On my recent volunteer trip to Israel I tried to learn something new each day. This is not difficult when you are in the holy land as you can trace our Jewish history in Israel back thousands of years.
Since the events of October 7, there are 600,000 displaced persons in Israel. I would posit that you can separate the displaced into two large groupings. There are those who fled their kibutz and moshav based homes in the Gaza Belt as the Hamas terrorists overran and slaughtered their families. Then there are those from more urban areas near the northern and southern borders who were forced to leave in a preventative fashion to avoid constant rocket attacks.
As I spoke to the members of the former group from the Gaza Belt, I learned what may be history unknown to many Americans. For these families the current evacuation is only one of multiple that they have endured. They have literally wandered our land and sacrificed more than we can imagine.
The members of Netiv Haasara, a moshav in the northwest Negev, comprised of 900 persons are now partially housed in the Yearim Hotel in Maaleh Hachamisha, 20 minutes outside of Jerusalem. It was my privilege to hear their heart wrenching story. This moshav was established in the Negev in 1982 by 70 families. These families had previously had a moshav in the Sinai peninsula, established in 1973 near Yamit, which was disassembled by the government as part of the Camp David Accords. The accords were formulated in 1979 during the Carter administration between President Sadat and Menachem Begin and one of its stipulations was to hand the Sinai desert over to Egypt. As a result, 70 families of Netiv Haasara relocated to the northern Gaza Envelope in 1982 and started over. Their numbers grew to 900. Their industry was growing flowers.
On October 7, the terrorist infiltrators arrived by air, on motorcycles, and in trucks. The survivors report their disbelief as they watched the flying vehicles pass right over their homes to land and release messengers of death.
Miraculously, only 20 heroes of the moshav were lost that day. Over the subsequent days the army arrived and the members of the moshav were evacuated and dispersed to a variety of hotels across Israel.
Now we might wonder: how can such a close knit community continue to maintain their determination and resilience when they are separated from each other worrying about their children their soldiers and the total loss of their livelihood?
The moshav’s main source of income was the flower industry. During and for days after the attack due to loss of power there was no water supplied to their fields. Then, when the power returned the fields were flooded and no one was left to save the crops.
Now the older members of the moshav wonder if the younger members will have the determination to bring their families back to rebuild or if they will want to protect their young children from possible harm and remain in the center of Israel? They wonder how they will find the manpower to reestablish the water pipes, reseed, replant and harvest and market? They wonder where the seed moneys will come from to restart as the government has not committed specific sums to them? They wonder if the unity and intergenerational integrity they previously had will be resurrected?
They wonder how much longer they will wander and sacrifice.
The members of Shlomit, a small village just outside the Gaza border, spoke to me in their displaced housing in a hotel near Jerusalem. This is a religious village which saw its function as that of being a connection, a conduit of faith for the surrounding moshavs and kibutzim. On October 7, the brave protectors of Shlomit saw that their neighboring village Prigan was surrounded by terrorists and they armed up and set out to help their neighbors. The widow of Uriel Bibi recounted how 4 men died that day having left their families and sacrificed everything to save the adjacent town. As a result of their bravery, Prigan did not suffer any casualties of its own.
Prigan was established in 1981. Its members were originally the members of Priel located in the Sinai Peninsula. This was a settlement for Russian immigrants established in 1978 and destroyed in 1981 as a victim of the Camp David accord. Priel’s members relocated to the Negev and founded Prigan which grew produce and flowers.
Shlomit was established more recently in 2011. Shlomit’s members were originally from the evacuees of Gush Katif, who were forcibly removed from Gush Katif in 2005 as part of the Israeli government’s disengagement from Gaza. The government then strongly recommended that the evacuees of Gush Katif should settle in the Negev where the government portrayed an Eden like existence and provided caravans and plans for permanent homes. Uriel Bibi z”l was one of the 443 residents of Shlomit. As of October 7 there are four widows and tens of orphans of Shlomit. It is as yet unknown when they can stop wandering and return to their newly built homes.
Now we might wonder: How will this religious community maintain its faith in the face of tremendous loss and adversity?
The grief of Uriel’s widow is so palpable. How will she manage to raise her two beautiful children and still give connection to the people of the secular Negev?
The evacuees of the Negev wonder how long they will wander and sacrifice?