As people recall the destruction of the 21 flourishing settlements that comprised Gush Katif – which began 15 years ago on August 15 – allow me to recall a few personal memories that haven’t yet entered the chronicles of the anti-evacuation movement.
During the campaign against the Oslo Accords, a half a decade earlier, a group of former Gush Emunim activists, called Mateh Maamatz, led stormy protests in the streets of Jerusalem and Kikar Malkei Yisrael in Tel Aviv (later renamed Kikar Rabin). I produced many of the posters that accompanied these demonstrations. So, when the campaign against the Disengagement commenced, it was only natural that I would once again produce posters to be pasted all over the country.
This time, though, the major right-wing organizations did not back my efforts. Mateh Maamatz chose to remain on the sidelines during this Katif campaign, discouraged by the division between leading dati-leumi rabbis and their followers. Meanwhile, Moetzet Yesha (the Council of Communities in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza) and the Gush Katif Community Council – the organizations leading the struggle against the Disengagement – decided to adopt a non-belligerent, opposition campaign marked by the slogan, “With Love We Will Win” and highlighted by human chains of passive protest stretching kilometers along highways with demonstrators sporting orange head bands, orange wrist bracelets, and orange flags.
The leaders of the two councils also decided not to attack Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in their campaign literature, clinging to the hope that they could persuade him to abandon his obsessive resolve to demolish what he himself had called in the past “a sterling model of the Zionist enterprise built by the idealist pioneers of our day and a vital outpost of national security.”
Sharon, it should be remembered, faced several serious charges of political corruption at the time, and he faced the possibility of a long prison sentence if found to be guilty by the courts. MK Zvi Hendel, a resident of Gush Katif, stated that the extent of the withdrawal would parallel the depth of Sharon’s involvement in the political scandals, implying that the evacuation from Gush Katif was a bribe to the Left (which controls the court system) to find him innocent.
So I designed a poster portraying Sharon in jail with the caption, “The Disengagement Won’t Save You!” Moetzet Yesha and the Gush Katif Community Council were not fans.
I made another poster for the “Jews Don’t Expel Jews” movement, which portrayed a soldier staring at a family in the doorway of their home with the caption, “Commander, I Can’t Do It!” Led by Rabbi Gadi Ben Zimra, the movement – which called upon IDF soldiers to refuse orders to oust Jews from their homes – received a big boost when the rosh yeshiva of Mercaz HaRav, Rabbi Avraham Shapira, the former chief rabbi of Israel, signed a petition supporting the initiative.
Also supporting the controversial stance were Rabbis Moshe Levinger, Dov Lior, Zalman Melamed, Eliezer Melamed, Avigdor Nebenzhal, Yitchak Ginsburgh, Yaacov Yosef, Chaim Drukman, and Rabbi Tzvi Tau.
Rabbi Drukman told students to tell their army commanders that they were unable to fulfill the command, and Rabbi Tau told students to disobey quietly but not to make a banner issue out of the matter. A large majority of dati-leumi rabbis, however, vehemently opposed this halachic decision.
This latter poster was also rejected by the leaders of the “Save Gush Katif” campaign who stridently warned that a revolt in the ranks of the IDF could lead to the disintegration of Medinat Yisrael. They preferred that soldiers obey orders even if it meant homes and communities bulldozed into dust and given away to the Arabs.
Also rejected by the Gush Katif Community Council was a protest film I made with Moshe Hirshtig, a former film student of mine at the Maale Film School in Jerusalem and a resident of Neve Dekelim. The Council commissioned the film, but it rejected our eight-minute production, claiming it was too militant for their tastes.
As the time approached for the Knesset to approve the Disengagement Law, a group within the Likud, led by Uzi Landau, formed to oppose what they termed “a dangerous and dictatorial escapade that will explode in our faces with a bombardment of rockets from a site formerly controlled by Jews.” He demanded that the Likud Central Committee hold an emergency meeting to vote on the Sharon Plan, which seemed like the most effective way to derail it before it could reach the Knesset.
In response, a group of former Gush Emunim activists approached me to make a short protest video that was distributed to every member of the Likud Central Committee before the dramatic vote. In the course of making the video, I, accompanied by Baruch Marzel, went to film statements from Israel’s two chief rabbis.
We asked Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira if Israel was permitted under Jewish law to surrender portions of Eretz Yisrael to an enemy. “There is a yetzer to do evil,” he replied.
Not understanding what he meant, we asked him the question again. He replied in a similar fashion: “Ariel Sharon is possessed by a yetzer to do evil.”
“HaRav,” Marzel said, “Sharon is planning to give Gush Katif away to the Arabs. The Likud is voting yes or no. Does the halacha allow this?”
The chief rabbi looked disturbed by the question. “Why do you ask me a question to which every child in cheder knows the answer? Go to any cheder in Jerusalem and ask the children. Why do you ask me?”
Then Marzel asked as I continued filming, “If a soldier is commanded to oust a Jew from his home in the Land of Israel and destroy a Jewish community, should he obey the command?”
“Of course not!” Rav Shapira replied. The octogenarian sage went on to give us a long and detailed explanation. I didn’t include the halachic discourse in the short, fast-moving film, but this is the gist of what he said:
“According to Torah law, it is absolutely forbidden to give away Jewish land in Eretz Yisrael to a non-Jew because of the negative commandment “Lo Tichanem” and because of it nullifying the Torah commandment to settle and conquer the Land, which rests upon every individual, whether citizen or soldier. Any military or government command to oust a Jew from his home in order to relinquish his land to a non-Jew is in violation of our holy Torah, and it is forbidden to take part in it in any shape or form.
“In addition, it is forbidden to listen to any command that calls on a Jew to violate the Torah, and it is forbidden to carry out such a heretical command. As the Rambam makes clear in the Laws of Kings, if a Jewish king issues a decree opposed to the Torah, it is forbidden to heed his decree, and a person who does so will not be found innocent in this world or the next.”
Rabbi Shapira cited several tangential issues regarding the laws of theft and the desecration of synagogues, and emphasized that it was everyone’s duty to prevent such evil deeds and to protest against proposals like the Disengagement with all non-violent means. He concluded that only the gedolei hador were allowed to decide matters of such vital concern to Klal Yisrael and that if rabbis of lesser stature do so, they increase division in Am Yisrael and destroy the world, like little foxes that destroy the orchards of the king, as the Rambam writes.
Next, we went to the home of the Rav Mordechai Eliahu, the sephardic chief rabbi. I set up the camera and microphone, and Baruch Marzel asked him the same question – whether a Jewish government may give away portions of the Land of Israel to an enemy.
The rabbi replied with a lengthy dvar Torah, explaining a Gemara which states that withdrawal is the beginning of surrender. Because of its length, there was no way I could use his answer in the film. Fortunately, his wife was present. She told him, “You forgot to say, ‘Vote against the Sharon proposal.’”
He smiled and nodded his head. “All right. Please, let me do it again.” Once again, he delivered a full dvar Torah, totally different from the first, explaining why relinquishing parts of Eretz Yisrael was strictly forbidden by the Torah. I was too embarrassed to tell the honored sage that dvar Torahs were wonderful for yeshiva and synagogues, but not for hard-hitting six-minute videos.
Once again, the rebbetzin reprimanded him: “Mordechai, again you forgot to tell them to vote no!” Again, he smiled and started all over, again with a completely new dvar Torah. I only mention the anecdote because of the incredible patience, calmness, and honor he showed his wife. Five successive times he delivered a Torah discourse without concluding by telling Likudniks to vote against the Disengagement.
Each time his wife made him do it again. The smile never left his face. He showed absolutely no sign of disturbance or anger at all. Finally, he gave a clear, one sentence command to vote no! The edited video was distributed to all members of the Central Committee.
While I was packing away the camera equipment, I overheard the rabbi’s assistants telling him that arrangements had been made for a group of kabbalists to accompany him on a flight around Gush Katif during which Kabbalistic prayers would be recited to overturn the evil decree.
Summoning up nerve, I asked the chief rabbi if I could accompany the group to film them praying. He said that it was fine with him, as long as there was room on the small private aircraft. Unfortunately, at the last moment, the man who organized the flight wouldn’t allow me to bring my camera aboard, explaining that some of the holy kabbalists on the flight asked that no publicity be involved, not wanting to connect themselves with such a controversial political issue.
Camera-less, I boarded the 12-seater plane and recited prayers along with the airborne tzaddikim. And miracle of miracles, not long after, the Likud Central Committee voted against Sharon. But like the giant bulldozers that later destroyed Gush Katif, Sharon moved forward, ignoring the democratic decision of his own party.
Perhaps the last serious hurrah of the anti-Disengagement movement came at Kfar Maimon. I was among tens of thousands of protestors who gathered in Netivot for a mass prayer rally before marching on toward Gush Katif to aid in the defense of the threatened communities. Prime Minister Sharon ordered 20,000 soldiers and policemen to stop us.
After an eight-kilometer walk, the army of protestors reached Kfar Maimon, where the leaders of Moetzet Yesha and the Gush Katif Community Council told us to wait while they and their rabbis negotiated with the police and the army to avoid a confrontation between the forces.
Protestors demanded that we break down the fence surrounding Kfar Maimon, in which they found themselves imprisoned. Yesha leaders and rabbis called for patience. All through the night and the following morning, the tension increased.
In the end, the official organizers of the “Save Gush Katif” campaign, the leaders of Moetzet Yesha, and the rabbis opposed to disobeying orders proclaimed that both sides had reached the unanimous decision that the march had come to its end. They stood in front of the gate of the fence, blocking the way forward.
Feeling anger and a deep sense of betrayal, the marchers turned back, rolled up their sleeping bags, and headed home, understanding that the fight for Gush Katif had been lost. Not privy to the inner negotiations, I recently asked Rabbi Ben Zimra what happened. He replied:
“In the wilderness, following the Exodus, there were two major sins: the sin of the Golden Calf and the sin of the Spies who turned their backs on the cherished land. Which sin did the betrayal at Kfar Maimon most resemble? In my opinion, the sin of the Golden Calf. It wasn’t that the heads of Moetzet Yesha and the rabbis didn’t love the Land of Israel as much as we did.
“But it turned out that they loved Medinat Yisrael more than they loved Hashem and His Torah. They claimed that refusing to obey the commands of the medinah would bring about its ruin. In contrast, we claimed that it would add spiritual strength to the state. They claimed that preventing a war between bothers would bring about another national churban and destruction, G-d forbid.
“We claimed that adhering to the commands of the Torah would bring Am Yisrael greater blessing, and that abandoning large and flourishing tracts of our homeland would lead to the national weakness, spiritual weariness, and the cultural decay we are experiencing in Israel today.
“Our Sages inform us that every generation suffers for the sin of the Golden Calf. So too, we continue to suffer for the sin of worshipping the medinah more than we worship Hashem. For the young generation that grew up in Gush Katif and fought for its preservation, the faith in our rabbis was lost. True, the strong became stronger, but the weak became weaker, and a general trust in our community and political leaders has been terribly shaken.”
“What’s the solution?” I asked him.
“Returning to Gush Katif,” he replied, “and increased Israelite settlement all over our Land and returning to Torah on a national level in all of its national facets – in the government, in the army, and in the courts – along with the shattering of false idols and a renewed commitment to Hashem.”