May 29, 2024
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‘Everyone Falls, the Question is How You Get Back Up’

Now adults, evacuated Gush Katif residents gather for an emotional and cathartic look back at their former lives and homes, guided by the lessons they learned as high school students in that fateful summer of 2005, as they ahead look to a better future.

 

At first they were a little hesitant. Some 50 young adults, all born in Gush Katif. The majority were women, most of them donning religious head scarves. At the Katif Center (established in the caravan community of Nitzan in 2008 to commemorate the Gush Katif and northern Samaria communities), they walked on sand collected from the shores of Gaza, passing between the road signs directing traffic to “the Gush,” which were also taken along during the displacement and kept as souvenirs. The attendees, initially hiding their nervous excitement, also remained stoic during the films, which provided a vivid new reminder of what life was like in Gush Katif, the dilemmas and the difficult moments of being evacuated.

So passed the first hours for those who were youngsters during the disengagement. Guarded glances toward the painful reminders, unchanged even during a memory game about the beloved supermarket at Neve Dekalim, and the restaurant which functioned more as a hang out spot where people would gather to sing along to the guitar. But then, after they were separated into smaller discussion groups, meant to help them cope with the indelible trauma, the dam holding back the tears finally broke.

It was 24-year-old Tirza, originally from Netzarim, who with a quiet and trembling voice told the others how she envies her husband — because he has a home where he grew up. “His father took all the grandchildren on a tour of the Katamon [neighborhood of Jerusalem]. He showed them the house, the neighborhood, the old trees — and I was so jealous. What will I show my children? What will I tell the grandkids? I also want to show them where I grew up and played, the old trees. I won’t have any of that though.”

Her tears washed over the others and carried them away, deep into a sea of emotions, far away to that unique experience they all shared. Ten years after they were evacuated from their homes with their families, the “Gush graduates” gathered to remember. During the disengagement they weren’t children anymore, rather high school students, who understood very well what was happening around them. So much pain and longing in one space, in the Katif Center.

Leading toward a new reality

Tirza’s story was the opening salvo. Avidav Goldstein, 27, a major in the Israel Defense Forces, came to the gathering in his training fatigues, straight from the base now located only a few hundred yards from what used to be his home in Neve Dekalim. He told the others: “After the evacuation, the expulsion, call it what you will, I was broken. To this day I remember that stinging slap to the face, when the soldier rang the doorbell with the eviction notice. I felt like that was that — it was over.

“Until that crushing moment, recalls Goldstein, he had a great desire to contribute to the state, because he was raised on its flag and symbols. He remembers how every Saturday evening he would distribute food to the soldiers with his friends and family. He also remembers the support he received following the evacuation. “On the first day of classes I didn’t want to go to school. The head of the yeshiva phoned me and said: ‘If you don’t get on that bus, I’m also not going,’ and threatened to resign. He didn’t let me fall. He didn’t feel sorry for me and didn’t give up. That’s how they started to build me up again.”

But then came a turning point, during the bitter clashes in Amona. “I was there and let out all my frustrations,” Goldstein says, recounting the stone throwing and the confrontations with the police. “I was wounded there. I returned to the hotel where we were living, all grimy and covered in blood. I got in the shower, cleaned the wounds and sat down. It was quiet and my thoughts went to ‘where do we go from here, what’s next?’ We are trying, protesting, passing out stickers — and the evacuation is still happening. What needs to be done so that things like this don’t happen in the future?”

It was then that Goldstein decided to change his approach. “My thinking was that the divisions and rifts wouldn’t help,” he describes, “that I need to actually go on the inside and lead a change from there. At that moment I decided I would enlist in the army regardless and was going to be a commander. At that moment I set a goal: enlist, advance, and that my entire direction was to truly lead toward a different reality, to a different place.”

Another epiphany also struck Goldstein. “I came to the understanding that it wasn’t me who did anything wrong; that there are people in politics, and that they are the ones who did these wrong things. I understood there was no reason for me to disengage from the country, because they are the ones who did the disengaging. That’s why there is also no reason for me not to salute the flag, rather it’s them who don’t need to salute. At that stage I entered a phase where I would do what I could, to the best of my abilities, despite the considerable difficulty.

“At the IDF induction center, when I put the uniform on for the first time, I took a picture of myself and sent it to my mother. I wrote to her: ‘Look how exciting this is.’ During the training period we would stand at attention and sing the national anthem. That was hard for me, but I understood I was there for a reason. I often tell my soldiers, ‘Everyone falls, the question is how you get back up.’ I could whine about how this and that were taken from me and ruined — but that doesn’t get us anywhere.”

Tamar Tzoren, 24, was a resident of Kfar Darom during the expulsion. Today she is a mother of three and lives in Kiryat Gat. Her way of coping with the trauma was different. “I am a little envious of you that you were broken,” she tells Goldstein. I took a box, started loading and that was that, see ya later. I was upside down in the world. I went searching for myself in the Shomron, on the hills, between the hotels.”

Someone in the discussion group threw the words “Zion Square” into the air, a reference to those youngsters who lingered in the streets of Jerusalem at the time, unable to rebound and find a healthy framework. Amatzia, the discussion leader and youth director for the Tnufa Administration — established by the Prime Minister’s Office to provide services for Gush Katif evacuees — said in response: “Not at all. You can count the people that were there [in Zion Square] on one hand.”

Tzoren continues: “I was wandering in a world that I hated. I hated everyone, anyone who wasn’t in the Gush, even the ‘shabahim’ [nickname for those who entered Gush Katif illegally at the time, against IDF directives, to try and help stop the evacuation], who purported to ‘understand the pain,’ as if they were there. In 10th grade I had a horrible time at ulpana [a religious school for girls]. It was only in 11th grade that I got a hold of myself, during a volunteer activity at a school in Kiryat Gat with fourth-graders.

“They were the cutest. Fighting over the ball. Kids who had never done anything bad. They don’t understand politics, army, evacuations, nothing. So for the first time I let the warmth touch me, they melted me. I was at their graduation party, I had kept in touch and through them I understood — the people of Israel don’t hate me. Either they don’t know what I’m going through or they are hurting with me.”

Tzoren also delves into extremely difficult moments within the community, even from within her own family. “I met Oneg, my husband, who has some siblings on the police force. At our engagement one of them showed up in uniform. It wasn’t a problem for us, but he said he needed to change clothes, to be sensitive to the family from Kfar Darom. I had a hard time with that. You’re my brother-in-law, what does it matter if you’re wearing your uniform — we belong to the same family. My understanding was that there is no good and no evil and that the nation of Israel is sweeter than honey. I live off the strength of the people of Israel, who have never-ending warmth and love. I feel I can’t live in a place that is affiliated with one sector or another. I’m a religious conversion teacher and I work with at-risk youth, and they are the ones who give me so much strength. I don’t go to work, I go to recharge my batteries.”

Still incomprehensible

After the tears and emotional drama left in the wake of Tzoren and Goldstein’s stories, a sense of relief permeates the room. As if a pressure valve has been switched off, breaking the ice for good. One of the participants even says thank you, smiles, but maintains a serious air: “This is the best psychological treatment I’ve had in these entire 10 years.” He isn’t alone in feeling that way.

Efraim, another participant, explains: “We are very unified. We worked together before the expulsion, but no one knew what was going on with their friends while the expulsion was actually happening. This is something that’s really missing from the picture. I had faith that because we thought and truly believed that it wouldn’t happen, that the expulsion wouldn’t happen. I believed that positive thinking would create a positive reality.”

The real pain caught Efraim the moment he realized the disengagement had begun. “I stayed behind after my family, my parents and siblings left the Gush on the eve of the expulsion. I was alone when the soldiers knocked on the front door and I didn’t open it. I hid under the bed. While everyone was already at the hotels, on Shabbat, I went to the synagogue and thought it would be empty — 300 people were there. ‘Partisans’ who had come out from their hiding spots, next to soldiers and policemen. It was a special Shabbat , with prayer and a meal. Everyone shared what was on their mind. On Saturday evening we called people and asked them: “Why aren’t you coming back?”

Avital Reichner, 29, was evacuated from Moshav Katif. She was among those who stayed behind that Shabbat. “I sent a message to people on Friday: ‘We are waiting for you.’ I believed everyone would be coming back and I was even upset that everyone had experienced something while I hadn’t felt the expulsion. From my perspective, the entire time I believed it wouldn’t happen.”

Reichner, who was among the organizers of the gathering at the Katif Center, also touches on the many articles written about the Gush Katif youngsters falling on hard times following the trauma. “This is nonsense,” she says. “Like in any society, there are those who went in one direction and others who went in a different direction. In any case, we’re talking about very small numbers. To say it is all the youngsters is an injustice. The Gush Katif youth are powerful. They led a struggle at a significant time in their lives. It only made them into better people, idealists. People who influence things with unique strengths.”

Today Reichner lives in Ramle in a Torah-based communal framework, a lifestyle that stems from what she absorbed in Gush Katif.

“It’s part of our ideology, which says we are coming to be with the people in all areas, welfare, charity, education,” she says, explaining that her faith wasn’t deterred by what transpired in the summer of 2005.

“What guided us then is the idea that God doesn’t work for us. There was never a crisis of faith, because we knew there was a 50 percent chance it would happen. I’m still in shock that it did happen, when I speak about it and remember it. My thoughts are always in the Gush, at the events, the conversations, the places. It’s still incomprehensible. It’s crazy.”

The nostalgic meeting ended on an emotional note, with brief goodbyes, but also with the clear knowledge that Gush Katif will never be forgotten. Ever.

By Yehuda Shlezinger/Israel Hayom


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