Six Years Later

    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.

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8 responses to “Six Years Later

  1. I, an Israeli citizen and resident, am glad to be away from the Arabs. The mistake the Israeli government made was not by getting out of a place where we shouldn’t have been in the first place, but eliminating the military presence in the area. For every Israeli living in Gaza, one soldier needed to be serving in miluim, spreading out our already beleaguered resources even further. There are plenty areas in Israel where settlement activity can take place. Since the government allowed settlements there in the first place, it should be ashamed for not giving the appropriate assistance to the people who lost their homes. You, however, make it sound like some kind of fascist action instead of what it was, a decision made by a democratically elected government. It is very easy from your perch in comfortable Teaneck to pontificate and act indignantly. What is stopping you from making aliyah and then you can be part of the democratic process, vote in elections, run for office, have your children serve in the army, etc.

  2. I have to agree with Avi above regarding your characterization of the “Expulsion” (with a Capital E) from Gaza. By conflating the sinister acts of the anti-Semitic Spanish monarchy in the Inquisition with the legitimate acts of a democratically elected Jewish government regarding disputed territory it had settled, you are blurring the important line that underscores the historical significance of the Zionist movement. Zionism was a plea, and ultimately, a victory for Jewish self-determination, for the notion that the Jewish people should be in control of their own destiny rather than being forced to be at the whim of whatever European monarch happens to rule at that time and place. To equate the two is to erode away at the extraordinary role that Zionism and the creation of the Jewish state has in the history of the Jewish people.

    Further, I find it ironic that you would cite the current retrospective unpopularity of the disengagement from Gaza as evidence of its unworthiness as a policy, given the fact that its support in public opinion polls prior to its implementation was not something (I assume) you viewed as giving it merit.

    Finally, and more generally as it applies to this and other posts on this blog, why is it that criticism of the Israeli government from the left is hostile, anti-Israel, or anti-Semitic while criticism of the Israeli government from the right is noble and righteous?

  3. Rabbi Pruzansky

    Avi, the truth is the truth no matter from where it emanates, so you undermine your arguments by resorting to those facile, tired cliches. One of the criticial points about the “democratic process” you laud is that there is no true democratic process when politicians campaign one way (against the Mitzna unilateral withdrawal from Gaza plan) and then win election and govern by adopting their opponent’s views (as Sharon did). Perhaps your voice can rectify that, without preaching or indignation, beofre a future “right-wing” government comes for you, in your home, so as not to squander any resources on you. –
    RSP

  4. Rabbi Pruzansky

    Why do you say that Bush “actively and passionately” supported the expulsion ? Having been in the White House during that period, I can assure you that many in the administration were surprised, even shocked, by it, did not think it would bolster Israel’s security, thought it would strengthen terrorism, but were in no position to oppose a unilateral Israeli move.
    Those who think it resulted from US pressure – as many Israelis consoled themselves – are completely wrong.
    -RSP

  5. Rabbi, perhaps I didn’t make myself clear enough in my previous comment to yours about your comparison of the voluminous Tisha B’Av tragedies to the evacuation of Gush Katif. I will do so now. It is an obscene characterization and probably even an avierah on your part. My cousin’s son, who is a major in the Israeli .Army (as is his wfie) was part of the evacuation process. He and his comrades wore sunglasses to disguise their tears when they had to do this thankless task. The perpetrators of the Tisha B’Av calamities didn’t shed any tears and didn’t leave many Jews to remain in their countries or even to live, I am critical of the government for not providing the assistance the evacuees need to get their lives together. Further, I believe it was a terrible decision to not leave the military presence intact in the region. You also suggest that some of the major players in the process are now being divinely punished for their actions. Do you think Hashem thinks Ariel Sharon, for example, is so terrible even though he has given his whole life to Israel’s cause. How much have you given?

    You made some gratuitous comments about Israeli democracy. Winston Chuchill once said: “It is said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” I suppose your idea of a democracy working is when the U.S. election in 2000 fraudently allowed selected president Bush and president Cheney to take office. The Republicans used every form of intimidation to make sure their guy got in no matter that thousands of voters were denied their constitutional rights. In the years since, I have spoken to a lot of people who supported Bush and, except for one, they all admitted they didn’t care how their candidate got in as long as he did. Undoubtedly, you belong in that category. As a lawyer, I am sure you can also appreciate Sandra Day O’Connor’s comment there was no way she was going to allow Al Gore to become president. Too bad she didn’t add “and that Jew with a yarmulkah to become vice president.” I wonder what you would have said then. So, a conversative-majority Supreme Court, presumably champions of states’ rights, decided to override those very rights. Undoubtedly, they would have made the opposite decision had Gore been ahead by a handful of votes. So there’s your democracy: as long as it is consistent with your beliefs, anything goes.

    Instead of staying on the sidelines why don’t you do something constructive to help, e.g., demand to be heard as a taxpayer, vote the bums out of office, offer your kids to patrol areas like the former Gush Katif, etc. You can’t do any of these things because you don’t live in Israel. Instead, you choose to continue to live in cushy Teaneck, NJ and deliver pot shots. Are you worried about leaving your congregation? Don’t worry, there will be hundreds of qualified candidates looking to take your place. Undoubtedly, all of them will be huge supporters of Israel.

    Come on, join us here. Maybe I will still disagree with some or all of your positions but at least you will have put more money where your mouth is.

    I’d love to chat longer but we’re 7 hours ahead of you so I have to get ready for Shabbat.

    Shabbat Shalom,

    • Dear Avi,
      There are many points i happen to disagree with you on. I will focus on a particular one you keep going back to. You seem to have the need to repeatedly point to the fact that Rabbi Pruzansky lives in “cushy” Teaneck and his kids don’t serve in the israeli army. Where do you think the fabled Israeli army would be without the “sidliners” like him influencing the US government to contribute Billions of dollars every year (even as the US budget is being cut) in support of israelis like you and your children?
      Rabbi makes some excellent points most of which you are choosing not to address and instead resort to a personal attack on him.
      What chutzba you dare muster to charge him with aveiros and have the audacity to claim that his congregation won’t miss him much? Have you ever even been to Teaneck and seen what an amazing community he has been able to build and continues to guide into the future? (BTW, Teaneck probably is the largest contributor of olim from the US.)
      In case you would like to disagree with him on issues (i.e. how the Expulsion was accomplished through a democratic process, how it was a huge success, how you propose to have a viable military presence on the ground in Gaza, etc.) please do so, but don’t you dare stoop down to personal attacks on this remarkable communal leader, supporter of people of Israel and a human being.

  6. I am in Israel, too, sharing the same time zone issues, but I will respond anyway. An expulsion is an expulsion; not every evil has to rise to the level of the Holocaust or the Spanish Expulsion to be considered evil. Evil can also be perpetrated by people to their own people (that is the history of the Soviet Bolsheviks), and even by people who feel remorse and even shed tears. Nothing excuses or whitewashes their guilt, not even the “I was only following orders tripe.” They have to live with it, and ultimately answer for it.
    From the number of politicians and public figures who have admitted their errors and called the expulsion a mistake, one would think it would have few defenders left. Perhaps you are among the few. To others, both victims and perpetrators, it seems pretty obvious – it was a moral, spiritual, economic, political and security nightmare that it is still ongoing.
    For more, and the dangers ahead, read this from today’s Jerusalem Post –
    http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=233488
    And Shabbat Shalom to you –
    RSP

  7. Tsvi:
    You only lent your personal bent on what I said. If you think the evacuation (not an expulsion) ranks anywhere near the awful tragedies affiliated with Tisha B’Av, then you deserve the same criticism. When I lived in the U.S. (a country I still love), and supported Israel, I didn’t think that my support meant that I could compare them to the most awful tyrants of all time when they did something I didn’t agree with. I wasn’t on the frontlines there so it would have been easy for me to say anything I wanted to. I happen to agree with the Rabbi on most points. I am not a military expert. There is one thing I am happy about, that is we don’t have to rule over a good portion of Arabs any more. How about you coming over to do miluim to guard the relatively handful of Jews living in the midst of hundreds of thousands of hostile Arabs. Do you really think the few thousand Jews living in Gush Katif made the region more secure for Israel or was it the soldiers guarding them. Like I said previously, keeping a military presence there would have accomplished the security requirements without having to guard relatively helpless Jews. My opinion is that is not a good idea to spread our precious few resources this way. Besides, Israel did agree to certain UN resolutions and if there ever comes a time when the Arabs are ready for a REAL peace, we would only have to evacuate then. I would love nothing better for all the Arabs to go somewhere else but it is not happening any time soon. So, do you suggest withholding support of Israel because you don’t agree with all their policies. You misquote me when you say his congregation wouldn’t miss him much if he made aliyah. I only said he would not have to worry because there would be a lot of worthy candidates for his position. I hope he, and you, all make aliyah. Let’s be in this together. There will still be plenty of support for Israel in the U.S. and Israel will be stronger. Just for the record, I know the Rabbi is a remarkable person and leader.