For all its extensive, wall-to-wall coverage of the situation in the South over the past month, there is one key issue that the country's leadership and media have studiously and carefully avoided mentioning of late. Despite finding time to examine a wide range of subjects, from the intricacies of intra-Hamas politics to the technical differences between Kassam and Grad rockets, pundits and politicians alike have proven incapable of acknowledging the underlying cause behind the present disarray.
Indeed, if you listened carefully, and followed the news in recent weeks, you may have noticed that hardly anything was said about the colossal strategic blunder which enabled Hamas to strike terror in the streets of Ashkelon and Beersheba.
Yes, you guessed correctly. To paraphrase Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, "It was the disengagement, stupid!" Of course, this hardly comes as a surprise. After all, it would require something of our politicians and their guard dogs in the press which they seem constitutionally incapable of doing: admitting they were wrong.
Yet that is precisely what they were when they supported the Sharon government's misguided August 2005 retreat: dead wrong, and profoundly so.
It was their blunder, their bluster and their blindness, which got us into this mess, and which brought the country an unprecedented wave of airborne Palestinian projectiles and terror. All those who backed the pullout then, and adamantly defended it to the public, clearly now owe the rest of us a whopper of an apology.
Which is exactly why they are so manifestly silent on the subject.
BUT THE facts are too compelling to ignore, and they readily speak for themselves. Let's do a quick rewind and you'll see why.
Prior to the ignominious retreat more than three years ago, there were warnings aplenty that it would endanger the South and place hundreds of thousands of people within range of jihadist rockets in Gaza.
Here is just one of many examples. On January 11, 2005, seven months before the pullout, Col. Uzi Buchbinder, head of civil defense in the IDF's Home Front Command, told the Knesset Interior Committee that the disengagement plan, if implemented, would expose 46 towns and cities in the Negev to Kassam rocket fire. At the same hearing, Col. (res.) Mordechai Yogev presented a report to our parliamentarians, cautioning that "the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria will bring numerous large population centers and communities within the range of Kassam rockets and mortar shells." And that, of course, is precisely what occurred.
But no one wanted to listen, no one wished to hear, even as politicians and protesters on the Right railed against the disengagement, accurately predicting the disaster that would ensue. Instead, the leaders of the country mocked the plan's opponents and hurled invective and abuse their way.
After more than 100,000 people rallied outside the Knesset on January 29, 2005 against the government's plan, vice prime minister Shimon Peres ridiculed the gathering, labeling it a "rally of shlemazels." As it turns out, of course, the real shlemazels are not those who warned about the dangers of retreat, but those who stubbornly ignored them.
IN THIS context it is worth recalling that one of those who led the charge in favor of the expulsion of Gaza's Jews was none other than our very own Ehud Olmert, who at the time served as Ariel Sharon's vice premier. On June 9, 2005, Olmert insisted in remarks to an American Jewish audience that the disengagement "will bring more security, greater safety, much more prosperity and a lot of joy for all the people that live in the Middle East." Continuing with his flight of fantasy, Olmert went on to say that "we are confident that this disengagement will be successful, and that it will then lead to the beginning of a new pattern of relations between us and the Palestinian Authority."
Well, it certainly has lead to a "new pattern of relations," as the Palestinian leadership was forced to flee to Ramallah after Hamas quickly seized control over Gaza. But that, of course, is not quite what Olmert and his colleagues had in mind.
On August 15, 2005, the day of the pullout itself, Sharon addressed the nation and assured us that "this plan is good for Israel in any future scenario." Needless to say, that has proven to be patently untrue. And while Sharon is no longer in any condition to be offering regrets, there are plenty of people out there in positions of power who darn well should.
It is time for a Gaza apology and a national admission of guilt. All those who had a hand in the disengagement should apologize to the people of Israel, the residents of Sderot and the rest of the Negev and especially to those who lived in Gush Katif.
Through their folly, the supporters of withdrawal brought disaster upon this country. They destroyed the lives of thousands of Gaza's Jews, and put nearly a million Israelis within the cross-hairs of Hamas.
Unless Israel and its leaders have the courage to come to terms with their error, the danger of making additional such blunders will continue to accompany us well into the future.
Mistakes, wrote the author James Joyce, are portals of discovery. They allow us to gain a better glimpse of reality and to move forward. But that can only happen if in fact one is capable of embracing his own failings.
The disengagement, as its name implied, was supposed to disengage Israel from the Palestinians and their violence. But instead, as we have seen, it did just the opposite. It is about time that its proponents publicly acknowledged as much.