ISRAEL'S PAIN in giving up Gaza may not compare to the hurt that the Palestinians have suffered, but it is real pain nonetheless. Decolonization is never easy when there are settled populations of the colonizers to be considered, as the British and French found in Africa.
In Israel's case religion is another complicating factor. A vocal minority of Jews believe that God wills them to keep all of the ''Land of Israel. "
Yet, there is no agreement on what actually constitutes the ''Land of Israel." There are many who say Gaza is nothing of the kind, despite Samson ''eyeless in Gaza and at the mill with slaves." More than 20 years ago Jewish settlers had to be hauled out of the Sinai desert for there to be peace with Egypt, and few consider Sinai to be historic Israel.
Therefore, most Jewish settlers might reasonably say that the Land of Israel is wherever Jews, with government encouragement, have built their homes, tilled the land, buried their dead, and enjoyed the protection of the Israeli army. As with the British and French in Africa, Jews in the occupied territories have had a good life with cheap labor among the less privileged natives, many of whom had to give up their land to make room for the colonizers. But times change, and colonial governments change their minds, too.
If there was a godfather to the settler movement it was Ariel Sharon, who once advised settlers to grab every hilltop in the occupied territories. Thus is the sense of betrayal magnified.
After the 1967 Six-Day War, the government of Israel wouldn't allow Israelis to live in the West Bank or Gaza. The reason: Israel expected the Arab world to sue for peace in exchange for the territories. Israel knew that if it involved removing Jewish settlers, the task would be all the more complicated. However, there were exceptions in places where Jews had lived for centuries, and then been killed or driven out by Arab uprisings during the British Mandate. And once the Likud Party replaced Labor, the philosophical approach changed and settlements were encouraged.
Perhaps the best example of settler resistance to decolonization came when Britain was pulling out of Africa. The white settlers of Southern Rhodesia simply refused to hand over power, and declared their own unilateral independence in defiance of London. The British did not attempt to subdue their rebellious colonials by force, and a bitter war between settlers and Africans who wanted their own independence followed, ending in defeat for the settlers and the birth of Zimbabwe.
The Gaza situation, however, most brings to mind the French disengagement in Algeria. The French used force to beat down Algerian independence with the vigor Israel employed against Palestinians, and then, when they decided to leave, had to face the wrath of European settlers.
France even made Algeria technically part of France in order to strengthen its claim. But Charles de Gaulle, who was expected to keep Algeria French when he came to power, finally bowed to reality and gave Algeria its freedom. Like Sharon, de Gaulle realized that keeping Algeria as part of metropolitan France would not only mean endless war but would be a demographic time bomb as well.
It was touch and go, however, whether the French Army would obey. Some units rebelled in sympathy with the settlers, and senior French generals were involved in plots against the government. In contrast, the Israeli army has maintained its discipline. And unlike the British and French, the Gaza settlers were not given the option of staying on another regime's authority.
Whether or not Sharon can claim the mantle of de Gaulle, however, largely depends on what happens next in the occupied West Bank.
If there is only a token Israeli withdrawal -- if Gaza is being given up only to strengthen Israel's grip on the West Bank -- then there will be no peace. No one expects complete withdrawal from the West Bank anymore, but there has to be a viable and contiguous space for a Palestinian state on the West Bank for peace to have a chance, and that will be no easy task for Israel. Likewise, the Palestinians will have to contain and control their own fanatics, which will be no less difficult.
Post-independence, Algeria experienced a civil war between secular and religious factions, which is precisely the Palestinians' worst nightmare.
H.D.S. Greenway's column appears regularly in the Globe.