I just spent two week in the reserves as a spokesperson for the Israeli Defense forces. In this capacity I witnessed and participated first hand in the withdrawal from Gaza and the Northern West Bank. On the whole I came away feeling more confident in the strength of Israeli society and its institutions than I have for a long time.
Here are some moments that I will never forget.
The tears of the Amitai family
Most people will remember the evacuation of Kfar Darom for the fierce battle to get over 100 extremists off the roof of the Synagogue. I will remember tears of the Amitai family. Miriam Amitai was murdered in a bus bombing in November 2000, leaving behind her husband Laser and four children.
After the disgraceful scenes of the Synagogue evacuation, I saw Laser and his kids leave the building in tears. This will be the last time they will say Kadish for Miriam in this Synagogue. It is tragic. Because of a few extremists, the Amitai family and so many others like them, did not get the chance to part respectfully from the place that contains their most joyful and most painful memories.
Ice blocks for the troops
Kfar Darom was difficult for the troops. The heat, the insults (I was accused of being a Nazi), the Synagogue battle. After it was all over a truck pulled up and started distributing thousands of ice blocks to the forces. What a relief. It is just a small symbol of how well planned the entire operation was. Every last detail was taken to account.
The message of the Spokesperson?s Unit during the withdrawal was that the army would carry out the operation ?professionally, with sensitivity and determination.? It was repeated over and over (even by myself on CNN four or five times). And this was really the case.
The army and police conducted themselves superbly.
Negotiating where possible, utilizing psychologists, acting with complete restraint, allowing evacuees time to conduct ceremonies or whatever else was required to ease the pain. We had been trained and prepared for every possible scenario and in the end this is what ensured the smooth implementation of the withdrawal.
Bus loads of confused people
On the first day of the forced evacuation I was standing at the Kissufim crossing, the border point between the Gaza strip and Israel. Early in the day ? thousands and thousands of troops and police entered 6 settlements to begin the forced evacuation. By about two pm buses started to come back in the other direction. They were filled with evacuees.
The young infiltrators were singing, yelling and waving signs. The families were simply stunned. They just couldn?t believe that after all the protests, all the prayers and all the promises by a few Rabbis ? this moment had actually arrived. Bus load after bus load of Jews riding to an uncertain future. It was a difficult image to absorb ? I had to remind myself that many of the buses were headed for Jerusalem.
Destruction by the sea
It was nice house by Israeli standards. Two stories, well kept gardens, a large entertaining area and views over palm trees to the Mediterranean Sea. In just 8 minutes it was destroyed. Witnessing house after house being demolished in the settlement of Pe?at Sadeh ? like something out of Godzilla – was shocking and signaled, more than anything the finality of withdrawal.
A stronger Israel
The withdrawal is over. Ironically, or perhaps not, in terms of a large scale military operation ? it was probably the defense forces finest hour since the six day war.
There was no national trauma, no major violence, Israel?s democracy prevailed and so has its chance for unity.
Walking in the streets a few days after the disengagement I felt a kind of optimism in the air that I haven?t felt since the early nineties. We can only hope and pray that this time it will be the start of a virtuous cycle leading to true peace and prosperity for all in our country and our region.