Last week, shortly after Israeli ground forces entered Gaza, there was a brief news item on the radio which caught my attention.
Amid the flurry of reports emanating from the front, the announcer noted in passing that troops had arrived at the ruins of the Jewish communities of Dugit in northern Gaza and Netzarim in the center of the Strip. He then quickly moved on to discuss various other pressing events in the current campaign against terror.
Left unsaid, of course, was the colossal and bitter irony of this development. After all, it was just three and a half years ago, in August 2005, that soldiers descended on the Jewish communities of Gaza to expel their Jewish residents from their homes. And now the men in uniform find themselves forced to do battle against Hamas in those very same locations.
What a stinging rebuke to all those who preached the gospel of retreat in the face of terror and prophesied peace and harmony by removing Jews.
If nothing else, it is a telling reminder of a basic and fundamental truth of Zionist history and Middle Eastern reality: Jewish settlements are not an obstacle to peace, but an impediment to war.
Only by firmly planting the flag deep into every part of the Land of Israel can we ensure our continued existence in the face of ongoing Arab expansionism and Palestinian irredentism.
That is why it is time now to right the moral and historical wrong of Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan and rebuild Gush Katif.
THE COUNTRY's leaders talk of teaching Hamas a lesson by striking at its infrastructure or delivering a painful blow. I couldn't agree more. But while we are at it, let's also send a message it won't soon forget.
To put it simply: The more you try to kill us, the more we will rebuild. For every Palestinian act of destruction, we will undertake an act of reconstruction.
In the past eight years, Palestinian terrorists have fired more than 8,000 rockets at Israel. Each one of these potentially lethal explosive projectiles was intended to kill Jews. What could possibly be a more fitting response to this unprecedented wave of violence than to enable the return of Gaza's 8,000 Jewish residents?
This is not to imply a moral equivalence between the two. Just the opposite.
Hamas's main aim is to kill Jews, to reduce the Jewish presence in this region. Thus, it and its fellow jihadists must be made to understand that any attempt to diminish the number of Jews living in Israel will be met head-on by efforts to increase it.
So for every rocket fired against us, let another Jew return to Gaza and rebuild.
For every attempt that Hamas has made over the years to lessen the number of Jews, we will respond by boosting the figures.
Hamas' strategic vision assumes that the Jewish presence in this part of the world is temporary or transitory. Hence, to best combat it, we must do everything in our power to demonstrate that it is wrong; we are here to stay.
IN FACT, such an approach is not new, and has its roots in the classical Zionist response to the Arab unrest of 1936. After Arab rioters attacked Jaffa and killed 16 Jews on April 19, 1936, the Arab High Command launched a general strike and pressed the British mandatory authorities take steps to restrict the growth of the Jewish presence in the Land of Israel.
Zionist leaders David Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizmann wisely rejected any attempt to limit Jewish immigration or land reclamation. They realized that such a stance would amount to appeasement, which would only fuel still further Arab aggression against the Yishuv.
In his memoirs, Ben-Gurion writes that "the Yishuv defended itself with courage, wisdom, and restraint... Not one Jewish settlement was abandoned; instead, new ones were established." Rather than yielding to Arab threats and violence, Ben-Gurion and the Zionist leadership pressed forward. In the face of those who sought to reduce the Jewish population, they responded by intensifying efforts to enlarge it as much as possible.
Our present leadership would do well to follow this example, by rebuilding communities such as Dugit, Netzarim and Neveh Dekalim.
This past Sunday, a group of former Gush Katif residents demanded just that. At a news conference in Jerusalem, they said they are ready to recreate the communities that were so senselessly destroyed during the 2005 retreat.
"Let us return home. We are ready at a day's notice to set up tents in the area until permanent construction can begin," the group said.
This is an initiative that all Israelis can and should embrace. Where the Palestinians have sought to inflict death, let us act to reestablish life.
That, more than anything, is the best possible Zionist and Jewish response.