[A year ago the Israeli government evicted religious Jews from Gush Katif, the oasis the Jews made in the Gaza desert with their own hands. The Jews of Gush Katif paid plenty of taxes and produced a viable chunk of the Israeli GDP and exports. The Israeli army did not guard Gush Katif, The Jews there protected themselves. Seeking to placate the West and the Arabs, Sharon and his government not only abandoned Gaza but also forcibly removed the Jews living there in their own houses. The result, as virtually every security expert predicted, was an escalation of Arab violence. They seized on Israel’s weakness and bombarded Southern Israel with thousands of rockets.]

The campaign to save Gush Katif was a public relations disaster. It could have been conducted along Save Darfur lines, picturing barbarous attackers versus ethical, hard-working settlers, corrupt politicians versus Jewish pioneers. Instead, the organizers mixed two mutually exclusive approaches: calling for help and pressuring the government. Each approach discredited the other.

Either approach could work. Tens of thousands of demonstrators could break into the Knesset and hold it, forcing the government to accommodate the settlers’ demands. Power begets respect, and mainstream Israelis would prefer resolute settlers to peaceful settlers. The media portrayed the settlers as a violent crowd, and the gap between popular expectations and the settlers’ actual behavior was huge. Fear gave way to contempt, and few Israelis actively supported Gush Katif. People vote only for solutions they perceive as realistic. They do not support futile struggles. The settlers should have positioned themselves as a force able to change government policy.

On other hand, the settlers could have pled for help, presenting themselves as hard-working Jews who made an oasis in the desert. Supporters of Gush Katif should have distributed photos of lovely Jewish villages and gardens in Gaza.

It was critical to oppose the government propaganda with figures, but the settlers delivered no objective information to other Israelis. Many mistakenly believed that the settlements needed constant protection, that the settlers got their houses free from the government, and paid no taxes.

Going door-to-door personally to convince people may be effective but may also be counterproductive. Israelis evidently disliked agitated religious zealots knocking their doors. A huge PR campaign of half a million house visits was lost.

Propaganda requires high-quality literature with thoughtful analysis, not largely hysterical pamphlets which persuade only their authors. A Jew does not evict a Jew was such a ridiculous slogan, so evidently untrue, so lacking in rational content that the failure was predictable.

Organizers of the Gush Katif protests should have downplayed the demonstrators’ religious background. It is probably okay for Jews to stop praying in front of cameras for a few days and substitute sports caps for religious kipas during demonstrations or house visits. Instead, the demonstrators positioned themselves as a religious mob and forfeited help from secular Israelis.

Again, any approach may work if carried out resolutely. If the settlers did not want to hide their religiosity, they should have proved it with the action Israelis expect from deeply religious Jews. The settlers could have tried to burn themselves in their houses or to commit mass suicide by other means. Ideals cost lives.

Millennia of powerlessness made Jews rely on pity. In the diaspora, only gentile courts could pass death sentences, and the Jews could not carry out the capital punishments prescribed by the Torah. To save face, the Talmudic rabbis developed an extensive due process that made sentencing for capital offenses impossible. They also emphasized mercy and tolerance. Their approach contradicted the Torah which demands evil be expunged from society swiftly and ruthlessly.

Criminal or apostate Jews must be dealt with, not forgiven with the silly explanation that Jews do not kill Jews. Of course they do. An apostate Jew was the first victim of the Maccabean war, and the Mishnah describes the Sanhedrin sentencing Jews to clubbing, asphyxiation, stoning, and burning. Reluctance to punish Jewish offenders puts the offenders in charge. Jewish law prescribes killing informants specifically because they endanger the entire community if hostile gentiles generalize their allegations. Sharon’s government endangered Israelis by conceding Gaza to Palestine, as the shower of rockets from Gaza shows.

The cowardly supporters of Gush Katif refused to make the ultimate moral choice, to shoot at the apostates who came to evict them. The government dismantled Gush Katif only because there was no efficient opposition. Arabs fight for their land, and Israeli incursions into Lebanese and Palestinian villages often become urban combat. The Gush Katif settlers could have fought for every house. Some casualties would occur on both sides, and Jews would have shot at Jews. That is not unthinkable: the Irgun bombed the King David Hotel bombing and claimed more Jewish than British lives; Ben-Gurion and Rabin killed the Irgun fighters on Altalena. Violent opposition to Sharon’s traitor government would have stopped the Gush Katif evictions. The Israeli government is over-sensitive to the media and would not have flattened Gush Katif with artillery or stormed it with elite troops—especially since many troops were settlers. If the settlers had escalated the conflict into a fight, the government would have backed down, and the casualties would have been few. People may fight for their houses, all the more for their land. Instead, the settlers demonstrated.

Politics causes deaths. More Jews died in terrorist attacks provoked by Israel ceding Gaza to the Arabs than would have died fighting for Gush Katif. More Jews will suffer from rising anti-semitism provoked by Jewish weakness than would have been wounded in Gush Katif. Instead of ignoring the facts and choosing moral idealism, honest Jews should have minimized the Jewish death toll and suffering—opposed the government forces violently.

The scenario is well known from other revolutions: undermine the basically friendly army with propaganda and shoot a few notable high-ranking enemies. It made sense and justice to punish odious Jews like Niso Shaham, head of the Negev regional police, who ordered the demonstrators in Kfar Maimon beaten.

A hundred or so cases of conscripted soldiers refusing to evict the settlers would have created a wave in the army, and many would have refused. The polls show that about half of Israeli youth opposed withdrawal from Gaza. If half the army refused to carry out eviction orders, the other—leftist—half would be rendered inoperative. Using the army against Israeli citizens is surely illegal, and the settlers could have marshaled lawyers to explain that to the soldiers—and cause them to disobey orders.

Propaganda among the troops is especially easy in Israel where conscripts go home frequently. It takes years to dispirit an army, however, and the isolated attempts to talk to the troops near Kfar Maimon and elsewhere came too late.

The Israeli government evicted Jews from Gaza instead of Arabs from Galilee for a reason: fearful, snobbish bureaucrats serve their foreign sponsors. They do not want a media outcry about the poor Arabs and want to be seen as opponents of religious fundamentalism, even if it’s Jewish. It made almost no sense to conduct demonstrations in Israel: The Sharon government was unresponsive. Rather, the demonstrations should be held in Washington, especially since unlike Israel America does not censor slogans. Demonstrators could have blocked traffic in Washington, impossible in Jerusalem because of the police. The United States financed the withdrawal, and demonstrations in Washington would be politically reasonable. The Jewish mob would be far less religious than in Israel, and American media are relatively free.

The settlers were wrong to trust the rabbinical establishment. The Rebbe said that the land of Israel should not be surrendered, but his Chabad followers objectively sided with the Israeli government. When the police were tearing out the nostrils of Jewish demonstrators, most rabbis kept preaching non-violence.

Opinionated rabbis often ran the PR themselves instead of hiring professional PR firms. The results were not just meager but often quite the opposite. The homemade PR, like any bad advertisement, alienated the audience.

Opposing the rabbis would mean losing funding, because they have sponsors. The defenders of Gush Katif, however, need little money. When the police stopped hundreds of chartered buses, the supporters came to Gaza on their own, in cars and regular buses. Almost everyone brought food and water. Considerable money could be raised from the common people in Israel and abroad, as shown by the If you believe, plant a seed! campaign. Many small sponsors would have created pro-Gush Katif sentiment among the population.

We can blame the treacherous Israeli government for the surrender of Gush Katif, but we must also blame ourselves.