- As a unilateral gesture to pave the way for peace, in 2005, Israel withdrew all settlers (more than 8,000) and military forces from Gaza.
- Hamas and other terror groups then turned Gaza into a launch pad for missile attacks targeting nearby communities located inside Israel. In total, more than 10,000 missiles and mortars have been fired from Gaza at Israeli communities since Israel left the territory.
Increasing the security of Israeli residents, relieving pressure on the IDF, and reducing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians were three tenets of the disengagement plan, announced by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2003.1 After maintaining a military presence in Gaza since 1967, Israel planned to unilaterally remove the approximately 8,000 Israelis who lived in settlement communities (including many who were born or had lived there for decades).
Most settlers left their homes peacefully, while others were forcibly removed from their homes. Israeli graves were exhumed and remains were transported to Israel – a demonstration of the painful sacrifices made in the course of disengagement. Sadly, after disengagement, much highly developed Israeli settlement infrastructure – including greenhouses – which had been left intact by Israelis for future use by Gazans, were destroyed by Palestinians.
The plan was hailed as a “courageous decision” by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Israelis expected that, once Israel had disengaged, the Palestinian Authority would administer control over the Gaza Strip. However, hope of peaceful reciprocity from the Palestinians faded when Hamas was elected in 2006 and seized control of Gaza in a violent coup against their Fatah counterparts in 2007. Gaza has since become a staging ground for attacks by Palestinian terror groups, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Resistance Committees. More than 10,000 missiles and mortars have been fired on the communities of southern Israel since disengagement – and one million Israelis now live within missile range of Gaza.
Because of the daily threat of missile attacks, Israel was left with no choice but to impose an arms blockade of Gaza to curtail the smuggling of Iranian and Syrian weaponry into the territory. The United Nations’ Palmer Report states that the Israeli blockade of Gaza is a legitimate security measure that has been taken in accordance with international law.
Disengagement from Gaza remains a widely contested issue within Israeli society.