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Ira Sharkansky


'Religious' and 'Secular'
divide over Gaza withdrawal,  July 28, 2005

By Ira Sharkansky
The subtitle of a novel written by Benjamin Disraeli in the middle of the 19th century, Two Nations, is appropriate for Israel. Our most prominent two nations are not the well-to-do and the poor, as in Disraeli's case, but the religious and the secular. The current chapter of this story focuses on those opposing the withdrawal of Jewish settlements from Gaza and the northern West Bank, and those who are in favor of the withdrawal or indifferent.
The tension between religious and secular Israeli Jews is not new. It has long appeared in neighborhoods defined as religious or secular, the social life of religious Jews focused on synagogues and religious study groups, the problems of hosting religious Jews in secular homes that do not observe kashrut, as well as religious, secular, and anti-religious political parties. One of my doctoral students (a Korean Presbyterian minister) is doing his dissertation on the decline of religious-secular tension during the of intafada (which reminded both religious and secular Jews of the hostility to them all), showing how the decline has been arrested by the issue of disengagement.
It is not entirely accurate to describe the camps opposed, in favor, or indifferent to disengagement as religious and secular. Not all religious Israeli Jews are intense in their opposition to the withdrawal; many of the ultra-Orthodox are more concerned about their own studies and—if they are upset about something in the public sphere—they express themselves about violations of the Sabbath or women who dress immodestly. Moreover, a number of secular people are concerned that the withdrawal has been poorly conceived, or is altogether wrong.
Nonetheless, the general picture is that those intense in opposition to the withdrawal are overwhelmingly Orthodox Jews of the Religious Zionist variety.
The "two nations" image captures the near total lack of rapport or communication between the camps of intense opponents and others. Each sees something else happening; each is concerned about different basic values; there is little effective communication. They are talking past one another, each having their own conversation, almost entirely with themselves.
Some examples from e-mails received in the last couple of days:

Today, on the fast of the 17th of Tammuz a new movement has begun.  The founder, Chaya Gross has taken up position in front of the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem and will be continuing fasting (although with water) until this decree has been nullified. The movement is meant to be made up of women only, whose main objective is to raise consciousness of the dangers involved in the government's plan for Gush Katif and the Northern Shomron . Their most serious concern is for the safety of the Jewish people in the Holy Land

I am writing you in connection with my 14 year old daughter Chaya who has spent the past 3 weeks of her summer vacation in jail. No ,no, she hasn't murdered anyone. Nor did she steal anything, assault anyone or sell drugs. All she did was go to a demonstration in " the only democracy in the Middle East". Here is how it happened. On 22 Sivan 5765 {29.06.05} Chaya decided to lend moral support to her friends who went to protest Ariel Sharon's plan to expel Jews. What follows is a direct quote from the official indictment filed against Chaya. She is accused of standing on a sidewalk while her friends proceeded to block traffic. After her friends were arrested a policewoman asked Chaya to leave the area. Chaya refused, saying that she wasn't doing anything illegal, that she had every right to stand on "every inch of the Land of Israel ". The policewoman, unimpressed, warned Chaya that if she didn't leave immediately she will be arrested. To which Chaya replied: "So, shut up and arrest me then".  That's it. This is the case that the State of Israel has against Chaya. And, because Chaya participated in a similar demonstration once before, the State prosecutor asked the juvenile court to remand Chaya into police custody UNTIL THE END OF LEGAL PROCEEDINGS AGAINST HER - a process that can last for MONTHS!! What is truly unbelievable is that this unprecedented request was granted. Judge Dalya Korn wrote a 10-page dissertation about the danger to society inherent in Chaya's disregard towards the law passed in the Knesset ( Sharon 's expulsion law). That, combined with the fact that Chaya participated in a similar "unlawful" demonstration before, has made her into a REAL PUBLIC DANGER, thus justifying her imprisonment until the end of the legal process.
There is no shortage of commentary opposed to the protesters. The earlier strategy of protesters (sitting on major roads during rush hour) pretty much exhausted tolerance for them, and produced something close to physical confrontation between infuriated drivers and those halting the traffic. Recent demonstrations have focused on marches to reinforce the settlements in Gaza, which are distant from population centers and do not threaten the indifferent secular majority. Public opinion polls show a wavering of support for disengagement or the settlers, depending on how the most recent demonstration has been perceived.
Other e-mails concern a legal action against Omri Sharon, the prime minister's son and chief political aide, concerned with issues of campaign finance. It is hard to distinguish what he is accused of doing and accusations earlier lodged against the campaigns of previous prime ministers. As in the US and elsewhere, campaign finance is a favorite field for good government enthusiasts (once called googoos), or a cat and mouse game between reformers wanting morality and campaigners wanting to win elections. Last night we saw Ehud Barak (accused of the same crime some years ago, and aching to be the next prime minister) asserting that Ariel Sharon had violated a campaign finance law with unprecedented impunity, and so must resign immediately in shame. A number of settler supporters insist that the whole issue of withdrawing settlements is Sharon's scheme to deflect attention from his legal problems.

A senior police officer speaking . . . on condition of anonymity says there is enough evidence to indict and convict PM Sharon, but "it's unreasonable to topple a gov't over criminal cases." . . . .The source said that police investigators were made to understand that the policy is not to delve into cases that might incriminate the Prime Minister, in order not to destabilize the regime in Israel .

One e-mail contained the following picture. It shows morning prayers at a site where many thousands of settler supporters were kept confined at a moshav while on their way to the settlements at Gaza. It displays the commonality of religious demonstrators and soldiers, separated only by a fence.

Membership in one nation or the other will influence the message seen in the photograph. One view is that it shows the unity of the Jewish people: those currently in uniform on one side of the fence, and those who have been or will be in uniform on the other side. Somehow we will get through this problem. Another view is the hostility of the fence, representing what the anti-Jewish government is enforcing between those wanting to preserve the Land of Israel and those forced by mandatory conscription to oppose them.

The fence is porous. Religious protesters and soldiers can speak to one another. But what about secular soldiers? They are not in the picture.
Protest leaders remain insistent that they will convince the people and the government to curtail the disengagement. It is scheduled to begin in less than three weeks. A substantial number of settlers in Gaza have signed on to accept compensation, and seem inclined to leave peacefully and quietly. Most of the protesters are from the West Bank, and are intent on entering Gaza and making it impossible for the army and police to remove them. Assuming that the army and police manage to block their movement to Gaza and succeed in removing the settlers, what is next? Some protesters and their leaders are so intense that they overlook the consequences. How much of the population will continue to charge the regime with abominable crimes against the Jewish people? How much alienation will come out of this, and what will be its impact on a small and beleaguered nation?  "Optimists" may see the problem ending with the next suicide bombing, ideally in Europe or—God forbid—in Israel. Yet pessimists expect that such an event will enliven those opposed to disengagement. It will reinforce the view that there is no peace for the Jewish people, and that we must hold on to all the land that we can.
Perhaps Jews are destined not only to be apart from others, but also from one another.

Sharkansky is a member of the political science department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem