My husband and I had the distinct pleasure and privilege to join a group of English speaking Israelis on a visit to Gush Katif. The trip was organized for the World Mizrachi and Tehilla movements. Both organizations are involved in aliya and living in Israel. Our goal was to become reacquainted with Gush Katif, while for some, it was their first time there.
The bus, which originated in Yerushalayim, picked us up in Alon Shvut (in Gush Etzion). We were happy to see that there were families joining in the festive atmosphere on the bus. Many of the participants were wearing orange, the color identified with the struggle for Gush Katif.
We traveled west through the Ayala Valley where Dovid and Goliath fought their famous battle, and were reminded again of our constant tensions with our enemies.
We continued past the area of the Beit Guvrin. Beit Guvrin was mentioned by Josephus in 68 C.E. as an important Jewish settlement . Following the destruction of the Second Temple it was a well-populated Jewish town and continued as such until the Bar Kochba revolt in 132-135 C.E.
We continued south passing Kiryat Gat, founded in 1955 and named after the Biblical town of Gath which was one of the five major Phillistine towns, (Shmuel Bet 1:20) where Dovid laments after hearing of King Saul and Yonatan’s death “Tell it not in Gath … lest the daughters of the Philistine rejoice.”
Several miles south we pass the city of Sderot. Sderot has been the site of many pleasant memories for our family since our niece and her husband (Rabbi Dovid and Mechi Fendel) founded the Hesder Yeshiva there eight years ago. Sderot is a poor, depressed city with 17 percent unemployment. The population consists of many Ethiopian and Russian immigrants. Sderot has unfortunately been featured prominently in the news. There have been many incidents, some unfortunately fatal, due to the firing of Kassam rockets into the city from Arab Gaza. There was property damage but of course the greatest tragedy was the loss of four lives, among them three children under the age of five. In fact, several weeks ago we mourned the death of 17-year-old Ella Chaya Abuksis, a”h. She and her brother were walking home on Shabbat after she led Shabbat groups for the local children. When she heard the 20-second warning signal of an incoming Kassam rocket, she heroically threw herself on top of her 10-year-old brother, saving his life at the cost of her own.
We arrived in Gush Katif and met our guide, a resident of the area who was born in Monsey, New York, and learns in the yeshiva. Thirty years ago Gush Katif was uninhabited and was covered with sand dunes as far as the eye could see. Today it is green. Now there are trees, lawns, and parks. One admires the effort of the residents in keeping back the encroaching sand. The homes are beautiful, of different types of architecture, all painted white. Imagine the yellow sand in the background, white homes with red tile roofs, green grass, flowers all over, and the blue sky we seem only to find in Israel. And, of course, beyond the sand is the sight of the white waves of the Mediterranean Sea breaking on the shores.
A virtual paradise? Yes, except for the fact that Gush Katif has been targeted by over 5300 Kassam rockets, from Arab Gaza, in the past four-and-a-half years. Now the people in Gush Katif face the prospect of being expelled, ripped from their homes by the very government that asked them to develop the area. And develop it they did! We visited one of the hothouses, a plant nursery, and several neighborhoods where we were greeted by the residents. They took time out from their daily activities to offer us tea, cake, and hospitality. After a delicious lunch we visited the Yamit shul and joined the yeshiva boys for Mincha. This shul was dismantled from Yamit (a tragedy in Israel’s history) and brought to Neve Dekalim never to be moved again. After Mincha we went to Morag and were met by a young man who lives there with his family. Morag faces the daily disruptions of life and the stresses faced by all Gush Katif residents. Morag is very isolated from the rest of Gush Katif and is the southernmost Jewish town bordering Rafah, Egypt. Yet no one from Morag is contemplating leaving the area.
We all agreed that while we came to Gush Katif to give them support, we came away feeling uplifted and strengthened. We were amazed at the strength, conviction and intensity of the love for Eretz Yisrael that these residents exhibited. In addition, we were elated by their faith and their belief that they would not be made to leave their homes, their communities, their yeshivas, their shuls, their cemeteries – but that they would be allowed to continue living their lives as before. Their emunah in Hashem could not be shaken, no matter what the media and the politicians say. They were sowing next year’s crops. They were readying homes for the new families that were moving in (in fact, one such family with 11 children moved in the day before our visit), and they were planning the new school year. This is emunah, this is the lesson each of us should learn.
But how can we help these courageous people? First and foremost, we must pray to Hashem that He will continue to be with them and keep them safe. That He will continue with all the nissim that he has shown us these past years. Our visit and support showed our determination that Jews should not be removed from this or any part of Eretz Yisrael. After all, this area was mentioned many times in our Tanachic literature. We must also try to help financially by purchasing the products grown there and by encouraging others to do so. We must write letters and join protests against the Israeli government’s plan to force Jews out of their land. This is our worst nightmare. By uprooting Jews from Gush Katif the government is putting other cities at risk. Gush Katif is part of our early warning system. Without it, our enemies will feel free to move to threaten Ashdot, Askelon, and of course Sderot. Therefore, this is not just an issue for the communities of Gush Katif, but an issue of the security of all of Israel.
With the image of those heroic Jews that we met and with their voices echoing in our minds, we trust that, with the help of Hashem, our prayers and our efforts will succeed and we will be privileged to see our beloved country undiminished.