Michael Oren: Terror posed a primary challenge to our ability to remain a sovereign people, but also a Jewish people, and yet as in Moses and in Ben-Gurion's time, the greatest challenges were not external, they were internal, from the Jews themselves.
The government Ariel Sharon decided two years ago that Israel must withdraw from the Gaza Strip, and so in the summer of 2005 I donned my uniform again as a reservist and participated in the operation to remove 21 Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip and 8100 inhabitants. Those residents regarded Gaza as the Jew's god-given patrimony, a gift which no government had the right to reject, and then the question arose, could this rift be spanned? Could Israel survive it? I was not sure.
On the morning I walked into the first of those settlements, with 500 Israeli soldiers, and the settlers set fire to the gate on fire so that we had to wait until an armoured bulldozer came and broke it down. We poured into the settlement and the residents pelted us with sacks of paint and assailed us wearing the yellow star of the ghetto, calling us Nazis. The settlers then barricaded themselves into the synagogue and would not come out, and finally the commander of my unit reached an agreement with the rabbi of the settlement that they would pray the afternoon prayer and then they would come out, and line up and go on buses. But they did not come out. That poor commander had to make the difficult decision any Jewish officer could make: to break into the synagogue with a sledgehammer. So we broke into that synagogue with a sledgehammer, and what greeted us in there was the most difficult scene I've ever encountered in my thirty years of army service. There were 100 Jews lying on the floor, wailing and screaming, clutching Torah scrolls, clutching pews, crying out for God to save them. And some of these Israeli officers, many of who were pilots and commando, fell as if they'd been hit by bullets. And for a while there we weren't sure who was evacuating whom as some of the settlers came to help the soldiers who had been stricken and fell down. And it took hours to literally tear these people away from these Torah scrolls and physically to carry them on to buses. And I was not sure that we could survive this as a people, as a state.
And finally when we had them on the buses the rabbi came down and asked the brigade commander if at that point all the residents and settlers could come off the buses and address us, the people whom we had just torn from their synagogue. And I thought the brigade commander was going to say 'Are you crazy? Go away'. But no, the brigade commander, with much greater compassion and wisdom than mine, said, 'OK'.
So the same people we had spent hours loading on to these buses filed off the buses. And we all stood there in an H formation with Israeli flags flying, and the rabbi of the settlement got up and spoke to us and he said 'We've just undergone the most profound trauma. What could be worse than this? And yet we must realise that tomorrow when we wake up we will all be part of the same Jewish State and that we have to work together to make this country more just, to make this country more moral, to make it more Jewish.' And then we stood, 500 soldiers, 100 settlers, and we all sang Hatikvah, The Hope, the Israeli national anthem. And then without a word the 100 settlers got on the bus and drove away. We had survived it, but only narrowly.
Does Netanyahu really think he's the best candidate for Israel's Ambassador to the U.S.? Would Michael yield up his American citizenship?