(JNi.media) A year ago, in January 2014, Peace Now Secretary-General Yariv Oppenheimer appealed on behalf of his movement to then Minister of Education Shai Piron, demanding to cancel the “Gush Katif Day” commemorations in Israeli schools. Oppenheimer, an enthusiastic supporter of Israel’s retreat from all the post-1967 territories, complained that in many schools, especially in the state’s religious education system, the Gush Katif Memorial Day has become a day of “propaganda” in favor of the political right.
Gush Katif (Heb: Harvest Bloc) was comprised of 21 Israeli settlements in the Gaza strip. On August 15, 2005, the 9th of Av 5765, the IDF began carrying out the Israeli Cabinet’s decision to forcibly remove some 8,600 Jewish residents from their homes in Gush Katif. These 21 communities were demolished as part of Israel’s unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip, which was not part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
“In recent days I’ve received several, emotional inquiries from school teachers who work for the state religious education,” Oppenheimer argued, saying “those teachers have described to me how their school was painted orange in preparation for the Gush Katif Day events.”
Back in 2005, the color orange was to anti-disengagement protest what green is to Muslim demonstrations. One source described it at the time: “It has spread like a fierce contagion. People wear it. Billboards shout it. Kids distribute in on the streets. See it dangling from cars, buses, baby carriages, backpacks. It’s the color orange and it is everywhere. As Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to evacuate the Jewish communities of Gaza and parts of the West Bank on Aug. 15 draws closer, grassroots anti-withdrawal campaigns have geared up exponentially. With the color theme of orange, signifying the citrus groves that thrive in Jewish Gaza, the plan is to have as many Israelis as possible drape the country in orange to protest the evacuation and show solidarity with the Jews who must vacate their homes.”
“The teachers also told me how all the contents prepared for this day have been showing the disengagement only from the perspective of the evacuees and does not allow for the expression of other positions contrary to the right-wing narrative,” Oppenheimer complained, adding, “The disengagement is presented as a criminal and aggressive act against the settlers which should never again be repeated in the future.”
Also, he complained, “there is no references in the study material to the harsh security and demographic situation on eve of the disengagement, and the price that Israel paid for the years in which it kept the settlements in the Gaza Strip.”
Bayit Yehudi Minister Uri Ariel retorted, back in January, 2014, that Oppenheimer “reveals a unique combination of an extreme leftist conspiring against the State of Israel and gross insensitivity to the plight of entire community that had been thrown out of its homes without any corresponding benefit in the form of a reduction in the number of Kassam rockets that cover most of Israel’s territory.”
Ariel claimed that “the extreme left does not stop turning these and other memorial days into days of blatant propaganda pushing their agenda and no one says a word.”
Ariel advised Oppenheimer to cover his mouth with a bandage so he won’t sound like an idiot.
That exchange, in a nutshell, represents the still unhealed gash in the Israeli body politic, which continues to be as raw and pulsating today as it was ten years ago — with two key differences:
a. It has been proven beyond most reasonable observers’ doubts that the retreat from Gaza did not result in any peace benefit at all — not only has the number of Hamas rocket and mortar attacks become hundreds of times more severe, but Israel has received no credit at all for leaving Gaza, as the world continues to view it as the occupying force there.
b. Israel’s voters have moved further to the right, abandoning in droves the left-wing agenda regarding settlements.
Both of Israel’s major left-wing parties, Labor and Meretz, concentrated their campaigns leading up to last March’s election on social and economic inequities, while merely paying lip service to their historic 2-state solution message.
The Gush Katif Museum was established on the 10th of Av, 5768 (August 11, 2008), on the third-year anniversary of the uprooting of Gush Katif and northern Samaria under the “Disengagement Plan.” It is the most prominent of several commemoration efforts, The museum is still housed in temporary dwellings, at 5 Shaare Tzedek Street, Jerusalem, a 20-minute leisurely walk from the Knesset. Seven years later, the museum is still anticipating the allotment of a plot of land by the Israeli government, to build a proper center to commemorate Gush Katif and northern Samaria.
If you’re starting to detect Holocaust memorial tones here, it’s because they’re evident in many of the attempts to preserve the memory of Gush Katif, and because, to a sizable portion of Israelis, most notably the Religious Zionists, the experience came pretty close to that of the Jewish collective memories of the rounding up the Jews of Europe in the 1940s, and the Jews of Spain and Portugal in 1492.
“The museum’s purpose is to create memory awareness, preservation of and homage to the Jewish settlement enterprise in the Gaza Strip,” states the museum’s literature, “and to preserve the national consciousness’ memory of the uprooted settlements of Gush Katif and northern Samaria, under the so-called ‘Disengagement Plan.’”
Plug in the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe in place of the 21 settlements, and exchange the Wannsee Conference for the Disengagement Plan, and you’ll understand the reverberating cry of “Never again” that’s bursting almost equally for an entire community from both these traumas.
In Israel, public debates of the Gush Katif event are often decided before they start, by the term being picked to describe it. There’s the “Disengagement,” used heavily by government sources and the left before and after the august 2005 event, suggesting a mild act of separation involving some minor geographic alterations; “Evacuation,” suggesting the speaker is mindful of the discomfort of the people without actually taking up a position favoring their politics; and there’s “Uprooting” and “Expulsion,” in use by Israelis who empathize with the trauma and then the lingering suffering of the Jews who were pushed into the buses.
The Gush Katif Committee (a.k.a. Friends of Gush Katif) offers a rich archive of documentation of the Gush Katif trauma. The topics are presented with an unabashed nod to post-Holocaust literature:
- Gush Katif Expulsion – How Did the Youth Cope?
- 10 Years Later, Reliving the Gaza Expulsion
- Yulis Family Enters New House Yet Wants to Return Home
No review of the place of the Gush Katif narrative inside the Israeli psyche would be complete without the near-mystical view, which is supported at least in part by facts on the ground, of the ill fate of the architects of the Gush Katif operation, as well as the people who carried it out.
The list is considerable, and if one is prone to delving into the occult:
- Six months after the expulsion, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who initiated the operation, suffered a debilitating stroke that put him into a coma from which he did not recover until his death in 2014.
- His son, Omri Sharon, a Likud and then a Kadima MK before the deportation, one of his father’s closest advisers on the Gush Katif plan, was convicted close to the time of the operation of falsifying corporate documents and perjury, and sentenced to seven months in prison, never returning to politics afterwards.
- Israel’s President Moshe Katsav, who chose the eve of the deportation to preach sanctimoniously to the settlers about respecting the decisions of state authorities and accepting their plight, was forced to accept the decision of the authorities himself, having been sentenced to seven years in prison for sex crimes against his female employees.
- Ehud Olmert, a minister in Sharon’s government and a major supporter of the evacuation plan, who replaced the ill Sharon as prime minister in time to orchestrate the evacuation of Amona in northern Samaria, was later tried in connection with several scandals, for two of which he has been sentenced to a combined term of six years and eight months in prison.
- Sharon’s Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz who carried out the disengagement plan and was one of its biggest supporters, watched his political career diminishing rapidly, until he failed to make it into the Knesset last March and was forced to announce his retirement from politics.
- IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, who led the displacement operation, which he named Operation Determination and Sensitivity, proved to be an abysmal failure when he wasn’t facing civilians in the 2006 Israel–Hezbollah Second Lebanon War, was humiliated by the Winograd Committee that investigated the IDF failures, and resigned even before the committee report was made public.
- Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi was slammed by the Zeiler Commission report on a variety of issues and resigned in disgrace.
- Police Southern District commander Uri Bar-Lev, who ran the police forces at the evacuation, came under investigation for sexual harassment and resigned. Also, in proper occult fashion, three years after Gush Katif, Bar Lev’s own home was demolished by bulldozers, having dipped into a sink hole.
The list continues and includes several additional police and government official. One notable survivor of the Gush Katif “curse” was MK Tzipi LIvni, who was a minister in Sharon’s government and a supporter of the uprooting — although it is possible that she’s had to use several lives to overcome it.
And if you’ve been wondering how Benjamin Netanyahu has managed to remain in power for so many years, despite his arguably less than stellar performance — one could easily go to the reverse side of the Gush Katif curse for an explanation:
While serving as Minister of Finance in Sharon’s government, Netanyahu threatened to resign unless the Gaza pullout plan was put to a referendum. He later modified his ultimatum and voted in favor, indicating immediately thereafter that he would resign unless a referendum was held within 14 days. And, true to his word, he submitted his resignation on August 7, 2005, before the cabinet’s 17 to 5 vote to approve the Gush Katif evacuation.
Or, as Kenny Rogers would have put it: “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em / Know when to fold ’em / Know when to walk away…”
Nothing about the tone and the feel of the Gush Katif memories suggests that they are becoming more dim in many Israelis’ consciousness. For many, the name Gush Katif will continue to represent a moment in Jewish history of inexplicable cruelty inflicted by brother against brother. Especially considering that the date falls—not accidentally—on the worst day of the Jewish year, bar none.