The fast of Tish’a B’Av commemorates the litany of suffering that has
befallen the Jewish people since the sin of the biblical spies, who renounced
Jewish destiny on the eve of our entry to the land of Israel. That night – the ninth of Av – became the day set aside for punishment, and for reckoning with the tribulations of Jewish history – the arrows, swords, gas chambers and bombs of our enemies, as well as the self-inflicted wounds that have scarred our service of G-d and the execution of our divine mission.
Events as varied as the destruction of the two Holy Temples, the fall of
Betar, the Expulsion from Spain in 1492, and the start of World War I 97 years
ago all occurred on Tish’a B’Av. The most recent tragedy added to this
lamentable cycle occurred just six years ago – the Ninth of Av, in the year
2005, was the last day of legal Jewish residence in Gush Katif (in Gaza) and
the northern Shomron. That Expulsion, another example of a self-inflicted
wound, began on the following day, and the repercussions are still real and tangible.
One way to relive this tragedy – which drove almost 9000 Jews out of their
homes and jobs, and saw the destruction of synagogues, Yeshivot and a thriving
Jewish life – is to visit the Gush Katif Museum in Yerushalayim (5 Shaarei Tzedek Street, about a five minute walk from Machaneh Yehudah). It is a haunting experience that easily evokes sadness, anger, frustration and compassion, sequentially and simultaneously. The museum depicts the history of Jewish settlement in that region – dating from the time of our patriarch Yitzchak – and throughout Jewish history. In its most recent incarnation, one settlement in Gush Katif – Kfar Darom – shares a history with Gush Etzion just south of Yerushalayim. Both blocs were settled by Jews on purchased land before 1948, both were evacuated after the residents were massacred during the War of Independence, and both were resettled after the Six Day War. (To a Foreign Ministry official who recently stated, while with a group looking at the Etzion Bloc, that Gush Etzion would never be abandoned “because it was settled before 1948,” I asked: “what about Kfar Darom?” My question was met with a grim smile and then a stony silence.
But the history of Gush Katif, through a timeline, does not begin to
convey the essence of the visiting experience, nor do the pictures of recent life
in Gush Katif – the flourishing of farms, businesses, and hothouses, the pious
life of those pioneers – lovers of Israel who deserved better – and the years
of struggle, against an Arab enemy bent on mayhem and finally a “right-wing” Israeli government that brutally bulldozed their homes and dreams. It was the distressing sound track; the background noise throughout the museum are the actual sounds of the Expulsion – filmed and recorded – soldiers breaking down doors, anguished cries of men and women, the bewilderment of children who do not understand why they are being forced from their homes by soldiers of their own army. It is chilling. There are screens throughout the several rooms that incessantly run the scenes of the expulsion, and a video screened separately that shows the destruction of the aftermath – the burning of the shuls by the Arabs, the devastation of the hothouses that could have provided an income to the “poor” of Gaza had they not demolished them in a demonic frenzy, and the fierce resolve and determination of these settlers that was only broken by a Jewish government, including black-shirted forces of the Israeli government who were trained to employ about a dozen stock phrases (all on display as well) repeated, and repeated, robotically, mechanically. The few soldiers who are shown crying were quickly spirited away, so as not to demoralize the expulsion forces.
There was no resistance that could actually be called resistance. One
family hung a sign on its door (now displayed in the museum, translation mine): “Dear soldier/police officer, Stop!! Here for 12 years dwells the Konki
family in happiness. If you knock on the door, you will be a direct partner in
the worst crime perpetrated in the annals of the nation of Israel. Don’t do
this! You are not obligated to execute this cruel order. We will not be
expelled from our home! We will never leave here!” They too were driven
out, with no place to go.
If the expulsion were not horrific enough (it did bring great joy to the
Arabs, and electoral success to Hamas in the elections of 2006), the aftermath
was just as pitiless. The government essentially abandoned the settlers, left
them unemployed and unable to find permanent homes, with reparations that fell far short of the value of their homes and businesses, and in a spiteful twist, the obligation to continue to pay the mortgages on their ruined homes. Private
individuals stepped into the breach, in the grand tradition of a compassionate
people, and one in particular, Rav Yosef Rimon of Alon Shvut, stands out for
his self-sacrifice and tireless commitment to help every resident, with the
founding of JobKatif (see their ongoing work at www.Jobkatif.org) that endeavored to build new lives in new communities. It has not been easy.
The most recent figures show that after six years, 17% remain unemployed, only 28% of the farmers have even partially restored their farms, only 24% have found permanent housing, and 76% still live in temporary housing (often, caravans dubbed caravillas). About half the businesses have restarted, many in Yad Binyamin and Nitzan – and all these figures are a dramatic improvement from even two years ago. And a friendlier government just passed a new compensation package that is fairer without yet providing full compensation. Sad to say, there were suicides and divorces for those who could not bear the strain.
Some will argue the great benefit of the Expulsion – the disengagement of Israeli forces from Gaza and the concomitant end to the need to defend the relatively few Jews who lived there. But territory lost is not easily regained, and the brief Gaza war that followed the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit is directly attributable to Israel’s more vulnerable position after the expulsion. Undoubtedly, the military infrastructure that existed in Gaza would have precluded the long-term captivity of Gilad Shalit, whose tragic plight is a direct consequence of the loss of Gush Katif. Of course, if Israel would withdraw from every place in which lives are jeopardized, it would even smaller than it is today, and Sderot and dozens of other communities whose residents’ lives became even more miserable in the aftermath of the expulsion – to the tune of more than 10,000 rockets – would no longer exist.
Not that it matters, but polls in Israel showed almost immediate regret, and more recent polls indicate that 2/3 of the respondents who supported the expulsion now regret their decision. Yet, more than half do not favor current resettlement of Gush Katif, but even that figure is low considering that resettlement now would obviously require a victory in war.
The other consequences are more personal but equally telling. All the major government figures involved in the expulsion have had their lives visibly destroyed. Ariel Sharon remains in his own personal exile, suspended between the living and the dead, between heaven and earth, for more than five years. Ehud Olmert left office in shame, compounded by the ignominy of the several criminal trials that he is currently litigating. Moshe Katzav, who as president was not an active supporter but did nothing to stop the expulsion, left office in disgrace, convicted of rape and sentenced to prison (appeal pending). Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz is on the outside of politics looking in, and the IDF Chief Rabbi, who later regretted and apologized for his participation, suffered public rebuke and career turmoil. Dan Halutz, appointed as Chief of Staff when Boogie Yaalon was dismissed because Yaalon could not be trusted by Sharon to carry out his plans, soon presided over the 2006 Lebanon War fiasco and resigned in shame. Only Shimon Peres landed on his feet, elected President after Katzav was forced to resign – but even Peres was repudiated by his own party and lost the election to be Labor Party leader just three months after the expulsion. In a real sense, Binyamin Netanyahu salvaged his career by belatedly opposing the expulsion and resigning from the Sharon cabinet, and Ehud Barak was out of government altogether. All others have paid a steep price, as it turns out.
Israel democracy also underwent a terrible crisis from which it has yet to recover. Sharon’s deceit, and manipulation of votes (firing members of the cabinet to provide himself an artificial majority, ignoring the results of the Likud referendum, etc.), has undermined many people’s faith – especially the young – in democracy, the authority of the Israeli government, police and military, and the wisdom and morality of its leaders.
The Expulsion from Gush Katif was therefore a debacle in every respect, and the full price has yet to be paid. I own a book called “Encyclopedia Idiotica,” which depicts history’s worst decisions – Napoleon’s march on Russia, Custer’s last stand, Churchill at Gallipolli, Chernobyl and the like – which, unfortunately, was published before the Gush Katif disaster. Perhaps a future addition will include it – how a nation willfully wronged its own citizens in a misguided effort to promote its national security and better its international image. We can only pray that its true benefit lies in the reluctance future governments will have to similar abuse its own people.
In the interim, it behooves all – especially those with short memories – to visit the Gush Katif Museum (admission discounted for the next week) in Yerushalayim and live through one of the saddest, self-destructive events in the history of the Jewish people, and pray for a better future.