Those Israeli citizens that refused to accept government compensation packages and voluntarily vacate their homes prior to the August 15, 2005 deadline, were evicted by Israeli security forces over a period of several days. The eviction of all residents, demolition of the residential buildings and evacuation of associated security personnel from the Gaza Strip was completed by September 12, 2005. Evacuation and dismantlement of the four settlements in the northern West Bank was completed ten days later.
|In the Gaza Strip (all 21 settlements):|
|In the West Bank (4 settlements):|
These areas also contained numerous Israel Defense Forces (IDF) installations. Sharon said that his plan was designed to improve Israel's security and international status in the absence of political negotiations to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. About nine thousand Israeli residents within Gaza were instructed to leave the area or face eviction by the night of Tuesday August 16, 2005.
Under the disengagement plan adopted on June 6, 2004, the IDF would have remained on the Gaza-Egypt border and could have engaged in further house demolitions to widen a 'buffer zone' there (Art 6). However, Israel later decided to leave the border area, which is now controlled by Egypt and the Palestinians, through the PNA. Israel will continue to control Gaza's coastline and airspace and reserves the right to undertake military operations when necessary. (Art 3.1). Egypt will control Gaza's Egyptian border. Israel will continue to provide Gaza with water, communication, electricity, and sewage networks (Art 8); existing customs arrangements with Israel — under which imports from Israel to Gaza are not taxed, exports from Gaza to Israel are taxed, and Israel collects customs duties on foreign products entering Gaza—will remain in force and the Israeli currency will continue to be used (Art 10).
Because the Palestinian Authority in Gaza does not believe it has sufficient control of the area at this time, foreign observers such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch and various legal experts have argued that the disengagement will not end Israel's legal responsibility as an occupying power in Gaza. Israel and Egypt have concluded an agreement under which Egypt can increase the number of police on its side of the border, while the IDF evacuates the Gazan side. The text of the agreement is not yet public.
Commentators and the press described the rejection of the plan as a blow to Sharon. Sharon himself announced that he accepted the Likud referendum results and would take time to consider his steps. He ordered Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz to create an amended plan which Likud voters could accept.
Sharon had originally dubbed his unilateral disengagement plan, the "separation plan" or Tokhnit HaHafrada before realizing that, "separation sounded bad, particularly in English, because it evoked apartheid."
On June 6, 2004, Sharon's government approved an amended disengagement plan, but with the reservation that the dismantling of each settlement should be voted separately. The plan was approved with a 14-7 majority but only after the National Union ministers and cabinet members Avigdor Liberman and Binyamin Elon were dismissed from the cabinet, and a compromise offer by Likud's cabinet member Tzipi Livni was achieved.
Following the approval of the plan, it was decided to close the Erez industrial zone and move its factories to development towns such as Ashkelon, Dimona, Yeruham, and Sderot. This was claimed by some news sources to be for security reasons, possibly due to what a senior Palestinian security official admits to tens of Israeli soldiers and officers meeting their deaths in suicide bombings, shooting and Qassam rocket attacks there. Nevertheless, Ehud Olmert, then the Minister of Industry, Trade, and Labor, stated that the closing was part of Israel's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. The closing was later responsible for a considerable increase in unemployment in the Gaza Strip.
As a result of the passing of the plan (in principle), two NRP (National Religious Party) ministers, Effi Eitam and Yitzhak Levi, resigned, leaving the government with a minority in the Knesset. Later, the entire faction quit after their calls to hold a national referendum were ignored.
Sharon's pushing through this plan alienated many of his supporters on the right and garnered him unusual support from the left-wing in Israel. The right believes that Sharon ignored the mandate he had been elected on, and instead adopted the platform of his Labor opponent, Amram Mitzna, who was overwhelmingly defeated when he campaigned on a disengagement plan of far smaller magnitude. At that time, Sharon referred to Gaza communities such as Netzarim as "no different than Tel Aviv", and said that they are of such strategic value that "the fate of Netzarim (a Jewish village in the Gaza area) is the fate of Jerusalem."
Many on both sides remained skeptical of his will to carry out a withdrawal beyond Gaza and the northern West Bank. Sharon had a majority for the plan in the government but not within his own party. This forced him to seek a National Unity government, which was established in January 2005. Opponents of the plan, and some ministers, such as Benjamin Netanyahu and former minister Natan Sharansky, called on Sharon to hold a national referendum to prove that he had a mandate, which he refused to do.
On September 14, the Israeli cabinet approved, by a 9-1 majority, plans to compensate settlers who left the Gaza Strip, with only the National Religious Party's Zevulun Orlev opposing. The government's plan for compensation uses a formula that bases actual amounts on location, house size, and number of family members among other factors. Most families should receive between U.S.$200,000 and 300,000.
On October 11, at the opening of the Knesset winter session, Sharon outlined his plan to start legislation for the disengagement in the beginning of November. In a symbolic act, the Knesset voted 53-44 against Sharon's address: Labour voted against, while the National Religious Party and ten members of Likud refused to support Sharon in the vote.
On October 26, the Knesset gave preliminary approval for the plan with 67 for, 45 against, 7 abstentions, and 1 member absent. Netanyahu and three other cabinet ministers from Sharon's ruling Likud government threatened to resign unless Sharon agreed to hold a national referendum on the plan within fourteen days.
On November 9, Netanyahu withdrew his resignation threat, saying "In this new situation [the death of Yasser Arafat], I decided to stay in the government". Following the vote fourteen days earlier, and Sharon's subsequent refusal to budge on the referendum issue, the three other cabinet ministers from the Likud party backed down from their threat within days.
On March 28, the Knesset again rejected a bill to delay the implementation of the disengagement plan by a vote of 72 to 39. The bill was introduced by a group of Likud MKs who wanted to force a referendum on the issue.
On August 7, Netanyahu resigned just prior to the cabinet ratification of the first phase of the disengagement plan by a vote of 17 to 5. Netanyahu blamed the Israeli government for moving "blindly along" with the disengagement by not taking into account the expected upsurge in terrorism.
On August 10, in his first speech before the Knesset following his resignation, Netanyahu spoke of the necessity for Knesset members to oppose the proposed disengagement.
On August 15, Sharon said that, while he had hoped Israel could keep the Gaza settlements forever, reality simply intervened. "It is out of strength and not weakness that we are taking this step", repeating his argument that the disengagement plan has given Israel the diplomatic initiative.
On August 31, the Knesset voted to withdraw from the Gaza-Egypt border and to allow Egyptian deployment of border police along the demilitarized Egyptian side of the border, revising the previously-stated intent to maintain Israeli control of the border.
On September 11, the cabinet reversed an earlier decision and decided not to demolish synagogues in the settlements. This enabled the IDF to complete its pullout that night, ending in the early hours of September 12, 2005. The Palestinian National Authority protested Israel's decision, arguing that it would rather Israel dismantle the synagogues. While Israel called on the PNA to protect former Jewish places of worship, Palestinian looters scavenged items from the rubble of former homes (destroyed by Israel before withdrawal) and burned and destroyed four of the synagogues. The Jerusalem Post reported that "Palestinian bulldozers began on Monday afternoon to knock down the synagogues left in the Gaza Strip" Gaza.
On August 10, 2005, in response to calls from Jewish religious leaders, including former Chief Rabbis Avraham Shapira, Ovadia Yosef, and Mordechai Eliyahu, between 70,000 (police estimate) and 250,000 (organizers' estimate) Jews gathered for a rally centered at the Western Wall in prayer to ask that the planned disengagement be cancelled. The crowds that showed up for the rally overwhelmed the Western Wall's capacity and extended as far as the rest of the Old City and surrounding Jerusalem neighborhoods. The prayer rally was the largest of its kind for over 15 years, since the opposition to the Madrid Conference of 1991.
On August 11, 2005, between 150,000 (police estimates) and 300,000 (organizers' estimates) people massed in and around Tel Aviv's Rabin Square for an anti-disengagement rally. Organizers called the event "the largest expression of public protest ever held in Israel." According to a police spokesman, it was one of the largest rallies in recent memory.
On May 9, the beginning of the evacuation of settlements was officially pushed back from July 20 to August 15, so as to not coincide with the Jewish holidays of the Three Weeks and Tisha B'Av, traditionally marking grief and destruction.
On July 13, Sharon signed the closure order of Gush Katif, making the area a closed military zone. From that point on, only residents who presented Israeli ID cards with their registered address in Gush Katif were permitted to enter. Permits for 24-48 hours were given to select visitors for a few weeks before the entire area was completely sealed off to non-residents. Despite this ban, supporters of Gush Katif managed to sneak in by foot through fields and bare soil. Estimates range from a few hundred to a few thousand people for those there illegally at that time. At one point, Sharon was ready to send in the border police (Magav) to remove non-residents, but decided against it because the manpower requirement would have been too great.
At midnight between August 14 and 15, the Kissufim crossing was shut down, and the Gaza Strip became officially closed for entrance by Israelis. The evacuation by agreement continued after midnight of the August 17 for settlers who requested a time extension for packing their things. The Gush Katif Municipal Council was threatening to make a unilateral declaration of independence, citing the Gaza Strip's internationally disputed status and Halacha as a foundation in order to quash the eviction attempts.
On August 17, the first forced evacuation of settlers, as part of the disengagement, commenced under Maj. Gen. Dan Harel of the Southern Command's orders. About 14,000 Israeli soldiers and police prepared to forcibly evict settlers and "mistanenim" (infiltrators). There were scenes of troops dragging screaming settlers from houses and synagogues, but with less violence than expected.
The August 19 Guardian reported that some settlers had their children leave their homes with their hands up, or wearing a Star of David badge, to associate the actions of Israel with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.
On August 22, Netzarim's inhabitants were expelled by the Israeli military. This officially marked the end of the 38-year-long Israeli presence on the Gaza Strip, although demolition crews continued to work there, and the official handover was planned to occur some weeks later.
On August 23, the evacuation of the four West Bank settlements was accomplished; while the residents of Ganim and Kadim, mostly middle-class seculars, have long left their homes, several families and about 2,000 outsiders tried to prevent the evacuation of Sa-Nur and Homesh, who had a larger percent of observant population. Following negotiations, the evacuation was completed relatively peacefully. This ended, according to IDF commander-in-chief Dan Halutz, the first of four stages of disengagement: evacuation of residents, evacuation of civilian property, demolition of houses, and finally relocation of IDF installations. The date for official withdrawal from the Gaza Strip was set to September 10-20.
On September 7, the IDF announced that it planned to advance its full withdrawal from the Gaza Strip to September 12, pending Israeli cabinet approval. It was also announced that in the area evacuated in the West Bank the IDF planned to transfer all control (excluding building permits and anti-terrorism) to the PNA - the area will remain "Area C" (full Israeli control) de jure, but "Area A" (full PNA control) de facto.
On September 11, a ceremony was held when the last Israeli flag was lowered in the IDF's Gaza Strip divisional headquarters. All IDF soldiers pulled out of the strip in the following hours. The last soldier left the strip and the Kissufim gate was closed in the early morning of September 12. This completed the Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip.
The aim of the operation was to give the Gush Katif settlers the option to be removed voluntarily. The IDF soldiers helped the settlers by packing their things and carrying them. During the operation soldiers went into settlers' homes and gave them removal decrees. In addition the IDF arranged crews of social nurses, psychologists, and support to youths.
From the very beginning, Sharon was accused of hijacking the mandate he received for a cause for which he had not been elected. In 2003, Sharon was elected over Labor Party chairman, Amram Mitzna. Mitzna ran on a platform that included a separation plan very similar to Sharon's Disengagement Plan. Sharon ran with an opposing platform, rejecting the idea of unilateral separation from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. At a certain point, Sharon even declared that Netzarim's fate was the same as Tel Aviv's. This is considered Sharon's major betrayal of the very people that elected him into office.
In the cabinet's initial June vote over the plan Benjamin Netanyahu, then Finance Minster, announced he would vote in favor of the plan only if Sharon promised to hold a national referendum to decide the fate of the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank. Such a referendum was never held, in spite of Sharon's commitment.
Security arguments have also been made against the Disengagement Plan. With the IDF leaving the Gaza Strip, more of Israel is vulnerable to Qassam rocket attacks. Indeed, the Qassam's reach has only grown since the disengagement.
Some Israelis believe that the disengagement's aftermath is a disgrace. This view holds that Sharon was in such a rush to execute his plan that he did not plan accordingly for the residents that have since been evicted. Most of the former settlers were housed in hotels and guesthouses for the first few months, being threatened with further eviction numerous times. People were still residing in hotel rooms right up until Passover (in April) of 2006, more than eight months after losing their homes.
Another issue of contention is monetary compensation. As of April 2006, only a minimal cash advance has been given (approx. $10,000) to families to survive until they obtain new jobs, which has been difficult for most people, considering most of the newly unemployed are middle-aged and have lost the agricultural resources that were their livelihood. Those seeking restitution have also had to negotiate legal and bureaucratic hurdles.
This criticism received further support from the State Comptroller's, Micha Lindenstrauss, report, which determined that the treatment of the evacuees was a "big failure" and pointed out many shortcomings.
The future remains uncertain for the former settlers. While some have begun to find permanent housing, many remain in various forms of temporary housing. None of the settlers received their full compensation.
I strongly support [Prime Minister Sharon's] courageous initiative to disengage from Gaza and part of the West Bank. The Prime Minister is willing to coordinate the implementation of the disengagement plan with the Palestinians. I urge the Palestinian leadership to accept his offer. By working together, Israelis and Palestinians can lay the groundwork for a peaceful transition.
The imminent Israeli disengagement from Gaza, parts of the West Bank, presents an opportunity to lay the groundwork for a return to the road map... To help ensure that the Gaza disengagement is a success, the United States will provide to the Palestinian Authority $50 million to be used for new housing and infrastructure projects in the Gaza.
As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.
Any final status agreement must be reached between the two parties, and changes to the 1949 Armistice lines must be mutually agreed to. A viable two-state solution must ensure contiguity of the West Bank, and a state of scattered territories will not work. There must also be meaningful linkages between the West Bank and Gaza. This is the position of the United States today, it will be the position of the United States at the time of final status negotiations.
While initially President Bush stated that "a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949" would be an "unrealistic" "outcome of the final status negotiations", the most recent position is that "changes to the 1949 Armistice lines must be mutually agreed to." Essentially, a Palestinian demand that Israel withdraw to the 1949 lines would become "the position of the United States".
I welcome the Israeli Prime Minister's proposals for disengagement from Gaza. This represents an opportunity to restart the implementation of the Road Map, as endorsed by the UN Security Council.
The Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Brian Cowen (Ireland having Presidency of the EU at the time), announced the European Union's disapproval of the plan's limited scope in that it does not address withdrawal from the entire West Bank. He said that the EU "will not recognize any change to the pre-1967 borders other than those arrived at by agreement between the parties." However, Europe has given tentative backing to the Disengagement Plan as part of the road map for peace.
Israel has demonstrated that it has the requisite maturity to do what would be required to achieve lasting peace, and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) has demonstrated their ability to discharge their mission with carefully calibrated restraint. Prime Minister Sharon should be commended for his determination and courage to carry out the disengagement in the face of forceful and strident internal opposition.
This incident has bolstered the position of critics of the plan that Sharon is intentionally trying to scuttle the peace process. Israeli officials, including Weisglass, denied this accusation, and media critics have asserted that the Weisglass interview was widely distorted and taken out of context.
On August 8, 2005, Haaretz quoted a top Palestinian Authority religious cleric, Sheikh Jamal al-Bawatna, the mufti of the Ramallah district, in a fatwa (a religious edict) banning shooting attacks against Israeli security forces and settlements, out of concern they might lead to a postponement of the pullout. According to Haaretz, this is the first time that a Muslim cleric has forbidden shooting at Israeli forces.
Polls on support for the plan have consistently shown support for the plan in the 50-60% range, and opposition in the 30-40% range. A June 9, 2005, Dahaf Institute/Yedioth Ahronoth poll showed support for the plan at 53%, and opposition at 38%. A June 17, telephone poll published in Maariv showed 54% of Israel’s Jews supporting the plan. A poll carried out by the Midgam polling company, on June 29 found support at 48% and opposition at 41%, but a Dahaf Institute/Yedioth Ahronot poll of the same day found support at 62% and opposition at 31%. A poll conducted the week of July 17 by the Tel Aviv University Institute for Media, Society, and Politics shows that Israeli approval of the disengagement is at 48%; 43% of the respondents believe that Palestinian terrorism will increase following disengagement, versus 25% who believe that terrorism will decline.
On July 25, 2004, the "Human Chain", a rally of tens of thousands of Israelis to protest against the plan and for a national referendum took place. The protestors formed a human chain from Nisanit (later moved to Erez crossing because of security concerns) in the Gaza Strip to the Western Wall in Jerusalem a distance of 90 km. On October 14, 2004, 100,000 Israelis marched in cities throughout Israel to protest the plan under the slogan "100 cities support Gush Katif and Samaria".
On May 16, 2005, a nonviolent protest was held throughout the country, with the protesters blocking major traffic arteries throughout Israel. The protest was sponsored by "HaBayit HaLeumi", and was hailed by them as a success, with over 400 protestors arrested, half of them juveniles. Over 40 intersections throughout the country were blocked, including:
On July 18, 2005, another nonviolent protest was held. The protest began in Netivot near Gaza. An independent media organization, WorldNetDaily, estimated that the crowd in Netivot numbered close to 70,000, most of whom walked to Kfar Maimon. The protest march ended July 21 after police prevented protesters from continuing to Gush Katif.
A widely-publicized weeklong show of support for the disengagement attracted only tens of supporters. The supporters drove in a caravan through Israel, ending in Jerusalem. According to the organizer, there were at most seventy cars involved.
Those advocating suspension or cancellation of the plan have often quoted one or more of these arguments:
Orange ribbons in Israel symbolize opposition to the disengagement; it is the color of the flag of the Gaza coast Regional Council. Blue ribbons (sometimes blue-and-white ribbons) symbolized support for the disengagement and are intended to invoke the Israeli flag.
Another poll commissioned by the Zionist Organization of America, and conducted by McLaughlin & Associates on June 26, 2005 – June 27, 2005, with a sample of 1,000 American adults, showed U.S. opposition to the proposed disengagement. Respondents, by a margin of 4 to 1 (63% to 16%) opposed "Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from a section of Gaza and northern Samaria and forcing 10,000 Israeli Jews from their homes and businesses" and by a margin of 2.5 to 1 (53% to 21)%, agreed with the statement that "this Gaza Plan sends a message that Arab terrorism is being rewarded".
Morton Klein, President of the Zionist Organization of America, criticized the Anti-Defamation League-commissioned poll, stating that the question in the poll was not whether or not respondents agreed with the Disengagement Plan, but was a subjective characterization of primary motives behind it: whether Israeli politicians are acting more for the sake of capitulating to terrorism or for the sake of continuing the road map. The Anti-Defamation League, in turn, criticized the ZOA commissioned poll, calling its wording "loaded."
Dahaniya was constructed by Israeli authorities after the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai in 1979, to house Egyptian Bedouins evacuated from the Sinai region who had informed on their fellow Arabs during Israel's occupation there. Good relations with the Israelis allowed these Arabs to enjoy freedom of movement within Israeli areas in the Gaza Strip. Residents of the Jewish settlement of Kfar Yam referred to the Dahaniya community as their "neighbours. The village was also commonly known to both Palestinians and Israelis as the "village of traitors". Residents of Dahaniya had themselves requested that the Israeli military pull them out, claiming that without the presence of Israeli security forces to protect them, their lives would be in danger.
After the Israel Lebanon conflict of 2006, Olmert announced to his cabinet that disengagement from the West Bank was no longer a high priority.
In January 2007, fighting continued between Hamas and Fatah, without any progress towards resolution or reconciliation. The worst clashes occurred in the northern Gaza Strip, where Gen. Muhammed Gharib, a senior commander of the Fatah-dominated Preventative Security Force, was killed when a rocket hit his home. Gharib's two daughters and two bodyguards were also killed in the attack, which was carried out by Hamas gunmen.
At the end of January 2007, it appeared that a newly-negotiated truce between Fatah and Hamas was starting to take hold. However, after a few days, new fighting broke out. Fatah fighters stormed a Hamas-affiliated university in the Gaza Strip. Officers from Abbas' presidential guard battled Hamas gunmen guarding the Hamas-led Interior Ministry.
In May 2007, the deal between Hamas and Fatah appeared to be weaker, as new fighting broke out between the factions. This was considered a major setback. Interior Minister Hani Qawasmi, who had been considered a moderate civil servant acceptable to both factions, resigned due to what he termed harmful behavior by both factions.
Fighting widened to several points in the Gaza Strip with both factions attacking vehicles and facilities of the other side. In response to constant attacks by rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, Israel launched an airstrike which destroyed a building used by Hamas. Some Palestinians said the violence could bring the end of the Fatah-Hamas coalition government, and possibly the end of the Palestinian authority.
Hamas spokeman Moussa Abu Marzouk asserted that Israel and the EU were to blame for the worsening situation. Expressions of concerns were received from many Arab leaders, with many offering to try to help by doing some diplomatic work between the two factions. One journalist wrote an eyewitness account stating:
Today I have seen people shot before my eyes, I heard the screams of terrified women and children in a burning building, and I argued with gunmen who wanted to take over my home.
I have seen a lot in my years as a journalist in Gaza, but this is the worst it's been.