Israeli media outlets, whether newspapers or television channels, have been busy in the past week transmitting impressive “emotional” scenes showing Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip weeping and begging the Israeli soldiers through tearful hugging to disobey orders of disengagement. Sometimes media cameras focus on soldiers and settlers exchanging words of sympathy – all these scenes and pictures were designed to magnify or exaggerate the “ordeal” of the evacuated settlers, with the aim of promoting the “concessions” of the Israeli government, which took the risk of taking the withdrawal decision on the one hand while, on the other, trying to absorb the anger of the extremist Right and healing the wound inflicted by the evacuation process.

It is both irrelevant and illogical to compare the recently transmitted reports of evacuating Gaza settlements with the historical tragic scenes of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees dislodged from their houses, farms, cities and villages during the 1948 and 1967 wars. These refugees have led a miserable life for nearly six decades outside their homeland, lacking any element of human dignity. Furthermore, there are the scenes and pictures of Palestinian children searching the rubble of their homes, which the Israeli forces demolished in their hundreds at Rafah and Khan Younis only a few months ago, under the pretext of destroying the so-called tunnels used for smuggling arms. These children were searching for what could be salvaged of blankets or cooking utensils – yet the Israeli media never cared to portray their pain or suffering, as if such tragic scenes and the sight of women, weeping at the rubble of the demolished houses, were not worthy of documenting or transmitting.

The truth that should be known to the entire world, on the occasion of evacuating the Gaza settlements, is that their occupants had invaded the Palestinian territories obsessed by an illusion of being pioneers discovering a deserted land which its history had frozen at a point very long ago. They never troubled themselves to read the history of Palestine, or even to study the geography of the surrounding region. The responsibility of that disastrous mistake could be traced back partly to the unrealistic culture they received, and partly to the green light they got from successive Israeli governments, which bestowed upon them unlimited financial and moral support, providing them with protection at a costly price, paid by the Israeli people with blood, money and status in the international community.

The successive Israeli governments misguided their people, knowing all the time that the settlement phenomenon would never have a future in a world that condemns it, and a homeland whose citizens cling to their land, ready to struggle by whatever means to defend it, and attain their legitimate rights.

It might have been possible – had not the Israeli governments opted for policies of expansion, settlement and confiscation of Palestinian lands, to evade the current “emotional” impressive and tragic scenes, aimed at extracting some international sympathy for a phenomenon internationally condemned. These same Israeli governments could also have spared their people, and the Palestinian people alike, rivers of spilled blood, thousands of lives lost on both sides of the conflict: the Israeli side striving to perpetuate the occupation and settlements, and the Palestinians fighting to get a peaceful exit out of their tragedy.

What should be learnt from the Gaza evacuation experiment, however, is that the Gaza settlements are not different from those of the West Bank – all of them have no legal basis. They were all built on the moving sands of inherited myths. No matter how long the Israeli authorities strived, exerting their utmost efforts to retain what they call “big settlement blocs” in the West Bank, the peace process has every opportunity to proceed. The international community is putting pressure on Israel to recognize the legitimate rights of the Palestinians on the top of which is the complete withdrawal from the West Bank, which should include both the military and all settlements.

The Israeli government must prove its commitment to the peace by actions, through starting, from this very moment, the process of taming the West Bank settlers and their supporters, to accepting and adjusting to the idea of the imminent evacuation of their settlements – an urgent demand of the Palestinians, the international community and a substantial majority of the Israelis themselves.

Muhammad S. Abdallah is the editorial page editor at Al-Quds.

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