A Different View of the Withdrawal from Gaza ("Disengagement") - By Katie Green

By Katie Green
[The Jewish Chronicle - UK - July 29, 2005]

My neighbour Debby has been selling orange ribbons. One shekel for an orange ribbon to tie to the antenna of the car, and thus identify with the residents of Gush Katif, who will be evicted from their homes on August 15th.

We see a lot of orange in the streets these days: orange ribbons on lorries and bicycles, orange ribbons tied to briefcases and handbags, to hats and belts and babies' buggies. Children from the religious youth movements and older people in their fifties who are against the withdrawal from the Gaza strip, have been sporting orange T-shirts with the slogan 'Jews don't expel Jews'.

"What have you done with the colour orange?" groans a secular left-wing radio host on IDF Radio. "You religious people, your colour is brown, or beige at the very least. Leave orange alone. It's ours."

When we pulled out of Lebanon in May 2000, the term used in Hebrew was Nesiga, which translates as "withdrawal". However, the term used for the projected August disengagement, Hinatkut, seems to have caused confusion among the public, the media, and even among government officials. Hinatkut derives from the word Nituk - a sharp, swift cessation of something, as when one's electricity has been cut off. Nituk implies not only the act of disconnection, but also the consequent isolation of what is left behind: a human being who will not communicate with others, or a child who cannot relate to his peers is described as Menutak.

A second, more complex form of the word being used more and more in the media is Hitnatkut, (note the extra 't' in the first syllable), the reflexive form, rather than the passive. This, says Re'uma Yitzhaki, chief linguistic advisor to Israel's Channel 2 television and radio, is incorrect Hebrew. She feels that this version of the word implies that the process of disengagement is mutual and is being enacted by both parties (Israeli and Palestinian) simultaneously, whereas in fact, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon opted for unilateral disengagement precisely because he felt that there was no party for peace and no one to talk to. Alternatively, the Oxford Hebrew-English dictionary describes Hitnatkut as cutting oneself off, which is possibly a more correct interpretation, since the process is definitely one which Israel has instigated for itself, within itself.

The grammatical confusion over how to describe the eviction of the Gush Katif families from the Gaza Strip perhaps belies the perplexity and inner turmoil both of the Israeli population and its leaders. Disengagement is not only taking place between the Jewish State and the Palestinian population of Gaza. It is also taking place between two distinct populations of Jews. Disengagement is perceived, among the public at least, not only as something we are doing to others, but also as something we are doing to ourselves.

I didn't buy Debby's orange ribbon for my car, for a number of reasons. I have never felt comfortable with the profusion of car stickers and slogans that have been used in my country in the twenty years I have lived here. I don't think that the very complex Israeli reality in which we live can be condensed down to a few silly words or even to a particular colour. The only time I was ever tempted was after Yitzchak Rabin's assassination, when the car-sticker "Shalom, Haver" (Goodbye, friend) proliferated on the streets. That slogan had been coined by an outsider, President Clinton. In the general election following Rabin's death, Leah Rabin, his widow, stated unequivocally in a television interview that if the Likud won the election, she would pack her bags and leave the country. The day after the Likud's victory, stickers appeared on hundreds of cars bearing the slogan: "Shalom, Leah."

Overall, I have been in favour of the disengagement. I simply did not see the Katif communities as viable and defendable - around ten thousand Jews living among more than a million Arabs seemed like a physical impossibility to me. I asked myself if I wanted my son, Yonatan, to risk his life defending these settlements. Yonatan, who joins the army next year, has been going to interviews in the air force and in army intelligence. His dream is to serve in an elite commando unit. In one interview, an officer asked Yonatan whether he would disobey orders if ordered to evacuate a settlement.

"The army is the army and you do what you're told" Yonatan replied. "But I have my red lines. Will you ask me to evacuate Jews from Jerusalem? I won't do it."

This, of course, it what lies at the root of the raw emotion surrounding the Gaza withdrawal. What will result from it? Hope or chaos? Will there be disengagements from the West Bank, from the Golan Heights, from eastern Jerusalem? How many Jewish families? How many Jewish homes? Will it be worth it? We look into the crystal ball and we cannot see.

Those of us who have supported the expulsion of the Katif families until now, have always hoped that, despite the obvious sufferings of those to be uprooted from their homes, jobs and communities, the dividends in peace will make it all worthwhile. If there is to be a Palestinian State, then we must start somewhere and Gaza seems to be the best place to start. The poverty and hopelessness of Gaza Palestinians, the life they live governed by roadblocks and economic shortage, has been of serious concern to many Israelis. If the disengagement will bring confidence to the Palestinian community, if such a practical and committed step by Israel will make us feel we are not trapped in eternal deadlock; if Gaza Palestinians will then have opportunities for self-government, development, health and education undreamed of in previous decades, and if indeed, the Gaza withdrawal is the first step to peace in the region, then we will all most probably agree twenty years from now, that the human tragedy of the Katif settlements was a price that had to be paid.

But what about the need to build confidence in the Israeli community? Bruised and bereaved by the relentless bus bombs and café-bombs of the intifada (imagine London' s underground bombings repeated every few days, for four years), some of us fear that the Gaza withdrawal will be perceived by Palestinians as a reward for a vicious and murderous campaign. What if the scenario of the future is the opposite of that described above? It is at least as likely. Arms and weapons being rushed into Gaza port by sea andair? A proliferation of mini-militias, each competing with the other in extremism, fanaticism and incitement? The squandering of millions of pounds in international aid and wide-scale corruption, so that the lives of ordinary people show no improvement? After the disengagement in August, we Israelis, and Palestinians too, will have everything to gain, and everything to lose. Nobody knows which of the two scenarios will unfold.

Recently, I visited Ganei Tal, one of the Katif settlements, with my husband and three children for the weekend. The first thing that struck me, as we crossed the Kissufim checkpoint and drove into the strip, is how big it is. Both the Israeli and international press have related to the disengagement as if it pertained to a few streets or a village here and there. In fact, the strip is about 223 square miles in size, with twenty-one separate Jewish communities. I recommend perusal of Israel's foreign ministry website (www.mfa.gov.il) for a detailed map of the Strip and its settlements.

My friend Machla lives in Ganei Tal with three of her four children. We came to spend Shabbat with Machla, to pay our respects to the life she has built and nourished there for 30 years, and to bid goodbye to her home, a place where we have been cherished and entertained as guests for over two decades. Machla worries about the future. She is a secondary school history teacher in her mid-fifties, and is unlikely to be employed elsewhere after she leaves the Gush. The compensation package she (and all residents) will receive is still under negotiation.

After careful consideration, many Ganei Tal families have decided that in conscience, they really cannot pack up their belongings and therefore cooperate with the process they so viscerally oppose. When the soldiers come to Machla's home to evict her, every last book will still be on its shelf, every piece of clothing still in the wardrobe, and every teaspoon in its kitchen drawer. At some later point, teams of soldiers will presumably pack the belongings in containers and ship them to warehouses.

In Ganei Tal and in a number of other settlements, hundreds of families have received no information about re-location. Residents rely on the newspapers, and on rumours, to try and gauge where they will be moved after disengagement. Caravans? Hotel rooms? Absorption Centers? Youth Hostels? Nobody knows. Even those who have resigned themselves to disengagement and who have applied formally for caravans, do not feel confident that they will receive them. "The feeling is that the system is making lots of noise, but in actuality there is no one to talk to", says a Gan Or resident in an interview with Haaretz newspaper.

The general public, too, have been spared details on the subject. Three weeks before the date, one would expect to see television anchor men and women standing in front of newly assembled caravan parks for the dispossessed, reporting on the final destination of these ten thousand people after they have been moved. But there is a dearth of information. Some caravans have been shipped to the Nitzanim nature reserve in the south of the county, but not nearly enough to house the number of families leaving Gaza. Many caravans have not even been connected yet to the electricity grid, water mains or sewage system. Either planning has gone terribly awry, or the details have not been released to the media in an effort to confuse and undermine the settlers themselves.

On the Saturday afternoon of our weekend visit, my husband and I took a walk through the Moshav. We wandered along the beautifully manicured gardens and sumptuously planted flowerbeds. Huge shade trees, planted as tiny saplings, lined the narrow paths. A group of about seventy teenagers sat on the grass by someone's house, listening to a talk about the weekly Torah portion. The large modern synagogue, situated at the entrance of the Moshav, began to fill with men and women arriving for Mincha, the afternoon service. I watched them through the window as they swayed gently back and forth in prayer. Later, for supper, Machla served us the red, green, orange and yellow peppers grown in her own hot-houses.

On Saturday night we drove back to our home town of Bet Shemesh. In the car we were all subdued. I thought about Gush Katif produce we may never see in our supermarkets again: lettuce, tomatoes, dill, parsley, coriander, celery, spring onion, peppers, and many types of flowers - all miraculously grown in the sand using technologies unimagined and unconstructed by any other community in the world.

I thought about the soldiers at Machla's door on August 15th, the bulldozers ripping up the synagogue at Ganei Tal. The irony hit me hard. So many of us moved to Israel so that nobody would throw us out from anywhere, ever again. At the time of the Gulf War in 1991, my parents and other family members urged me to bring the children over to England, just to stay safe for the duration of the war. Something in me baulked at this. "Not this time" I said to them. "No more running. No more hiding. Israel is the last stop."

And here we are, evacuating our own. Never will Israel experience it's schizophrenic nature as it is destined to do on August 15th: it's own daughters dragged from their houses like cattle, its own sons dressed in police and army uniform, barking orders and avoiding eye contact.

I ask myself: How small does Israel need to be to please everyone? What will satisfy the Palestinians, much less the world, as to our intentions for peace? Which Jewish families are next on the list for resettlement? And if Arab families must also be uprooted to achieve the two-state solution, will this be acceptable too in the eyes of the international community?

These were my doubts and my questions as we drove in the quiet and the dark back to our home. When we arrived, I noticed that the light was still on in Debby's kitchen window. I bought an orange ribbon and tied it to the antenna of my car.

I have decided that, whatever the result of the evacuations, I will never, ever belittle the physical and mental suffering of the Gush Katif residents, all invited legally by a succession of Labour and Likud governments to make their homes in the Gaza strip over the last thirty years. They deserve my empathy and respect at the very least - two things that are in short supply, judging by the statements coming from the government and the media. 'Jews don't expel Jews', says the latest bumper sticker put out by the pro-disengagement lobby. 'They just move them around a bit'.

Katie Green is a film director and producer and freelance journalist – and is Aryeh’s wife.


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