Day 12: The End (Until We Return)

I refused to go on the bus after being forced out of the Neve Dekalim synagogue. I wasn’t about to leave Gush Katif like cattle.

I demanded that I at least go to the bathroom, which was fair enough, since the army kept feeding us water in the synagogue — like patting us on the back and then stabbing us. The girl who took me out of the synagogue escorted me to the bathroom to keep watch.

“I can’t believe this. I’m 28 years-old with a lot of experience and this 20 year-old girl is dragging me out of a synagogue. It’s so humiliating!”

“I’m not at peace with this,” she said, “but this is the system.”

“The problem is that no one wants to fight the system.”

With a sad look on her face she left me at the curb and continued with her work.

I asked the policemen to let me feel normal and give me a cigarette.

“Okay,” said the commander eventually, handcuffs on his waist. “You had your cigarette, now get on the bus.”

“But I want to leave with my friends to Tel Aviv. They’re on the grass!”

“Sorry, you can’t. Girls!” he called out to the female officers, who were busy dragging other girls. It was clear that this was a power issue, but the policewomen had rowdier girls to deal with. They ignored him.

I snuck away and met an Israeli media assistant with an SUV.

“If I weren’t working, I’d be wearing orange,” he said. “This is so sad. I can’t believe this is happening.”

He offered to take me to Shirat HaYam, the militant stronghold that housed Nadia Matar and Moshe Feiglin, which had already been cleared out.

I changed out of my orange shirt to look like a non-threatening reporter and joined him, but since I didn’t have a press card, he dropped me off at the entrance.

So I waited by the main road with the army. At first I thought they might question and arrest me, but then I remembered that they weren’t trained to question or to think — just to follow orders — so I didn’t have to take them so seriously.

I acted like a reporter and had some small talk with soldiers and their bus drivers.

“Wouldn’t it be great to go to the beach,” I enthused. “I even have my bikini in my purse,” which was true, because you never know.

A beer-bellied, uncouth bus driver suddenly perked up.

“We’re staying at Shirat Hayam tonight. Get on the bus and come with us.”

I had said the magic word: “bikini.”

There was a price to pay for my last night at the Gush: I had to ward off advances of these slimy bus drivers, who tried to kiss and touch me. Gross! But at least I got to see the Gush Katif beach one last time before we would reclaim it again, one day. And I didn’t really plan to bathe in the water. I was in mourning.

I saw the empty tents where the lovers of the land had so happily camped. They had so much hope. There had planted flowers around the tents. They had laid concrete floors inside them, envisioning their semi-permanence. Holiness had touched that ground only to be sullied by army boots and soon by dirty Arab sneakers.

I slept in a 6 x 4 foot “bedroom” enclosed within a tent by plastic curtains. The horny bus drivers tried to join me, but I firmly insisted that I be left alone.

I couldn’t sleep, though. I had nightmares of those soldiers dressed in the Star of David uniforms. I pictured them coming to get me, to drag me out of the tent. I didn’t know whom to fear more: the soldiers or the bus drivers.

So I walked out of the tent and looked at the waves. I saw the sillouette of a soldier with his gun standing on a rock.

All around me I heard voices on walkie-talkies and I felt surrounded by a machine that wielded great power bereft of any meaning or soul.

Religious people have always been downplayed as mystics, but it was they who encouraged everyone to think.

Then I thought that the soldiers were also victims – victims of Israeli education, media, and politicians which have turned the army into a non-thinking body of force. They had the guns, but I felt that I was protecting their lives.

A common argument for leaving the Gush was that it would save the lives of countless of soldiers. We are becoming a State whose job is to protect soldiers and not the other way around. Citizens will continue to lose their lives in terrorist attacks which divert the violence away from the soldiers.

We are all soldiers now.

In the morning I decided I was ready to leave the Gush — and those grody bus drivers.

I hitched a ride on a bus deporting some remaining Neve Dekalim residents. Looking at the abandoned greenhouses, I tore the right side of my shirt.

Many soldiers waited at the bus stop to Tel Aviv. I once used to feel safe and proud near Israeli soldiers. This time I felt nothing but disrespect.

But one of them, noticing my orange shirt, asked me where I had come from.

“From the battle at the Neve Dekalim synagogue.”

He has been there too, as a citizen.

“My whole body is aching. I tried to break free but they crushed my limbs and I’m all sore,” he related, sealing our camaraderie.

“I’m ashamed of my uniform,” he continued. “I’m ashamed of the army. Thank God I’m almost done with my service.”

We sat together on the bus. He was tall and lean with dark skin and fiery, intense, and determined blue eyes.

“Keep your orange shirt,” he said.

“Of course I will.”

“Because we’ll sow up that tear together. We may have lost the battle but not the war. Things are going to change now. Sooner or later we’ll take back all of Gaza and return, and how.”

I told him I was from Tel Aviv, and he commiserated.

“I used to be a party boy. I’ve had my share of girls and fun. But now that’s just emptiness to me. While kids are dancing in discos and continuing a cycle of emptiness, we’ll be planning how to right this wrong.”

I must admit that as he was speaking I was beginning to have evil thoughts – and he was only 20. But when I offered to shake his hand as we parted, he said he was shomer negiah. He kept the prohibition that men and women do not touch until marriage.

And I was relieved. That “un-touch” was the greatest touch he could ever offer — for it forged our connection in spirit. It was a kiss from God, and it mitigated the grossness of those preying bus drivers.

Now I’m back in Tel Aviv – a city I had loved and admired for its secular creativity – its skyscrapers, its cafes, it restaurants, it bars, its industry. Now, compared to the open space, generosity, and idealism of Gush Katif, the city seems like a shallow, crowded wasteland of nihilism, greed, and European imitation. Now I walk the streets and wonder which cafe or restaurant will be the first to drink and eat the blood of terror.

My first column in Israel Insider was entitled “Sex in Tel Aviv.” I’m not sure how much more sex in Tel Aviv there will be anymore. Heck, I’m even thinking of becoming shomer negiah. And if I remain in Israel’s metropolis, it won’t be to party, but to call forth the spiritual battle to the toughest front — to sip the coffee of thought, to dance to the song of war, and to climb the skyscraper of the spirit.