Originally published in The Jewish Press, reprinted at HONENU Legal Defense Organization
By: Adina Kutnicki, Contributor: Shalom Pollack
(Aug. 19, ’11) Few events in Israel’s recent history sear the Jewish soul as did the destruction of 25 thriving Jewish communities in Gush Katif and the northern Shomron, as ordered by the Sharon-Olmert government. The sixth anniversary of what is referred to as the ‘disengagement’ of August 2005 now looms over Israel’s collective conscience.
In a move that set Jew against Jew, the IDF was used to engineer the expulsion of more than 8,600 people from their homes. Gush Katif residents watched in horror as the living were dragged from their homes and the burial places of the dead were desecrated. Later, 26 synagogues were burned by Arab mobs.
The destruction itself took place over 10 days, but the physical and mental preparations occupied many months beforehand. Three years later, in August 2008, a report entitledThe Mental Preparation for the Disengagement and its Aftermath in the IDF would shed light on the intense preparations that took place – http://www.eish-l.org/downloads/MentalPreparation.pdf.
The authors call the disengagement “a precise operation” performed with seven levels of security that took 18 months to plan.
“To execute robotic responses [by IDF soldiers] in a precision-like fashion, southern military commander Dan Harel appointed a team of psychologists to ‘transform’ the soldiers’ thought processes,” write authors Ruth Eisikowitch, Dr. Gadi Eshel, Dr Amira Dor, Boaz Haetzni, Attorney Aviad Visoli, Dr. Rachel Tassa and Dr. Moshe Leibler.
The report describes a series of psychological exercises “planned to ‘release’ the soldiers from their conscience by carrying out exercises in emotional disconnect.” The psychologists’ notes on those exercises are detailed in the journal Military Psychology (No. 5, December 2006).
The report is consistent with the recollections of Rachel Saperstein, a former resident of Neve Dekalim. When soldiers arrived the night before the expulsion, she tried to engage them in conversation, she said, only to find that they refused to talk to her or even to look at her. “The IDF turned them into robots,” she said.
Army officials were not the only ones dealing with the disengagement months before it took place. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets to take part in hundreds of protests, determined to make their voices heard. Such a volume of public protest was striking, and many would suffer for it. Some 7,000 Jews were arrested for their participation.
* * *
This meant, among other things, much added strain on Honenu. As Israel’s only legal defense organization representing Jews like the arrested protesters, Honenu needed more manpower to continue its work.
As the number of volunteers grew, the group became better able to meet the growing demand for its services. Its pool of on-call lawyers swelled to 60; the 24-hour-hotlines were now manned by a full office of volunteers. It was just in time, too. Reports of new civil rights violations seemed to be coming in around the clock.
A particularly poignant Honenu case from the summer of 2005 is that of Beit El resident Chaya Belogorodsky, then 14 years old. Her drama began when she took part in a non-violent demonstration against the expulsion. After watching two friends get arrested, she walked over to the police van to see how they were faring. As she stood nearby, a police officer told her to leave. When Belogorodsky replied that she was permitted by law to stand on the sidewalk, she was arrested for insulting a police officer.
The nightmare was now in full swing. Belogorodsky was placed in solitary confinement for four days. A hole in the ground served as a toilet; there was no shower, no toilet paper, no running water. She was also not permitted visits or phone calls. On Shabbat, the guards shut off the lights, guessing correctly that, as a religious Jew, she would not turn them back on. Belogorodsky spent that Shabbat in the dark. Because of the lack of kashrut supervision, she also avoided most of the food served. The “system” tried to break the spirits of hundreds of youngsters like her, aiming to discourage others from future protests.
When the four days had ended, Belogorodsky was moved to a regular prison cell. She was now granted one hour each day outside her cell for exercise and phone calls home. Her family was permitted a 30-minute visit once a week. Older girls in prison on similar charges were strip-searched after every family visit, ostensibly so prison authorities could find hidden drugs.
Belogorodsky’s father called Honenu. The prosecution wanted her remanded until trial, which at that point could have been months away. Honenu’s lawyers took the case to the Supreme
Court, where Judge Ayala Procaccia, a strong advocate for government crackdown on dissenters, accepted the prosecution’s arguments that teenage Belogorodsky was an “ideologically motivated criminal” who could negatively influence others even in house arrest. The prosecution was willing to allow her to be released to a kibbutz, saying that it would be a “good educational experience for her.” Belogorodsky and her parents refused on religious grounds.
As Belogorodsky’s days in jail grew to 40, public pressure on the State intensified. Eventually, the justice system relented and allowed her to return home. Belogorodsky’s father credits Honenu with extricating her from the nightmare.
* * *
Akiva Vitkin’s story also began at a non-violent protest. As the 19-year old sat in the streets of Ramat Gan protesting the expulsion, three police officers sat on top of him and pretended to handcuff him. Tuvia Lerner of National News Network had stopped his car nearby and caught the incident on film.
“Another police officer approached Akiva from behind, leaned towards his head, stuck his fingers in Akiva’s nostrils and pulled violently upwards and backwards,” Lerner recalls. “Akiva was dragged to a police car while he was bleeding from his mouth, nose and eyes.”
At the Ramat Gan police station afterwards, Vitkin was taken into a room where a witness observed four policemen beating him with their fists and knocking him to the floor before the door was closed. Akiva emerged with his face swollen and bloody, barely able to walk.
Belogorodsky and Vitkin are not alone. Their stories are recorded among dozens of others in a 60-page report entitled Israeli Government Violations of Disengagement Opponents’ Civil Rights. The devastating indictment against the Israeli leadership documents 165 cases of unlawful use of pretrial detention, declared immunity for police brutality, false arrest, torture, and use of General Security Services (GSS) for cases of unarmed civil disobedience.
The report is authored by Dr. Yitzhak Klein, director of the Israel Policy Center; Shmuel Meidad, founder and director of Honenu, and attorney Itzhak Baum. It can be downloaded in full from Honenu’s home page at www.honenu.org.
* * *
Looking back six years later, we know all too well who truly benefited from the disengagement: Hamas.
The destruction of Gush Katif as a Jewish area led directly to its takeover by Hamas, a terrorist group that promises in its charter to eliminate Israel. These six years have seen countless rockets and missiles fired across the border into Israel – rockets that have killed, wounded, damaged property and instilled fear.
These are the fruits of the ‘disengagement’.