Day 2: Shabbat in the Gush II

The last time I spent Shabbat in Gush Katif, the topic of Disengagement was a self-imposed taboo; this time it was all the families could talk about. Mothers, fathers, children were all venting their anger, upset, humiliation, suffering, pain, and most of all — incredulity — incredulity that the Israeli government could be so cruel and heartless by putting them through such a traumatic ordeal.

I entered the home of the family hosting me for the Friday night meal — it was not a house — but a home. The home was filled with hundred of plants and paintings and sculptures created by the artistic mother — and with warmth, generosity, and love. The table was set immaculately for their four children and five guests, and ten different kinds of salads added color to the table.

“Doesn’t your mother get a kiss for Shabbat?” the lady of the house asked her handsome, lean 22 year-old son as he walked in from shul. He looked more like her brother. He immediately obliged.

As we sat down, the conversation easily turned to the subject of the Disengagement — no, it’s not a “Disengagement” the mother reminded us, it’s an “Expulsion” — and the father simply declared the unofficial Israeli anthem, trying to emanate strength: “It will all be okay.”

But we all knew it wouldn’t be.

The couple came to the Gush 30 years ago, when the area consisted only of sand dunes. No Arab villages were nestled in the area — many came later, after the Jews. No one believed that the land would be arable, but with their persistence and hard work the father built up several nurseries whose produce is now imported all over Europe.

“Our produce is sold like wildfire because of its quality,” he said, beaming.

He invented technology to grow bug-free lettuce and vegetables, which are now sold all over Israel, particularly in religious communities, who at first thought the product was a cruel joke.

He’s taken apart most of his nurseries and kept only five dunams in operation.

The family was unsure how much they want to pack. The rabbis advised them to pack only their most precious belongings.

“But everything’s precious!” the mother said, looking around. She cried a lot that week. She decided that day she would stop crying.

They don’t know what’s going to happen. No one knows. She’s dreading not only the first “expulsion”, but the second as well.

“Imagine if we want to live in the Golan. First we get expelled from here, then we get expelled from the ‘caravillas’ and then we get expelled from the Golan. I can’t go through it three times!”

“Just feed the soldiers these salads and this delicious fish,” I said, trying to lighten up the mood, “and they’ll be wrapped around your little finger.”

We talked about how so many of us Gush infiltrators fell in love with Gush and with the people, with talk of even moving here once the Disengagement is stopped.

“Maybe that’s why we’re going through this — just so more people could discover the treasures we have here — and we’ll flourish even more!”

“It’s a big marketing campaign,” I half-joked, agreeing that in terms of beauty and quality — of people and of land — Gush Katif rates high.

And still, after all, the father said, “Ein Kemo Ha’aretz — There is nothing like Israel.”

The next day, at lunch with another family, the father remained cheerful while the mother looked more subdued. He had a job at a bank outside of the Gush, and he joyfully regaled us with tales about how he refused, on principle, to show the roadblock patrollers his ID, which he found completely humiliating. He refused, and they tell him to return to the Gush, and he refuses again, so he has to get out. He refuses again, so he has to go in, and so on, until they just tire of him. It’s a defiant spirit that characterizes many people here and makes this place to inspiring and hope-giving.

Despite their defiance, however, they too were debating whether or not to pack, and they even visited the “caravillas” set-up for them.

“I saw them. The caravillas are all cramped together just like the four tiny rooms inside them. I don’t know how I’m going to live there,” offered his 21 year-old daughter.

I don’t like to hear of people packing or planning to move, but I understand their position. They have families to support, and they don’t want to be in limbo when they are kicked out.

The government is pitting them against a terrifying decision. Apparently, on August 15 all families will receive a letter on their door informing them that they have 48 hours to evacuate or lose full compensation, which amounts to about 5,000-10,000 INS per person for every year of residency. If they don’t volunteer to leave, they’ll be taken out by force and receive much, much less.

The inherent cruelty in such an edict is clear: If they leave willingly, they in essence sanction their own persecution but can at least provide for their families later. If they do what they believe is right and don’t leave, they may face even more suffering in the future.

And aside from that, the mere idea of putting a letter on someone’s door threatening them to leave — to leave their home, their memories, their belongings, their livelihood — is sheer maliciousness.

But the government can ease their conscience because they sent residents another letter, via registered mail, some time ago, informing them of the “Disengagement Plan” and referring them to some bureaucratic office for more details from clerks who simply have no clue. Most had to find out more information from an authoritative and sympathetic source — the Israeli
media.

Two letters. Two letters informing these families that they will be sacrificed, that their lives will be ruined, that their spirits will be broken, that their community will be torn apart — all for the sake of “peace.”

I wonder what kind of peace can transpire from such cruelty and insensitivity. The Expulsion is almost worse than your standard Jewish pogrom because in this case the Expulsion is being carried out by people who are purported to love you, to take care of you, to protect you. Only a cynical, hateful, merciless world — Jewish and non-Jewish — can watch and sanction such a subtle, sly yet deadening horror.

And should the miracle elude us and the Disengagement occurs, the citizens of Israel will not only hear the cries of these mothers — but sooner or later — when the repercussions manifest themselves — spiritually and physically — they’ll be hearing their own as well.