Editor’s Notes: ‘This cannot be stopped by the street’

By David Horovitz April 1, 2005

Shaul Goldstein, the deputy head of the Yesha Council, believes ‘there is not much possibility’ now of preventing disengagement

For almost the entire leadership of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip (Yesha), what happened in the Knesset this week marked the end of one phase of their fight against disengagement and the start of another.

For that leadership, from Yesha chairman Benzi Lieberman on down, the defeat of the bill that would have conditioned disengagement on the public’s assent in a nationwide referendum, swiftly followed by the failure to muster a majority against the 2005 budget and thus bring down the government, represented the bitter culmination of the bid to stop Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in parliament and the beginning of the effort to thwart him on the ground.

A statement issued by the council on Tuesday, in the wake of the referendum failure, formally confirmed that ‘the struggle in the parliamentary arena was over’ and that it would now be refocused on ‘the street,’ with more than 100,000 supporters coming to Gush Katif and northern Samaria ‘to disrupt and prevent’ disengagement. A meeting of the council on Tuesday, as the budget was being voted through, ended with a second statement declaring that ‘anyone who believed it possible to obliterate the settlements and deport the families’ was ‘delusional’ and that no force on earth would be able to dislodge those 100,000-plus protesters.

Elaborating in an interview with The Jerusalem Post’s Yaakov Katz that same evening, Pinhas Wallerstein, head of the Binyamin Regional Council, explained that ‘we will do all we can to stop the plan… At the end of the day, if needed, we will block the evacuation with our bodies.’

Only one settler leader, and a prominent one at that, is singing from a different song sheet. According to Shaul Goldstein, the head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council and the deputy head of the Yesha Council, there is absolutely no prospect of physical opposition on the ground thwarting the removal of the Gaza settlers by Israel’s police and army.

‘This cannot be stopped by the street,’ Goldstein says, in emphatic contradiction of his colleagues’ thinking. ‘Even if we bring 100,000 to Gush Katif, we believe the army and the police have the tools to carry out this terrible plan.’

Those who think they can physically prevent the evacuation ‘by tying themselves and chaining themselves,’ he adds, are simply mistaken.

Indeed, he continues, ‘there is not much possibility of preventing disengagement’ at all. But if it is yet to be prevented, he stresses, ‘only the Knesset can stop it, and we have very little time: four months, minus the six-week recess the Knesset is now beginning.’

Goldstein is adamant that ‘we haven’t despaired.’ But where his colleagues have now given up on the political arena, his view is that the masses should be mobilized one more time only to try to galvanize political action.

‘Only the Knesset can stop the evacuation,’ he says again, ‘and the street can influence the Knesset. So via the street’ – via the biggest and most resolute display possible of nonviolent opposition to the pullout – ‘we must show the people of Israel, so that they show the Knesset members, how wrong they were to vote against the referendum.’

And what might these Knesset members then do?

‘We hope we can get a referendum bill reintroduced,’ he says, ‘or bring down the government.’

Remember, he adds, ‘governments can fall over all sorts of issues: social issues, economic issues. Who knows?’

IN CONVERSATION at a Jerusalem hotel between incessant phone calls on Wednesday morning, Goldstein uses ‘we’ in many of his comments. And while he acknowledges that some of his colleagues have been advocating more forceful resistance than he supports, he never depicts himself as being beyond Yesha’s consensus.

Yet in his readiness to publicly assess that disengagement will probably go ahead, he is a lone voice in the settler leadership. He is similarly so in his assessment that Sharon has acted legally – even democratically, he says grudgingly, although emphatically ‘not in the spirit of democracy’ – in advancing disengagement. And Goldstein, who has threatened in the past to quit the council if it supports anti-pullout efforts he deems too aggressive, is likewise largely on his own in pointing to the overriding need to do everything to avoid alienating the wider public because of what he fears will be the coming phase of the prime minister’s plan.

‘We have to make sure that we have the public with us so that we can fight the next stages,’ he says. ‘I have no doubt that [Sharon] will want to do more. He won’t stop at Gush Katif and the four settlements in northern Samaria. In my opinion, he will evacuate all of the settlements on the far side of the fence. We have to fight to make sure that the public is with us on Hebron, the Jordan Valley, the Golan, Itamar…’

The prime minister is prepared to relinquish more than 90 percent of the West Bank?

‘In my opinion, yes. He may want the Jordan Valley as a security buffer, but I’m not sure he would want to keep settlements even there.’

Goldstein offers various scenarios and timings for the public unveiling of this alleged plan, but considers it most likely that Sharon will launch it in September or October, ‘right after disengagement.’

So you’re saying that every settlement on the far side of the fence should consider that it has a problem?

‘No, I think Ra’anana has a problem. Kfar Saba has a problem… Remember,’ he charges, ‘Sharon is being dictatorial as regards us, but he’s also dictatorial to the Palestinians. He won’t give in on Jerusalem and the ‘right of return.’ So even after the 93% is relinquished, there’ll be terror. We, the IDF, won’t be in the [Palestinian] cities, so a terrorist infrastructure will grow there and they’ll attack Hadera, Afula, Ra’anana. The fence will prevent suicide bombers, so they’ll use Kassams and Katyushas.’

IF GOLDSTEIN’S views on how best to now counter disengagement are unusual, so, too, is his talk of mistakes the anti-disengagement campaigners have made over the months.

‘Sharon has created a situation where it seems that only maybe 5% or 6% of Israel is against him,’ he says in almost awed tones. ‘What are there, 250,000 people in the settlements, and maybe 50,000 of them support disengagement? So that leaves 200,000. And another 200,000 from inside the Green Line,’ he says, delineating what he considers the diabolical misperception. ‘The truth is, of course, that most of Israel supports us, but his skill and our mistakes have created the opposite impression.’


‘Well, for one, we, the settler council, should absolutely not have led the struggle for a referendum. It should have been led by the Center and the Left. And that was possible.

‘For another, while we rightly complain that he’s never explained the supposed benefits of this plan, we never managed to explain what is wrong with it.’

(Goldstein later gives me a glossy booklet setting out two dozen specific objections, divided into familiar security repercussions such as the perceived vindication of terrorism, wider regional implications, and rarely raised economic arguments. The booklet was produced under the imprint of the ‘Minhelet Hitchabrut’ – the Connection Authority – an organization launched by Goldstein, with little obvious impact, to go door-to-door to win over the public to the anti-disengagement effort.)

He also bemoans the fact that there’s ‘a very dangerous minority, very extreme, of 500 to 1,000 people’ who he says are ‘beyond the control’ of the settler leadership, ‘who don’t listen to anyone and who are likely, sadly, to resort to serious violence’ to try and block the pullout, ‘including fighting, destroying army equipment, and so on.’

Within that minority, he goes on, ‘there’s a further minority who I fear will even use weapons, will open fire. The police need to identify them and arrest them as soon as possible. They certainly hurt us. They must be stopped.’

Do they constitute a physical threat to Sharon?

‘I don’t know,’ says Goldstein. And here, having earlier chosen not to give me his assessment of why the prime minister has so shifted his position – because, he says, he doesn’t want to alienate important contacts close to the prime minister – Goldstein does allow himself to vent.

‘In his contempt and arrogance for his voters and his own party,’ Goldstein says, ‘Sharon cannot expect applause. Those who voted for him, the Likud party members, 60% of them said no to his plan. He blew them off.

‘It may be that this same potential assassin could come from there,’ he says, chillingly. ‘A little unstable in his soul. Wildly angry with Sharon. No kippa on his head. It’s not clear where the violence will come from.’

HOW CAN the friction on the ground be minimized?

Goldstein has been at the forefront of calls for the drafting of a joint charter by the settler leadership and the security establishment, outlining the parameters of the permitted and the intolerable – an initiative discussed at a Thursday meeting of settler leaders and security chiefs.

‘From the day before the evacuation, if heaven forbid it goes ahead, for instance, there should be no weapons in anyone’s hands,’ he urges.

‘Both sides should together check who is able to gain access [to the area being evacuated]. No heart patients. No violent criminals.

‘Precedents set in previous demonstrations should be applied. Tires have been burned at other, union, demonstrations, so we should be allowed to burn tires, too.

‘The police who will carry out the evacuation and the settlers should meet ahead of time,’ he says, ‘to get to know each other as Yossi and Shmuel who, tomorrow, will be in Golani fighting terrorism together. And there should be a joint security office on the day of the pullout itself and a joint settler and police response team, to quickly douse any flames.’

In short, everything should be done, Goldstein urges, ‘to ensure things don’t deteriorate into violence.’

But, of course, he cautions, even if all such steps are agreed upon, ‘it’s one thing to put it all in writing.’ It’s quite another to stick by it when all hell is breaking loose.

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