Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Diary from Gadid

Warning! This posting contains some political opinion.

I have a general rule not to post anything political on my blog. There are plenty of other places to find that sort of stuff on the internet. In any case, my politics are not easily defined - they may at best be decsribed as anti-political.

The following is just too important to pass over.

My first cousins Lisa and Haggai, and their two children Or Yaacov (19) and Avichai (15), lived in the Gaza community of Gadid for some 20 years. A few weeks ago they were evicted from their home along with the forceable eviction of all Jewish residents from the area. My uncle Shmuel and aunt Hannah went down to their house a few weeks before the eviction to give them support. My uncle kept a diary of the time he spent there. Below is the last week of the diary along with some final notes.

Regardless of how you feel about the political and moral issues of the occupation, getting evicted from your home on short notice and under a cloud of blame, rocket attacks, police brutality, mixed government messages, and political and procedural confusion, is a traumatic event that none of us should have to experience. It is a human story, and the story needs to be told.

My uncle is now around 70 and has live in Israel for 30 years. The diary, along with his political opinions, is left unedited, with only mild formatting.

Hannah and I have spent 24 days with Lisa and Hagai until they were expelled from Gush Katif. I have written a diary of the whole period but have decided to give you a break and send only the last week. Unfortunately you will not get to know the earlier exciting and emotional experiences leading up to this last week. I plan to computerize them but it will probably be too long and also take a long time to do. I just have to share our pride that we have for our children, the Gush Katif communities and the tens of thousands of our people that have given us their support.

Shabbat 13/08/05

Friday night the synagogue was packed. There was no sign of fear or anxiety. Spirits were high and there was lots of singing and dancing. (Due to present situations the rabbis have given permission to the people in Gush Katif to by-pass the laws of restriction of enjoyment during the three weeks before Tishe B’Av . In fact during L’cho Dodi there was a large ring of congregants dancing and singing around the bima. It was like an early Simchat Torah. What a people! Like all the other synagogues we had a big outdoor Kiddush. For all of Shabbat there were thirty of us having meals in Lisa’s house. Most of these people were also sleeping here for two or three weeks. The Tishe b’Av fast started immediately after Shabbat and everyone quickly dressed in their mourning clothing and went to synagogue’s of their choice for Eicha and Kinot. Hannah and I went to Neve Dekalim. What a mob! Hannah went into the synagogue and after the services came out soaked from perspiration. They were packed in there like sardines. I sat on the ground outside. It was a very hot night without a breeze so I wasn’t too comfortable either. The police have lost many points in the country by using so much brutality on the demonstrators. Even the IDF is kind of disgusted with them. I hope we will have to face off with the IDF and not the police.

Sunday, 14/8/05

I woke up in the morning to find out there was no water or electricity. It lasted for five hours. I thought the Police were playing games with us. I was able to fill three buckets of water from a faucet in the hot houses until there wasn’t any left. We spent the rest of the day fasting and praying.

In another two hours the fast will be over. Everyone had an easy fast because the house had air conditioning. In another two hours the fast will be over. Protestors from all over the country will be trying to get into Gush Katif. It will be very difficult as the army has declared it off limits and have check points as far away as Ashkelon and Beer Sheva. After midnight Gush Katif will be off limits to anyone trying to come in and anyone leaving would not be able to return. We were informed by Yesha (our Gush Katif and Shomron leaders) that at eight in the morning we should block the roads to prevent the security forces from serving the home owners with eviction notices. Once the home owner was served he had two days to leave or he would be expelled forcefully. Minutes before midnight, Ayelet and Moriah, two of the many illegal girls staying with us left. It had nothing to do with fright. They were notified on their cell phones that protesters were needed in Morag and Kfar Darom to join other protestors trying to block the police from entering. They didn’t succeed in getting out of Neve Dekalim but I am proud of their bravery anyway. I do not tire of praising all the girls that were able to get down here by hook or crook. After midnight we will be living in a ghetto.

Monday, 15/8/05

About 4AM there was a loud explosion as if a Kassam rocket landed close-by. We found out later that one did land on a roof of one of our neighbors about three houses down the block. There was a big hole where it crashed through the roof. Thank G-d no one got hurt. I took pictures of the children holding the remains of the rocket. They were not traumatized as a while back another one landed in their yard. You can get used to anything if it happens often enough.

In the morning I was on my way to Neve Dekalim to daven as usual. There was a large group of girls sitting by the fence separating Gadid from Neve Dekalim. Or Yakov and his cohorts knocked down part of it during the night. There were also some men standing around. They asked me to join them for a minyan. I went all the way back to the house to get my siddur and returned. There was already a minyan and the crowd was growing. It was an experience that I will not forget. We davened on the road and we even had a Sefer Torah and table that someone brought from the synagogue. I took pictures and hope they came out.

I went home to take my medications and to eat breakfast. On the way Or Yakov drove by and asked me if I wanted to demonstrate at another gate. This one was the security gate for Gan Or and Gadid. The crowd of protesters was very large and we succeeded to get the soldiers to back off with the exception of their commanding officer who wanted to discuss the situation with our Yesha leaders. The soldiers left and we went home although many of the protesters stayed because they didn’t trust the soldiers
Later Lisa heard that Neve Dekalim was full of soldiers and police serving eviction notices. Apparently the officer convinced our leaders to allow the soldiers to come in to serve the eviction notices. She said that when the notice will be served to her she would tear it up in their faces. If she goes through with her threat we will be expelled forcefully. Hopefully it will not be violent.

The rest of the morning was quiet. I went to the post office to see if the Jerusalem Post arrived. As I suspected the post office was already closed permanently. I returned to the house and did some Torah learning, catching up on my diary and napping. Lisa and Hagai went to a community meeting to discuss the situation and to make vital decisions.

Hannah was painting and the others were doing their things elsewhere.

Tuesday 16/8/05

This morning it finally hit me that we will not be here in a few days. It is like our vacation is coming to an end and we will be going home. Unfortunately, we will not be spending another vacation in this wonderful place. The people that have been living here have had their lives shattered. They are on the verge of being homeless and do not know what will be in the future. They do know that there will not be any homes to return to.

Going to shul this morning I have been seeing shipping containers in front of houses and some of the houses have already been vacated. Bus loads of soldiers have been arriving in Neve Dekalim. We have until midnight to decide if we will leave voluntarily or if we will stay. The soldiers will help the settlers that decide to leave with their packing. In the next two days they will try to convince us to leave or they will use force to evict us. Hagai had no intentions of packing until the soldiers actually came to expel us. He still had faith that it wouldn’t happen. He wouldn’t even pack up his many precious Talmudic books. He said that he would take a few of them. The soldiers are already evicting people that have been living here illegally. The girls are coming to Hagai for advice and the only advice he has been giving to them is to pray hard and to keep their faith in Hashem. Hannah and I hope to convince the police or soldiers to leave us stay with our children and grandchildren in order to help them pack. Avichai and I already prepared an act where he would carry on that he couldn’t let them take his sabba. Sharon threatened the settlers that didn’t leave voluntarily with fines on their unfair compensation. He also threatened to confiscate their cars. A real sweetheart. Hagai couldn’t care less.

In the afternoon will be a special Mincha service for those that are leaving and also those that are staying. The families staying will have to make a final decision on what they should do when the security forces will be at their doors. Meanwhile life at the house goes on as usual. Everyone is calm with no sign of panic. The kids are playing on the computer and the younger ones are running around the house and yard. Or Yakov and a couple of the girls are experiencing new cooking skills in the crowded kitchen. Hannah gives them a tip once in awhile as she cleans up their mess. Hannah and I got used to all the people that were calling us Abba Shmuel and Savta Hannah. We have lots of new grandchildren that will be gone in a couple days.

The next door neighbor was shipping her things to a Moshav right next to Julie’s moshav. In fact Julie knows the people. She was willing to take our personal and heavy items that we could do without. Hannah wanted to send the paintings that were on the wall. Hagai let us take only the paintings that Hannah painted for them. The neighbors that have been moving constantly bring us their perishables. Our freezer and refrigerator were filled to capacity. I am glad that we are here. In Jerusalem we wouldn’t have been able to sleep. I have no trouble sleeping here. I brought two bottles of anxiety pills and never had to use even one of them.

A group of soldiers came by and Yakov, Hagai’s brother-in-law, who with his seven children came here a week before us, gave the soldiers a mussar (ethics) speech. He has a good way with words and a great personality too. The soldiers listened to him for about fifteen minutes and then they had to leave. They wished us good luck. I think they were sincere. Their reason for being here was to help with the packing of the families that are leaving. The soldiers started with a neighbor down the block. They actually saw a mortar or a rocket over their heads and they ran into the house in a panic. The neighbor’s child started crying. The neighbor told the soldiers that in five years with mortars falling the child never cried until she saw the panicky soldiers running into the house.

Later in the afternoon I heard music and shofar blowing coming from Neve Dekalim. I went outside and saw smoke coming from there. I thought that the army started the expulsion earlier than expected. I went to the gate to check it out. In the distance I saw hundreds of people dancing and singing by the synagogues. I went down there to see what was going on. When I got there a bus was blocking the road and lots of soldiers were running towards it to clear the road. I didn’t stop because I was curious to see what all the dancing was about. When I got there I couldn’t believe what was going on. In a few hours the expulsion was going to start and we were having a dedication of a new mikve, and a new sefer Torah from America was being carried to the synagogue. There was such joyful dancing and singing on the big courtyard between the Askenazi and Sephardi synagogues. Then the Torah was brought into the synagogue and the dancing and singing was tumultuous. There was so much spirit in there. No matter what happens their faith will not be shaken. The knapsacks and sleeping bags from all of the illegal wonderful youths were lying on the floor in heaps. I do not know how anyone could find his or her knapsack. I phoned Hannah and she came over. She stayed awhile but then got nervous that there may be violence if the police come. She left and I stayed on. A little later Hannah and the others from the house came to share in the enjoyment. Before midnight the males locked themselves in one synagogue and the females in the other. They were bringing in cases of food and toilet paper because they were planning on staying there all night until the soldiers came. The rest you saw on television. At the meeting that Hagai went to he was very disappointed. Many of the families that said they were going to stay changed their minds. There were only about five families that were willing to stay. Even the rabbi left.

Wednesday, 17/8/05

This morning Hagai and I went to the synagogue in Gadid. There were yeshiva boys from Itamar sleeping all over the place. They came down to protect the shul and to make sure there was a minyan.

Back at our neighborhood it was like a ghost town. With the exception of one car at the end of the road there was no movement. Lisa and Hagai went up to the hot houses to make sure the lettuce was getting enough water. He still had faith that we will not be evicted tomorrow. They watered the lawn and garden. The other day all of the people staying here planted over fifty flowers around the lawn. We are living as if nothing is going to happen. The soldiers are going to be surprised when they come. Not one thing has been prepared for removal.

Music has started playing on the loudspeakers. It may mean that the soldiers are coming. None of us are scared or anxious. Actually our spirits are high. Hannah and I are very glad to be sharing this historic period with our family, eleven of Hagai’s family and two of the girls that remained with us. Shushie, one of the girls may even become a real granddaughter as she and Or Yakov have become very good friends. He even asked me if I liked her. She was very happy when I told her that when I spoke to Lisa about her I always referred to her as being her daughter-in-law. Lisa didn’t seem to mind.

The music may have come from Neve Dekalim because we now hear shofar-blowing. It is possible that there is a confrontation with the army and police. We prefer the army because the police are more violent as they are salaried and want to keep their jobs. The soldiers are much more sympathetic.

It is now noon and the kids are playing with the computer. The other people are in the second apartment behind the house. The rest of us are hanging around. M.K. Nissim Ze’ev just came for a visit. He is a member of the Knesset in the Shas Party. We sat around the large table in the living room. The M.K. started talking with Hagai. He was here for at least half an hour and he was very impressed with Hagai. Hagai may have convinced him that the government was making a big mistake. You should have heard Lisa. She let him have it with both barrels regarding the stupidity the government and soldiers were showing. I couldn’t believe that this was my daughter Lisa.

It is now 4pm and two trucks with soldiers pulled up in front of the house. I thought they pulled a fast one on us and came early. When the kids saw them they ran out and started chanting, “Soldier, soldier, do not follow orders”. The soldiers left in the direction of Neve Dekalim. They were supposed to give us two days after we receive the eviction notice so we were hoping to get a reprieve until Sunday since we didn’t get the notice.

Thursday, 18/8/05

This morning we went to shul earlier because we were told that the expulsion will begin this afternoon. It was very sad that this may be the last day that we have prayed in the shul. I forgot to mention that the girls have been going through the entire book of Psalms several times a day from the first day that we came here. After the Torah-reading Hagai got up on the bima and requested the congregation to recite in unison the special prayers for impending danger. From memory he would recite a passage and the congregation would repeat it. During the prayers Hagai became very emotional and couldn’t hold back his sobbing.I do not think there was a dry eye in the shul.

After shul we went home. Rabbi Kopled from Dolev and Rabbi Rami from Talman joined us for breakfast. Rabbi Rami replaced the regular rabbi who left the day before. He was also here last night. He worked so hard to strengthen us. He was very tall but he slept in his car the first night and tonight he was going to sleep in a sleeping bag in the rabbi’s empty house. He was very happy to accept Hagai’s offer to sleep in our house. The rabbis came to Hagai because they were aware of his cool logic and his faith in Hashem. They listened to every word that came out of his mouth as if he is a rabbi. They were so impressed that they took notes intending to use them in future lectures. They left convinced that his decision not to pack was the correct one. It is too bad that it is too late to convince the rest of the community. It is now almost noon and the army still hasn’t come so we figured the chance of delaying the eviction until Sunday was good because it was getting late and we didn’t think they would evict us on a Friday. Anyway they never gave us the eviction notice. The rules of the game were that they weren’t allowed to evict until two days after the home owner was given the eviction notice.

We decided to have a barbecue and we did have it. After the barbecue we went across the street to the only other family left in Gadid. They just harvested their parsley crop and it was trucked to the packing plant. The volunteers that helped them with the harvesting, the family, our family and the rest of the people made an outdoor kiddush.

There was plenty of dancing and singing. There was a guitarist and a bongo drum player. The rest of the people played on pots and pans and we even had a tamborine. There was lots of noise. I videoed some of it and hope it came out. No way would anyone think we were on the verge of being expelled from our homes. Afterwards we were happy when the army told us that we will not have to leave until Sunday. That happiness was short-lived as a little later we were told that they are going to come at 5:30am. From 3am to 5am Or Yakov and Shushie were being interviewed by a reporter from the Maariv newspaper and a reporter from Brazil.

Late tonight I felt I was a member of the underground. My imagination has been working overtime. I was sitting with Hagai, Rabbi Rami and Yakov, Hagai’s brother-in-law plotting, on believe it or not, what to do about a minyan in the morning. It was already after midnight and the rabbi was calling contacts that may convince the army to wait until Sunday. Hagai was calling the few sons that were guarding their parent’s houses because there still were some possessions in them. We were short one to form a minyan in our house at 5am. He then called the moshav security officer and he told him that the soldiers will not arrive until 7am. Hagai had to call everyone again to inform them that there will be time to daven with a minyan in the shul. It was too bad that Hagai didn’t call him first.

Friday 19 Aug 05

This morning the davening was faster than normal as we were in a rush to get back to our families before the soldiers came. I have been here almost a month and it was not easy leaving the shul for the last time. I feel so sorry for the residents who have been living here for so many years. When we left the shul there was a huge black column of smoke rising from a barricade at the intersection down the road straight ahead. We were aware that the barricades and fires wouldn’t stop the soldiers. They are more symbolic than defensive. We left the yeshiva boys to take care of the synagogue. We took a detour to the house to avoid the soldiers if they were nearing the intersection. We had our last breakfast.

Hannah and I were standing outside watching the advancing troops when Avi called me and told me that he sees me on TV. I told him that it wasn’t possible because I didn’t see a camera in sight. I told him that I will wave my hand. He saw me waving my hand and called Rami to look. Actually there was a cameraman standing on something quite far from me. This place was off limits to cameramen so I guess he zoomed in on me. Hannah and I waited for the troops to reach us. The commanding officer asked me if we were going to leave peacefully or will they have to remove us physically. I answered that I wasn’t the homeowner and I didn’t know what he was planning. He and his troops continued down to the end of the road. Another platoon passed by too and the next platoon stopped and lined up facing the house. Hagai and some of the children brought the soldiers cold water and cups. Hagai then invited the whole platoon into the house. At this point I felt confident that we will have a non-violent eviction. Before they entered the house Reut, one of our girls was running like a gazelle into the apartment in the warehouse. Three soldiers were in hot pursuit jumping over bushes like jackals closing in on their prey. One of the soldiers, who was an officer stopped right in front of me near the entrance of the house and took out his bull horn and shouted that everyone should get out of the house. The officer in charge of evicting us stopped him and told him to leave as this is not his jurisdiction. Our officer was lower in rank but the other one apologized and left without taking Reut. The reason the soldiers were chasing her was that across the street soldiers were rounding up all the illegals and putting them in a bus to remove them outside the Gush. She was sitting on the ground and started running when they tried to put her on the bus. You wouldn’t think that Reut was capable of such an action. She is tall and innocent-looking with curly hair and glasses. She looked like a goody-goody girl but she always went where the action was.

After this incident the officer and his men entered the house and lined up in front of the bookcase. The rest of us sat before them around a large table. Hagai offered them fruit, cake and water so that they can make a brocha. Hagai stood up and started talking about Torah, faith, courage, brotherhood between Jew and Jew and the eviction. It was very emotional and there was lots of crying or red eyes from us, the children and the soldiers. We were given two hours to pack up our immediate needs. Avichai was crying so I took him into his room to pack whatever he wanted. He took all of his Bar Mitzvah books and some of his treasured personal things like Hannah’s painted rocks. He left behind all of his games, tapes and clothing. He quieted down for awhile. Meanwhile everyone was scurrying around collecting what was needed. The refrigerator and large freezer were packed. We removed what we could but lots remained. A couple of the girls took some pictures off the walls but Hagai made them put it back.

After we finished packing some of us walked out and some of us opted to be carried out. Avichai was outside screaming that he didn’t want leave his house so I went out to calm him down.After he was more or less calmer I went back in to see what was happening with Hannah. She decided to be carried out but due to the bad burn on her leg she had two of the female soldiers walk her out. Hannah said the soldiers were extremely gentle with her. I walked out right behind her. The soldiers carried out all of the things that we packed and our personal baggage. Avichai was calm by this time and even laughed when he saw the soldiers carrying out the many stones that Hannah painted. The soldiers were holding them in their hands. A couple of the soldiers asked me in English if I needed help as Hagai told them that I came from America to be with them.

Hagai dramatically climbed up on his roof. He gave another emotional speech and then took the flag down and handed it to Reut. Then he did something totally unexpected. He had a very wide roll of black cloth which he started to unfurl to the ground. Every time he lowered about two meters he would announce the name of the person that betrayed us starting with Sharon. When he reached the end of the roll he left the material hanging as a black flag of mourning.

Hagai and Lisa were an extraordinary example of faith, strength and valor. It was a very moving an unforgettable experience. We are very proud of them and pray that Hashem will look over them favorably in their quest for a new life.

We then left the house and hothouses intact. Hagai took most of the things that we took out of the, in a u-haul to Heletz where his mother lives and then we headed to the Hotel Shalom Plaza in Neve Ilan which is near Telstone. The car broke down on the steep uphill highway about two hundred meters from the Shoresh turn off. Robin was on the way to pick up Hannah and me at the hotel. I called her before she got there and told her to meet us in Shoresh. Hagai didn’t have any towing insurance so it would have been quite expensive to have the car towed to the hotel and then to have it towed to a repair station. Before calling the tow truck a car going in the other direction on the other side of the highway divider stopped. The driver came over and asked if we needed help and of course we were very happy to accept. He started working on it when a car pulled up behind us. It was the neighbor from across the street that was evicted the same time as us. What a small world we live in. Hannah and I transferred our baggage to his car and he took us to Shoresh. Just before he took us Hagai’s car was repaired. Apparently the mechanic drives up and down the highway looking for cars that have broken down. The cost was much lower than what it would have cost if he had called the tow truck. Robin picked us up and we all reached our destinations to prepare for a much-needed quiet Shabbat.

21 Aug 05 The Aftermath

Lisa and family were fortunate that they got to stay in one of the nicer hotels with many of the families from their moshav which will be completely razed in a few days. On Sunday they started checking out their options concerning the future.

On Monday Hagai and Or Yakov returned to Gadid for the awesome job of transferring the contents of the house and hothouse to the shipping containers. Hagai got permission for his brother-in-law, Yakov and his nephew, Bennie, to enter the Gush in order to help him. After waiting at the checkpoint for three hours, Yakov and Benny were denied entrance. I wasn’t there so I do not know the actual details but eventually Yakov and Benny were allowed to enter. It took four days to load everything into two containers and several truck loads. The containers were taken to a centralized depot where they will have to travel to every time they need something. It is going to be one big pain. Hagai had to buy the containers at NIS 7000 each! He also had to pay for professional movers. He got to see his house destroyed but he said it did not affect him too much. He still believes that Hashem gave it to him and Hashem could take it away. It is only wood and stone.

Lisa was notified that she had a package at the front desk. She opened the package and there was a pair of small candlesticks. There was a card but all that was written on it was that it was from one of the soldiers that expelled them. Lisa wasn’t even able to thank him. That was a nice token of remorse at this time before the High Holy Days. I am sure that there will be many other soldiers and policemen that are going to ask for forgiveness and to make atonement on Yom Kippur.

It is now over two weeks that Lisa and Hagai have been in the hotel. The government hasn’t made preparations to find other accommodations for them. They do not know how much longer they can remain there and then…..

This experience will never be forgotten by us and this diary is a testimonial of an historical black mark on the Israeli government for expelling over 9000 decent and idealistic settlers that have turned a barren, sandy, stretch of land into a paradise. These settlers were put in this land nearly thirty years ago by our government. They lived there under the harshest conditions. They lived with terror every day and survived over 5000 Kassam rockets and mortar shells that landed in Gush Katif. This government removed 47 bodies of victims of Palestinian terror attacks. The Sharon government has done this with a farcical dream that it would bring us peace with the Palestinians. It will never happen and the Palestinians promise us that it will not happen. We have rewarded terrorism and have proven to them that terrorism pays.

Today, 11 September is another historic day. The Israeli Army is leaving Gaza after 38 years. We are leaving about 21 synagogues there. I do not want to think of what is going to happen to them.

Instead of blaming Hashem the large majority of the evictees still have faith in Hashem. He has His reasons for what has happened and what will happen in the future. We pray that the future will be a favorable one.

Yehuda adds: as we know now, within 24 hours after the Israeli army left Gaza: every synagogue in Gaza was destroyed; the hothouses that were left for the reconstruction of the Palestinian economy have been looted; hundreds of terrorists and thousands of arms were smuggled over the border from Egypt to Gaza; and rockets are now being fired into southern Israel. The suicide bombings continue and Hamas has declared its firm resolves to toss every Jew out of every part of "Palestine", including Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem.

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