Thursday, August 7, 2014
It's Been 9 Years
I think I mentioned before that I am not middle of the road. I veer right, on almost every issue, including the one in this post. I hope it doesn't offend those of you who differ in opinion, and that even if you don't agree with me, you can still see where I'm coming from. Nine years ago this week, the Israeli government (under the auspices of Ariel Sharon) made 8,000 Jewish residents of Gaza (or "Gush Katif") leave their homes and businesses, in a unilateral withdrawal from that area. "Unilateral" refers to the fact that the Palestinians made no such counteroffer, and the only concession Israel hoped to receive in return was a peaceful existence. The name of this operation was "The Disengagement", or as we extreme right wingers refer to it "The Expulsion." Never in history had Jews been forced by other Jews to leave their homes (in some cases for 40+ years). Here we are 9 years post, and a lot of questions have been answered.
I can still remember the Expulsion and the year leading to it. I remember reading an article about it in the New York Sun, (remember that fabulous beacon of journalism? A NY paper that actually liked Israel? Miss it) waiting for a friend outside Hunter College on the Upper East Side, crying in the middle of afternoon traffic. The people must have thought me slightly insane, reading my paper, tears streaming down my face, sniffling- truly, I am not the most delicate crier. I remember being in Israel a few months prior, tying an orange ribbon onto my bag, orange being the color of the anti-Disengagement movement. I remember leaving my safe orange cocoon of Jerusalem and venturing into Tel Aviv, where orange ribbons were engulfed by the blue and white ribbons, signifying various degrees of agreement with the Disengagement Plan. I remember the teenagers of Gush Katif; the boys with huge knitted kippot and the girls with flowy skirts and Naot- giving out fliers to cull support for their towns and communities. I remember the human chain- Jews holding hands from Kush Katif to Jerusalem- in solidarity with the cause. And I remember after, images of Jews being wrenched from their homes, their synagogues, their communities. Images of youths spray-painting heartbreaking messages on their homes' walls: "A Jew does not expel another Jew." And the crying, so much crying. The children, the parents, the rabbis, the soldiers- pain you can't imagine, etched on the faces of those who genuinely could not believe this was even happening. Even those who agreed with the disengagement had to feel pain, only it was buoyed by the belief that this, finally, would bring peace with our neighbors. That only by leaving the Gaza strip completely Judenrein, would our Palestinian neighbors be appeased, and we could live in harmony.
I am not saying this to be facetious or callous. I know truly that those who supported the disengagement had every faith that finally the aggressions would cease. Obviously, that is not what came to pass. Nine years of increased aggression later (including thousands of missiles and several ground operations into Gaza) and we have essentially given the Gaza strip to a militant terror group. Democratically elected, Hamas now has a larger and closer launching pad with which to terrorize their Jewish neighbors. Many people now see that it was never about Gaza. It was about shrinking the geographic size of Jewish Israel and ultimately turning Jew against Jew.
Last week, not realizing that it was about to be the anniversary of the Disengagement, I went to the Gush Katif Museum (conveniently located in central Jerusalem, right by the shuk.) There, I relieved that painful period, led by the docent, a former Gush Katif resident. She told me how the greenhouses and agricultural sector of Gush Katif brought in 60 million dollars a year. These greenhouses were left for the Palestinians as an act of goodwill, so that they too could make the desert bloom. Then she told me how every greenhouse was destroyed beyond recognition by those who moved in. She told me how most of the towns the Jews left in perfect condition, remain untouched (saved for the synagogues, which have been desecrated and turned into pig pens). How there is plenty of room for the citizens of dense and overcrowded Gaza City to spread out and live comfortably, but which none of them choose to do. She told me how the citizens of Gush Katif have been scattered to different communities, to varying levels of permanent housing. Many moved to Ashkelon, and I shivered at the thought of them living through the Expulsion and then this past war just a few years later. Needless to say, it was a heavy visit.
So why am I even mentioning all this in a blog post? Well, for one, it is a significant part of my aliyah process, learning the complicated political history of this land. Also, it is almost exactly the anniversary of the Disengagement, so it is on the minds of many Israelis. But probably, it's because of all this talk of "the settlements." Many people, good people, kind people, believe that the major roadblock to peace is the "settlements in the West Bank." That if only we would stop building there, leave, move elsewhere, peace would finally be achieved and our 2 states could flourish into eternity. What is that expression about the definition of insanity? Doing the same exact thing over and over and expecting a different result? Yes, to me that is what blaming "the settlements" is. It is believing that our brothers and sisters, living in Judea and Samaria, are the reason that we don't have everlasting peace, and that if they just left, all would be well. The 9 years since Gush Katif proves that as tempting as that premise might be, the reality is most likely the opposite. Please take a moment to remember the communities of Gush Katif, and hope that never again shall a Jew be forced to hurt another Jew. Am Yisroel Chai.