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Fragments of Gush Katif

A decade after Israel evacuated Jewish settlers from Gaza, what remains are open sores and the sweet green grass of childhood memories
Settlers cry and pray during the disengagement from Gush Katif on August 18, 2005 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Settlers cry and pray during the disengagement from Gush Katif on August 18, 2005 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

1.

Israeli children play on a sand dune overlooking their homes in the Jewish settlement of Neve Dekalim, in Gush Katif, August 8, 2005. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
Israeli children play on a sand dune overlooking their homes in the Jewish settlement of Neve Dekalim, in Gush Katif, August 8, 2005. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)

I am eight years old, and Gush Katif, our favorite vacation spot, spreads all around me.

I race against my sister on the green green grass. The sky is cerulean and the cabins are white, and the ocean sparkles and roars in the background. It is all familiar, and vivid, and it feels like home.
I win, and my sister cries, saying that I didn’t play fair. She is right. I am embarrassed to be caught. The vibrancy dims, somehow.

But that night we light a bonfire and chase crabs. And as we laugh together, everything is bright again, and full of happiness.

Childhood is where today lasts forever, and disagreements don’t wound.

2.

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Gush Katif residents protest the disengagement plan outside of the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, May 30, 2004 (Photo: Flash90)

I am eighteen years old and angry, walking out on a friend. “The settlers had it coming,” she said, eyes hard, before I left. “Thinking themselves so much better than the rest of us. Why should they have it easy? They are getting their just deserts!”

It is 2004, and the Disengagement is in the works. This isn’t the first time I heard similar statements and witnessed similar glee. Why, why, why, I scream on the inside. Even if you support the plan, at least feel compassion!

When you’re an adult, disagreements wound.

3.

Settlers cry and pray during the disengagement from Gush Katif on August 18, 2005 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Settlers cry and pray during the disengagement from Gush Katif on August 18, 2005 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

“I don’t believe in the state anymore,” says a new acquaintance, several months after the Disengagement took place.

I look at her. She is a beautiful soul, a kind young woman, a model citizen up till this point. And the eyes looking back at me are hard and cold and deeply pained

“Nor can I stomach this rabbi. When they came to evacuate us he forcibly stopped us from damaging the soldiers’ cars.”

Some wounds fester.

4.

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Palestinians enter Kfar Darom settlement in Gush Katif, September 12, 2005 (Photo: Yossi Zamir/ Flash90)

I am watching the footage from Gush Katif as the Gazans take over. The crowds are crushing the greenhouses, singing with joy. This is so stupid, I think. We have given them this wealth, why squander it?

This is a wound too, and it goes deep.

I hope for the two state solution, but I was against the Disengagement. Against unilateral steps, against the way it was done, against the callous treatment of the settlers. I hated the way it tore away our illusions: My friends’ illusion that the nation supports them, my own illusory vision of our society, which glossed over real, festering divides. Over glee.

But somewhere, deep down, I hoped that maybe something good will come out of it. Then I watched the rampaging crowds on TV, and realized that we can never have peace if our enemies desire our destruction more than they desire the construction of their lives.

A decade has past, but this wound still hurts.

5.

Some memories are vague. We spent so many Shabbatot in Gush Katif, that I can’t remember the particulars. I don’t remember the songs or the conversations, the ideas or the games. But I do remember the people, passionate and kind. I remember that in their homes, we always talked about the good of the nation, of helping others, of ways to make the world a better place. Their eyes were earnest, and aglow with a vision of the future. They looked young.

We always went back to Jerusalem with sand in our shoes and elation in our hearts.

6.

”But we were arrogant,” says our family friend from Gush Katif, sipping tea in my parents’ home. He just finished a round of house calls with Panim El Panim, explaining Gush Katif’s plight to one family at a time.

“We assumed that the nation is with us, that we are an understood and supported vanguard. So we plunged ahead without looking back.”

It’s the spring of 2005, and the Disengagement looms ahead. People like our friend are out there, meeting people face to face, trying to convince them that what they had built in Gush Katif is worth preserving. Our friend looks tired, but his face is determined. The same determination that led him to Gush Katif leads him to Ashdod and Rehovot now, ready to engage with the indifference and the glee.

7.

 

It’s August 2005, and I stand by the Kotel, praying with thousands of people. The Disengagement is only days away.

The way here was long and painful. I attended one rally after another, visited our friends in Gush Katif, tied an orange ribbon to my backpack. I held hands in a long human chain from Gush Katif to the Old City of Jerusalem.

As I stood in those rallies, Gush Katif was vivid in my mind. I remembered the foam, so white, the sand, so warm. I recalled napping on the beach as a toddler, serene under the sun, caressed by the salt-scented wind. Our sand castles loomed oh-so-tall when we were little. The shells we strung into necklaces were so sharp. The sunsets burned in a crescendo of colors.

At the rallies, the colors were different. Gone was the vibrancy of childhood. Now it was all about people in sweaters and faded old stones. Urban and gray, these sights heralded the reality of adult life, of politics and compromise, of trying even when you know that you will probably fail.

And here I am, praying, though I know we will fail. What am I praying for, then? I’m not sure, but the prayer brings me solace. Somehow, even as I acknowledge reality, I find a feeling of hope.

8.

We failed. The human chain was cast aside like the shell chains of my childhood. The prayers may have reached the heavens, but politics is what happens here on earth. And here on earth, it’s the 10th of Av, August 15, 2005, and I’m watching live television, crying as my brethren are torn from their homes.

9.

It’s the week right after the Disengagement, and I am visiting hotels with my father, talking to one group of evacuated settlers after another. Some are strangers, others are friends.

Pain is too weak a word, really. I can still remember their faces as they found themselves marooned in hotels, their possessions in deep storage, and their futures unknown. “Pain” doesn’t do any of that justice.

10.

It is Independence Day, less than a year after the Disengagement.

Some of our friends from Atzmona insisted on staying together as a community. They lived in tents for months until the state finally exerted itself on their behalf. On the 15th of March 2006, they founded a new community in the old Kibbutz Shomria.

So here we are with them, celebrating Independence Day in Shomria. And their faces still look young.

They sing, and their eyes are aglow with a spirit of faith, optimism and shlichut (sense of purpose). It’s a spirit I recognize. I saw it so often, back in my childhood’s paradise.

Our friends didn’t let adulthood crush them; they didn’t let politics break them. They started again at their beginnings, still kind, still full of hope.

I cry. And for an hour, Shomria’s terrain, green and soft and muted, is familiar and vibrant in my eyes.

About the Author
Rachel is a Jerusalem-born writer and speaker who's in love with her city's vibrant human scene. She writes about Judaism, parenting and life in Israel for the Times of Israel and Kveller, and explores storytelling in the bible as a teacher and on 929.
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