Wrestling with the Gaza Withdrawal

            In Jewish tradition the Torah (5 Books of Moses) is read throughout the year.  For synagogue purposes, the Torah is divided into 54 portions, each portion read on the weekly Shabbat, so that the entire text is read by the end of the year.  The portion entitled Ekev (Deut. 7:12 - 11:25) begins with Moses encouraging the people that the Lord will deliver the land of Israel into their hands and concludes with the boundaries of the land, essentially from the Judean Desert to Lebanon and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Euphrates River.  The Jews were exiled from this land to the nations from the end of the 1st century to the end of the 19th century.  It was at this point that Jews suddenly began to return to the land, culminating in the establishment of modern Israel in 1948. 

            The boundaries of modern Israel have never been set.  There are numerous international decrees including League of Nations and United Nations rulings concerning these matters, all of which are different.  For instance, the 1947 United Nations charter authorizing the establishment of the nation set boundaries that were quickly changed in 1949 after five Arab nations attacked Israel following her proclamation of independence.  The boundaries changed again following wars in 1956, 1967, 1973 and the Camp David Accord in 1977.   Modern Israel was established by Jewish immigration and settlement.  Following the wars of 1967 and 1973, Israel’s government realized that peace with her Arab neighbors was unlikely, and her current boundaries made her vulnerable to attack.  Thus began the settlement movement.  This was a government subsidized program to settle some of the newly conquered territories in the West Bank, the Golan Heights and Gaza.  Significant and large settlements sprang up in portions of the West Bank, smaller ones in the Golan and Gaza.  Of course, the territories in the West Bank and Gaza were later claimed by Arab representatives as belonging to a non-existent state, known as Palestine, and largely inhabited by Arabs, now called Palestinians.  Gaza was ruled earlier by Egypt and the West Bank by Jordan. 

            In the early 1990's the Palestine Liberation Organization began negotiating with Israel for land and peace.  They claimed all territory outside of the borders of Israel, originally established by the United Nations Charter of 1947.  Israel has always agreed to relinquish most of the territories conquered in the 1967 and 1973 wars, which included most of the West Bank and Gaza.  Finally, in August of this year, Israel closed down settlements in both of these areas and  unilaterally withdrew its forces.  Some of these settlements existed for over 30 years and were very prosperous.  They were built on originally uninhabited land.  For both the settlers and for much of the Israeli population, this withdrawal was very painful.  See the accompanying story.

            For many Orthodox Jews, Messianic Jews and Christians, the withdrawal seems like disobedience to God because God set boundaries in the Torah that actually extend beyond these territories.  However, quoting from Deut. 7:22, “The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little; you will not be able to put an end to them quickly . . .”  This, of course, was God’s promise to the original Israelite settlement in the land following the Exodus.  But the principle may remain the same today.  Until Israelis are numerous enough to fully populate these lands, it may be pointless to hold onto them.  What will Israel do with 3-4 million Palestinians who want the land but do not want to be part of Israel?  Either Israel is forced to include them within their democratic state, threatening the very existence of a Jewish homeland or they can force them out through ethnic cleansing.  Neither proposition is appealing.

            I believe the government has done the right thing.  It’s a just decision for the Palestinians, and it takes tremendous pressure off of the Israeli military and security services.  The day will come when this land and more will belong to a restored Israel.  God’s promise is that He will bring the Jews back to their land, change their hearts to fully serve Him and make them the envy of the nations.  It may not fully happen, though, until Yeshua returns. 


Jamie Cowen, Rabbi, 2005