As evicted settlers lick their wounds, opponents of the withdrawal policy have been left reeling. It turns out that Jews do expel Jews and without the descent into anarchy predicted by leaders of Israel’s once indulged settlers. Following dire warnings that the forced removal of 8,000 settlers from Gaza Strip and northern West Bank would provoke civil war, bring down the government and open a rift between the army and the people, opponents of the pullout have been left reeling by its speed and relative ease. The army said it would take six weeks to clear the 21 Gaza Strip settlements and four smaller ones in the West Bank. As more families signed up to take the money and leave, the military revised its estimate down to three weeks.

In the end it took less than three days to clear all but a handful of the settlements. Kfar Darom made a relatively violent stand but it was still emptied in less than a day. Neve Dekalim, the biggest Gaza settlement with 450 families, was all but cleared out in two days. There are still two hardline settlements in the West Bank to be cleared, Sa Nur and Homesh.

It is good news for Ariel Sharon as a battle looms with Binyamin Netanyahu for who will lead the Likud party into next year’s election. The pullout was a critical issue for the party, and the relative ease of the withdrawal will not play well for Netanyahu. But it is also dangerous for Sharon, as it undermines any attempt to claim that it was so traumatic that there can be no similar pullout from the West Bank. Much of the operation’s success can be attributed to planning. About 55,000 security personnel underwent training. They not only learnt how to deal with large crowds less harshly but how to cope with the difficulties of removing families from their homes and how to act with restraint when your fellow Jews are calling you a Nazi. It paid off.

The danger for Sharon in the run-up to the pullout was that public sympathy would swing behind weeping families. The soldiers forcing them from their homes would be perceived as brutal. But from the first day the settlers eroded sympathy for their cause. A minority screamed jibes of Nazi at the security forces and teenage girls lectured them on democracy and how “Jews don’t expel Jews.’’ The security forces reacted with patience and sympathy.

Sharon seemed to speak for most of the country when he said: “I’ll remember the faces of the soldiers who did not react to the insults.’’ Force was only used as a last resort, and generally against people for whom there was diminishing sympathy even within the settlements. Serious violence was never expected.

Attacks on Arabs were different. Two Jewish Israelis murdered eight Arabs in an attempt to upset the pullout. But the threats of civil disobedience came to nothing. Perhaps it was because the government’s determination to carry out the withdrawal never wavered that the opposition within the Gaza settlements collapsed so quickly. Sharon was lucky with the Palestinians. They did not try to reinforce their claim that Israel was pulling out by raining mortars on the settlers. With opinion polls showing increased support for the pullout, some Israeli commentators were declaring that the events were a victory for democracy. —The Guardian