Isaac Herzog: Moving Forward by Falling Back





Isaac Herzog, in the NYT (6-18-05):

[Mr. Herzog is Israel's minister of construction and housing.]

I recently received a letter from a former high school teacher of mine in Tel Aviv. He was liberated from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp by a British Army unit in which my father served. Now, he was criticizing me for working on the government's plan to withdraw from 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and 4 in the West Bank. "How dare you pull Jews out of their homes?" he wrote. "This is just like what the Nazis did to us!"

Unfortunately, I am no longer surprised when a Jew compares me and other Israeli officials to Nazis. It has become part of the rhetoric of those who oppose withdrawal, including the tiny minority who threaten violent resistance. But my old teacher was not threatening me; he was crying out as if in the middle of a nightmare. My father, Chaim Herzog, eventually became president of Israel, and he could not understand how his liberator's son could displace other Jews.

Seen from America, the evacuation of some 8,000 Jews from their homes may seem simple. I have heard it compared to moving residents to make room for a railroad or highway. But, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will see when she visits this weekend, what is happening here is a deeper psychological drama. It brings out fears that are never far from the surface; memories of the displacement and murder of innocent Jews not only during the Holocaust but also in Islamic countries after Israel's founding. And memories of wars Israel did not start, and of terrorist attacks that we fear will never stop...

This withdrawal should be the first step toward a broader, negotiated two-state solution. To get there, the Palestinian leaders must ensure that terrorists do not disrupt the withdrawal and do not take over the land Israel leaves behind. The Palestinians should also understand the feelings of Israelis like my high school teacher. Mr. Abbas can help now by telling his people, loudly and clearly, that Israel's withdrawal will not represent a victory for armed struggle; it will be a victory for the silent majorities on both sides who don't want their grandchildren to have the kinds of traumatic memories that haunt Israelis and Palestinians today.


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