redeemed | Ariel Sharon is either the bravest man in the Middle East, or the most foolish. He's giving "peace" a chance.

Too bad for him, the Middle East is not a place where peace is prized. The official line is that the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, which a few thousand Jews have occupied in the 38 years since Israel gave an Arab coalition of the not very willing a devastating country whipping in the Six-Day War, is that the withdrawal is a demonstration of trust that will make Israel's borders easier to defend.

No one who has read a newspaper or watched a television newscast on almost any single day over the past decades really believes the trust part. The Arabs, who know themselves better than anyone else, don't even trust each other.

The border will, in fact, be easier to defend. The settlers who are being taken from their homes by armed soldiers will be settled in new homes in new neighborhoods behind the infamous security fence, which has made Jews more difficult to kill, which in turn has infuriated certain enemies of Israel, many of them at the United Nations.

But the withdrawal, an act of a certain nobility that is difficult to imagine almost any other nation undertaking, is not likely to assuage the Palestinian appetite, all the more obsessive for its roots in fantasy, for destroying Israel. The Islamic Resistance Movement, known as Hamas, is more likely to regard the withdrawal as an act of weakness, of proof that the murder and mayhem of intifada, of jihad, works.

"Without jihad," the chief of the Gaza branch of Hamas told The Washington Post, "without attacking the settlements, digging the tunnels, launching the rockets, the Israelis wouldn't have moved."

The leaders of Hamas, who have amply showed themselves to be a conspiracy of merciless savages who prove their manliness by killing women and maiming children in the name of a god that the rest of us, including Muslims of good will, could hardly imagine as divine, declared that its assassins would not attack the departing settlers — not because that would be an act of human decency, but because they want the settlers out and the Israeli army expects the evictions to be completed by Tuesday next.

Mr. Sharon and his government will no doubt meet his deadline; the Israeli army has demonstrated over the years since independence in 1948 that it is determined and efficient. But the evictions have exacted a price at home. When settlers and sympathetic bystanders barricaded themselves inside a synagogue in the settlement of Kfar Darom, the army moved in under the personal command of the army chief of staff to get them out. His men formed a cordon around him to prevent settlers from getting close. Water cannon were used to persuade the settlers that the army meant business.

Other soldiers quickly cleared a nursery, interrupting children at play and their teachers in mid-song. Stubborn settlers elsewhere gathered their children about them and lay down to force soldiers to carry them bodily away. "Why did you become a soldier," one young mother screamed, "to be in a crazy situation like this?" Indeed, many soldiers went about their grim assignments with tears streaming down their faces. Fires were set to houses and fields, and even dogs, cats and other household pets were collected to be taken away. Such images, played out on Israeli television, will be difficult for Israelis to forget — or forgive.

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By nightfall Thursday, 17 of the 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza had been cleared. The Sharon government was making good on its promise in a place where making good on promises is usually regarded as an exercise for fools.

Ariel Sharon will be a hero, at least for most of his countrymen, only if the Palestinians resist their usual impulse to snatch defeat from the jaws of opportunity. Hamas is not likely to do the decent thing; its leaders probably don't know how. The rest of the Palestinians will have the opportunity in the elections, now scheduled for next January, to animate the clichés that litter the usual diplomatic conversations — "the peace process" and "the road map to peace."

The risk to Mr. Sharon, and to the Palestinians themselves, is that they will swallow the boasts of Hamas that terror and not noble Israeli intentions, is what cleared Gaza of Jewish settlers. The one abiding and authentic Palestinian talent, after all, is the talent for never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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