Day 1: Infiltrating the Gush

After passing through the initial checkpoints leading to the Kissufim Crossing under the pretense that I was a “stupid American” who didn’t know Hebrew or current affairs, I smuggled into my friend’s car with a fake ID. The male driver told the patroller at Kissufim to cut him a break, and they didn’t check me as I pretended to be asleep in the back seat.

Entering the Gush
Neve Dekalim was just as I left it a month before, during my Shabbat visit.

There was no sign of impending doom or disaster — the trees, the buildings, the roads, were all as they were — people were walking around, lounging on the green lawns, talking in the streets.

Ayelet took me to a friend’s barbecue. These days, nighttime barbecues on the beach are a common way for the residents to feel normal and relieve tension, she explained. We reached Roni’s bachelor pad in Morag, which looked like any I’d seen in Tel Aviv.

“This is your house?” I asked.

“I’d like to think so,” he said.

I forgot that was a sensitive question.

My stomach full of tasty honey dijon chicken wings, I went to sleep with excitement at having entered, curiosity about the next day, and deep concern for the fate of these people who were being uprooted from the homes they love.

Morning: Settling in the Zone
A sukkah for “guest services” stood at the courtyard of the Neve Dekalim community center for the hundreds of “recent entries” like me who wanted to find out where they could sleep, where they could eat, and how they could help.

Shlomi, a teenager with payot (religious tendrils) looked at me oddly. With my “immodest” short sleeves, I wasn’t your standard infiltrator.

“I’m from Tel Aviv,” I explained. “I packed for one day, and I’m not sure if I should stay.”

“You won’t want to miss the thanksgiving celebration we’ll have when the decree is annulled,” he said.

“Right,” I said, hoping his confident optimism was justified.

Then he explained to me where I could buy food, underwear, and even use the internet. It seemed that, logistically, I could get by if I was willing to rough it.

“Will my presence help here?” I asked.

“Every Jew counts,” he said. “But not if you want to just spend your time at the beach.”

“How can I help?”

“We’re meeting at 4:00 to build tents in Morag.”

“Great,” I said.

Afternoon: Working in the Zone
I was the only one wearing jeans when a bunch of teenagers and I gathered at the sukkah at 4:00 pm. We were informed there was a change of plans. Instead of building tents we would clean houses abandoned by foreign workers so that newcomers could live there.

We were warned it wouldn’t be easy. The foreign workers, or the army, had trashed the place. It was a mess. There was even excrement on the floor, here and there.

None of us turned away.

The three-room house we were assigned to clean had only walls, a roof, and filth to show for itself. The electricity was cut, there was one water faucet outside, and roaches were crawling all over the floor. The kitchen counter was half-destroyed, and the toilets and sinks had been uprooted. Whoever destroyed the interior didn’t want to make it easy for new residents.

But we all did our best. Female teenagers, who in our day and age generally don’t clean their own rooms, hardly complained as they scrubbed floors, dug out moldy, roach-infested wood, and lifted piles of dirty junk. We scrubbed and scrubbed. We mopped and mopped. We sprayed and sprayed.

I don’t think I have ever felt such camaraderie, such love, such self-sacrifice, and such dedication for a shared cause.

Evening: Beach Barbeque
I got to Ayelet’s place exhausted. It was hot, I had worked hard, but she invited me for another barbecue by the beach. How could I refuse?

We met a bunch of 30+ men and women who lived in Gannei Tal. It was obvious that they were secular, and I felt more at ease.

We cooked kabob, hotdogs, and shishlik and drank beer. Then we built a fire by the ocean and some of them started talking.

A man who had lived there for years raised the issue of packing and the raw compensation deal he was threatened to accept on pain of homelessness. I felt their pain, and so did his wife.

“Stop. Stop! I don’t want to talk about the Disengagement any more. Enough! It’s too depressing. I’ve tried all day to not talk about it. I’d rather change my baby’s diapers all day than talk about this. That’s not why we’re having this barbecue.”

She expressed my sentiments exactly. I wanted to hear about their experiences, their pain, but I wasn’t ready just yet — physically or mentally. The fire was too beautiful against the water, against the earth, against the air. I wanted to be selfish and just enjoy the friendly, calming, and generous air.

And I’d still have more time — time to talk to people, to hear what they were going through, to find out about their plans.

I decided to stay. For how long, I didn’t know. Could be days, could be weeks, could be until I’m forced out, I thought, or it could be until the day I’m dancing in the city center with all the residents, and the thousands of recent arrivals, religious and secular, all brimming with hope and idealism.

August 5, 2005, Israel Insider