I had envisioned Gush Katif with images of a sea of turquoise blue, pristine white beaches, boats bobbing along the horizon, and me sitting in the sun.
My eyes are closed as the salty tang of the fresh breezes blow in from the water and the sound of the waves crashing upon the shore lull me into a contented relaxed state. My ideal vacation! But one never realized. I was too busy doing everything else when I visited Israel.
Then came the long awaited day when my husband and I made aliyah. What a hectic, trying time that was! Filled with the sadness of leaving all that was comfortable, all we knew and loved, to face with joy, anticipation, and a little bit of fear, an adventure of such magnitude that looking back we don’t know how we did it. But we did it with the help of the Almighty, our children, and lots of good advice from those who went on aliyah before us.
Finally, we were at home, in our apartment, in Efrat. There was plenty more to be done, as anyone who saw our home could attest to, but we were happy and were tying to become members of our new community. We read that the religious council of Efrat was sponsoring a special Shabbat trip to, of all places, Gush Katif. This was our chance to at last have the vacation of our dreams.
We joined our excited neighbors from Efrat and boarded the buses to begin the trip south. The lush green fields slowly turned to sand as we neared our destination. Suddenly, one of the children spied the sea and we all strained to see it. Soon we passed the military base and entered the confines of the Gush Katif with army escort. We stayed in the lovely Palm Beach Hotel. Our room faced the water and the ocean breezes floated in through the open windows. The dream was beginning.
It was a wonderful Shabbat. The company was good, and the food great (the cuisine was new to us, S’fardi in style and flavor). The scenery and atmosphere was as peaceful as one could wish. As I was sitting in shul on Shabbat morning, a gem of an idea began to develop. By the time Shabbat had ended, it was on the way to becoming a reality.
That year, 2000, was special for our entire family. For my husband and myself, it was the realization of our dream to be together with all our children in Israel, and our ability to celebrate with them a special wedding anniversary. For our children, it marked the first time that we were all together on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. And what could possibly be a better way of giving thanks for all these blessing than to share them with each other and enjoy a lovely location as well as give chizuk to the people in Gush Katif)?
And so, a week before Rosh Hashanah 5761 (2000), we went to Gush Katif to spend Shabbat together. We had a marvelous time. It was a weekend of thanksgiving to Hashem for all the good He had bestowed upon our family and a time of making memories that the entire family could appreciate. We swam, in the ocean and then the indoor pool (separate places for separate swimming), enjoyed the magnificent scenery and views, walked through the lush gardens growing in the sand dunes, and the children played in the playgrounds. Each one of us came away with fond memories of this part of Eretz Yisrael and our ties to it and to each other. We left Motzei Shabbat with feelings of renewal and thoughts about the Slichot that night.
During those two visits to Gush Katif, we were privileged to learn about the courageous and dedicated people living there. Many of them were former residents of the magnificent town of Yamit. They were part of the population that had to give up their city and their dreams when Prime Minister Begin, in an attempt to win peace from Egypt, abandoned and destroyed Yamit. We all know how that peace effort turned out.
The government encouraged the residents of Yamit to move to Gush Katif to help develop this part of Israel. These people have the same needs, desires, and emotions as all of us. Yet, they differ. They live in homes that they built rising out of sand dunes; they built greenhouses; raise flowers, fruits, vegetables, and herbs that are exported worldwide. They built shuls, factories, schools, athletics fields, health facilities and have made a good life for their families. There is now a second generation living in Gush Katif. This was accomplished under the most adverse conditions imaginable. Yet, their hopes, dreams and emunah never wavered.
Motzei Rosh Hashanah arrived and we left shul filled with the hope that our prayers would be answered and that we would all be blessed with a healthy and peaceful year. But our hopes were dashed when we heard of the horrible outbreak of the intifada (an Arab word describing terrorist war). From then on, Gush Katif was frequently in the news.
The settlements of Gush Katif are situated on the border with Arab Gaza. This puts them on the forefront of terrorist activities. We wept when we heard of the tragedies to which they were subjected. Who among us could forget the Cohen children who were on the school bus that came under attack, and of the other school children who lost their lives? Can we forget the bereaved father and husband David Hatuel, whose pregnant wife and four daughters were brutally murdered point blank as they sat in their car? Who among us can forget the picture of the Kassam missile which killed 22 year old Tiferet Tratner as she was sitting in her home in Nevei Dekalim?
Unfortunately, there were so many incidents of terror that we can’t fully comprehend the magnitude of these tragedies. Who among us can forget thanking Hashem each and every time we heard of the miracles that occurred daily? We all feel that we owe the people of Gush Katif thanks for remaining in their homes, for not running away, for not giving up, for continuing their daily lives, and for making us proud that there are Jews with such emunah.
Let us now travel to the present. The government decided to abandon Gush Katif. At this point, the Likud leadership proposed that its members vote on a proposal to evacuate the Jewish presence from Gush Katif. After hearing this news, those of us who disagreed with the disengagement policy became active in a campaign to educate the Likud party members as to the impact of disengagement to the rest of the country. The success of this campaign was amazing and the referendum was defeated. The prime minister, however, ignored the wishes of his own party.
Undaunted, the struggle continued. On Yom HaAtzmaut my husband and I joined 70,000 people of all ages, colors and religious persuasion in a march in Gush Katif. My husband and I were the lucky ones. We made it to Gush Katif. We knew of many people who sat on buses for over five hours unable to get close to Gush Katif. The thousands who were turned back demonstrated their solidarity with Gush Katif by their efforts to be there. It was a meaningful and joyous day. The faces you saw showed the determination of people voicing their opposition in a peaceful, democratic manner. Everyone there impressed by the turnout.
At one point, we saw a literal sea of marchers behind and in front of us. Hundreds walking six abreast quietly greeting friends, enjoying the atmosphere and the camaraderie of people who had similar thoughts and feelings. As we walked along, we saw not the Gush Katif of four years ago, but the sad results of what the lack of tourism caused, the harsh reality of the sight of decay in the area.
Again, we thought, those in the government would consider the wishes of the people who elected them and consider this demonstration. But no! And so the next step was a living chain (first time ever in Israel) from the heart of Gush Katif to heart of Israel, the Kotel… Yerushalayim. This time (the day before Tisha B’Av), 150,000 participants came from as far away as California just for the privilege of standing tall with their brothers, along a route 56 miles long (it makes you reflect of how small the country really is). In some areas, people stood five deep, in an atmosphere of exuberance.
These people refused to believe that there could possibly be a withdrawal from Gush Katif. Benny Elon (former Cabinet minister, until he was fired by the Prime Minister for his objections to the expulsion plan) was quoted as saying “This chain is a form of prayer. On the eve of Tisha B’Av, the Jewish people have come together to cry out to Heaven against this latest attempt to expel us from our land.”
At 7 p.m. we all stood together, holding the hand of the one next to us, and singing Hatikva and Ani Maamin as the sound of shofars echoed along the route and at the terminus, the Kotel.
We are proud to say that we were among the fortunate ones who were able to be present at all these occasions. We hope that with the help of the Almighty, our voices lifted in prayer and our endeavors will be realized and we will continue to see the size of our country undiminished.
Little did I realize, when I first dreamed of a fantastic vacation spot, the extent to which my fascination with Gush Katif would lead us!