Two images have haunted me since the nightmare we went through in recent weeks–the nightmare given the sterile title “disengagement”, that was in fact no less than a hurricane, hurricane “Arik”. One image is of a secular woman, very un-settler-like, standing with great reserve outside her house in Rafiah Yam as a bulldozer attacked it. Then, suddenly, as if the realization of what she sees strikes her like lightning, she cries: “Why?! Why?!”, like the shout of the child in The Emperor’s New Clothes

The second image is of a young pregnant widow from Homesh in the northern West Bank who recently lost her husband in a terrorist attack, screaming at the soldiers who are removing her from her home: “Whom did you come to fight? Tell me, whom did you come to fight?!”

Two declarations that go beyond the medley of words: “Why?!” and “Whom did you come to fight?!”

With us, unlike elsewhere in the world, this catastrophe was not a natural disaster, something unpreventable, but rather a human act. It was a mythological, surrealistic vision, a unique historical event: a civil war without bloodshed; a civil war accompanied by hugs and sympathy.

Despite everything, it turns out something is different with us Jews, something very deep.

We are witness these days to an unprecedented act of brainwashing, one that is leading the public to perceive the opponents of the “moderate” step called “disengagement”–which in fact is nothing but destruction, uprooting, and exile–as extremists. In contrast, anyone who considers the uprooting and destruction–which in fact were intended only to rebuff international pressures for a few months and to distract attention from personal corruption–as a wise and humanistic step, is considered a moderate.

We read articles, advertisements, appeals: Sharon, continue! I ask myself, what do they want him to continue with: the destruction and devastation? The uprooting with no recompense? The terrible schism that has been created? The damage to a public known for its vitality, its roots, its values, that is now licking its wounds?

The question as to the logic behind this sterile expulsion won’t let me go.

We are told: This is how to save the Jewish state, the “Jewish nature” of Israel. And you think, what Judaism do they mean, what Jew do they see in their mind’s eye–after all, the country they destroyed and uprooted, that they are still destroying and uprooting, is the real Jewish state, and not our Israel, which is pleasuring itself to death.

For many long months I’ve been searching for an answer to this difficult issue–how did this madness fall upon us–and then one day recently I found myself in a taxi with a well known writer on our way to a seminar concerning the initiative to allow settlers to remain in place under Palestinian rule. En route, the author surfed the waves of his memory and told me about the shock he felt when, right after the Six-Day War, he saw Jews dancing on the roof of a house in Silwan, after the Arab family living in it had been evicted: Jews dancing and shouting in full view of crying Arab children and weeping women.

I asked him: And when you danced way back in the 1950s at a Purim party in the restaurant in Ein Hod that was once a mosque, and were hosted by friends in houses restored on the ruins of people who had been uprooted and expelled? What’s the difference between Ein Hod and Silwan–just the date? Why did what happened after 1967 differ from what happened after 1948?

That’s when I got it: the settlers are our scapegoat. They’re our expiation. Their hidden role in the eyes of part of Israeli society is to atone for a sin, the repressed sin that we refused to deal with. The “peace now” establishment coming from the kibbutzim that coveted Arab lands in the years following the War of Independence, whose origins are in the philosophers who fell all over themselves appropriating and fixing up abandoned Arab houses, happily grabbed at the opportunity to cleanse their consciences following the Six-Day War.

From herein declare: those who coveted and stole, those who murdered and inherited, are the settlers of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, the religious right, Gush Emmunim; it is they who must be expelled from the land so that salvation may arrive.

This, then, is the deceit behind the “peace now”-like lie. A self-delusion that may work with part of the Israeli public, but under no circumstances with the Palestinians. They don’t buy this lie. They know exactly who settled on their ruins and their lands, and who settled on rocks in empty land. The proof is that they fix their gaze not on the Qatif bloc but on Ashkelon; not on Efrat but on Katamon; not on Betar Elit but on Malcha. From their standpoint, if someone should be uprooted it is we who live safely within the “legal” green line, on the ruins of their national memory. From their standpoint it is we who are first in line. Because as we have seen, the original sin is not in the “territories”, but here: in Lachish, Jaffa, Haifa, the Galilee, and the Sharon region.

But Arik Sharon, who in the dusk of his days craves to eat his breakfast while basking in the light of an adoring media, has become the Paul of the “peace now” false messianism: the great unbeliever who suddenly saw the light on the road to Damascus and did an about face. The problem is that in this case it is not light but darkness. The road to peace, if there is one, is through engagement and not disengagement, while depravity will always be depravity and will never bring glad tidings.

Today one could say to the settlers, you had a great historic role to fill in the eyes of the left: to be the cleansers of its conscience. A mission was imposed upon you, to cleanse the conscience of those who dwell in the houses of Arabs and on their lands in Katamon and Talbieh, in Baqa and Abu Tor, in Biram and Yad Mordechai and Sheikh Munis. What do you say to rising as one and declaring instead: our historic mission is the opposite–not to be uprooted but to stay; to remain in our places even under another regime (as a Jewish minority in a Palestinian state, in parallel with the Arab minority in Israel) and to serve as a bridge to peace. It is we who will determine which way the Palestinian neighbor is heading: toward reconciliation or more conflict. There is no better touchstone.

Most of you settlers got where you are with a sense of mission, in accordance with an idea and a faith. Dangerous it always was; you were always surrounded by hostile neighbors. But you had a mission and there was faith, and these enabled you to continue to bear the risks. Now, in a different way and from a different standpoint, you perhaps have another opportunity for a life characterized by “mission” and “significance”.

Pragmatists, politicians, lawyers, have thus far not succeeded in pulling the wagon out of the mud. We’re stuck with these pragmatists. I believe that an idea originating with men of letters, paradoxically, can sometimes produce a different spirit, one that will get things moving. It may not be too late to dilute the disengagement–that act that is nothing but patchwork, plugging of leaks, destruction on top of destruction–with a message, an act of hope. For a long time our creative imagination has not been ignited. Perhaps this idea will turn on the light at the end of the disengagement.- Published 12/9/2005 (c)

Eyal Megged has published 10 volumes of poetry and six novels. He was awarded the Book Publishers’ Association’s Golden and Platinum Book Prizes for his novels Everlasting Life and Saving Grace.