In Nitzan With the Evacuees from Gaza
I recently spent a Shabbat in Nitzan to help celebrate the bar mitzvah of Yehonatan Golan. The Golans, Sarah's cousins, used to live in Neveh Dekalim in the Gaza Strip. In retrospect, the mood for the Shabbat was already set with the invitation that we received. According to the invitation, Yehonatan's bar mitzvah would be taking place "in the central synagogue of Neveh Dekalim" (this was followed by an acronym, often used for the Temple, signifying: “May it speedily be rebuilt and established in our days, Amen”). Further down on the invitation was written: "In the event that we have not yet returned to our home by then, services will take place in our temporary residence in Nitzan."
Even though I am someone who is not convinced that the evacuation from Gaza was a mistake, a visit to Nitzan filled me with sadness. As we drove to the Golan's home, we saw a sign welcoming us to Neveh Dekalim—the very sign that was in the Gaza settlement. And the same name plaque that stood before the Golans' home in Gush Katif (literally, "harvest bloc," the term used for the constellation of Jewish settlements in Gaza) now stands before the Golans' temporary home.
A total of about 500 families from Gush Katif (mostly from Neveh Dekalim) live in pre-fabricated houses (called caravillas) in Nitzan, which is located between Ashdod and Ashkelon within a few miles of the Mediterranean Sea. There is a definite lack of permanence to the community in Nitzan. Behind or alongside each caravilla, is a shipping container filled with the family's belongings that could not fit into the temporary home (most families left homes that were more than double the 1,000 square feet of the caravilla). While some families tend to the lawn that surrounds their home, others do not, and in the public spaces weeds abound. Construction for permanent housing for the evacuees has begun in Nitzan, but it is proceeding very slowly.
Though the disengagement occurred in the summer of 2005, and though Israel fought a war in the summer of 2006 and is currently undergoing more than the usual amount of political turmoil, the evacuation is still a sore that has not healed in Nitzan. In his drasha during Friday night services, for example, Rabbi Yigal Kaminetsky, formerly Chief Rabbi of Gush Katif and now the state rabbi in Nitzan, had occasion to compare the expulsion from Gaza with what sometimes happens after someone dies—in both cases we do not know what we have until we have lost it.
I asked Chavi Golan if she really thought that a return to Gaza was a possibility. She said that this is not as unlikely as it might sound. She pointed out that the continued shelling of Israeli towns from Gaza may mean that Israel decides to send in its forces and conquer the area [and events of mid-May did nothing to make this scenario seem less likely]. But she noted that logistically, military control of Gaza can only be maintained by the presence of Jewish towns in the area. Chavi acknowledged that if it suddenly was possible to return to Gaza there would be people who would not do so; they would say: "Once is enough." Chavi, however, would return without hesitation; she says: "I miss the feeling of living in a place that is a bulwark for the security of the State of Israel. Going about my daily life in Neveh Dekalim, I had this basic feeling that where I was living had ultimate importance. I don't have that now and I miss it."
A trip to Nitzan shows how difficult life has been for many of the thousands whose homes were destroyed in the evacuation from Gaza. It's true that the settlers refused to plan for life after the evacuation until it actually occurred, and it's true that staying together has been the #1 priority for most Neveh Dekalim residents even at the expense of employment. But it's extremely difficult not to sympathize with the plight of the evacuees after spending some time with them. I could not help but think: How sad and silly a world that requires the uprooting of people and the destruction of their homes just to move them a half-hour ride up the road. How terrible that the State of Israel concluded that this was a necessary step for its own security. I only pray that 30 years from now it will be clear to all that the sacrifice that was forced upon the people of Gush Katif was necessary and vital. Right now this is not clear, making a trip to Nitzan all the more poignant.
Copyright 2007, Teddy Weinberger