Monday, December 20, 2004

The Katif Wall?

The Katif Wall?
December 20, 2004

Last week, during Hanukkah, the kids were home on vacation. Here in Hebron we try to provide daily activities for the children, including parties, trips and the like. On Tuesday one of my friends approached me and asked if I’d be busy the next day. As all spokespeople are trained to do, I answered his question with another question – ‘why, what do you need?’
He proceeded to tell me that on Wednesday, he was to escort a busload of kids on their Hanukkah trip, but something came up. Could I replace him?
I didn’t have too much planned for the next day so, why not – it’s a day out of the office, without having to sit in front of the screen. So I asked, ‘where are they going?’ and he answered, “Gush Katif.” That clinched it.
I sort of felt like we were playing round robin. That very day a large group of childrenfrom Gush Katif came to visit in Hebron. They participated in all sorts of events, including skits, touring, and a big candle-lighting ceremony with Hebron children at Ma’arat HaMachpela at sundown. On Wednesday a group of Gush Katif women arrived for a day in Hebron, at the same time that our children made their way down south.
I’m sure many people will ask – this is the way to spend a vacation day? Gush Katif residents travel to Hebron and Hebron goes to Gush Katif? Couldn’t we each find more relaxing places to splurge a day away from home? I guess in some ways it’s hard to explain, but in other ways, maybe not. We spent a couple of summers vacationing in Gush Katif, at Kfar Darom. Two of my daughters did their national volunteer service there, and we developed friendships with people in the community. We’d borrow someone’s house for a few days, someone who was vacationing somewhere else, and spend a few days at the nearby beach, barbeque outside, and just enjoy the quiet, tranquil atmosphere, the beautiful scenery, which sort of reminded me of the Garden of Eden.
Believe me, it really is like that – perhaps it’s a little less quiet these days, with mortars and Kassam missiles exploding all over the place – but Gush Katif still has a beauty difficult to express in words.
I guess this is one of the reasons it was decided to send our kids there for a day during Hanukkah, to experience the character of this endangered part of Eretz Yisrael.
But of course, there’s more to it then just that. When we were under attack in Hebron, nothing was more heartening than people coming to visit – to walk the streets, to speak with us, to show support, just by being there. And I believe so it is today in Gush Katif. Over 5,000 mortars and missiles have been fired at Gush Katif residents over the past few years. Each one of those projectiles is targeted to kill – it is only due to Divine miracle that people aren’t injured or worse every single day. Only last week a Thai woman, working in a Gush Katif greenhouse, was killed by a mortar which exploded right next to her. On September 24, twenty-four year old Tiferet Tratner was murdered by one of these flying bombs.
I have a beeper which receives almost immediate news bulletins whenever ‘anything happens’ – including missile and mortar strikes in Gush Katif. There isn’t a day or night that goes by when I don’t get numerous reports of missiles and mortars, landing in Neve Dekalim, Netzarim , and other communities. Early this morning the beerer buzzed, announcing that four mortars hit Kfar Darom, damaging a whole row of homes. Thank G-d, no one was injured.
So, in truth, you really can’t ask how we go to visit for a few hours. You really have to ask how people there are able to do it – how they can live with this day after day, night after night, literally year after year.
It’s difficult to speak for them, but I have a feeling that the answer is sitting there, on the tip of my tongue. First of all, and most importantly, the people in Gush Katif aren’t crazies – over 9,000 people with a death-wish. They are people just like you and me – but they have a tremendous amount of faith – faith in G-d, faith in what they are doing, faith and determination to live their beliefs, to live the land, to bring life to the desert, to settle Eretz Yisrael. They are merely braver than most other people.
It seems clear to me that they also know and realize, all too well, that we cannot and should not flee from terror. The only way to deal with terror is to stand up to it – to fight it, but never to acquiesce to it. This is why they are so determined to stay where they are, despite the dangers and difficulties, because they know all too well: if Gush Katif falls and is abandoned to our enemies, the next front will not be Kfar Darom. The front will move up, past Sderot, (which is still under continued missile attack) to Ashkelon and Ashdod.
The heroism of Gush Katif’s residents cannot be explained as a personal interest to maintain their own homes: rather it is true patriotism – doing what is best for their people and their country – putting their lives on the line to protect others, only slightly further north. Having experienced the horrors of bombs falling out of the air at all hours of the day and night for years, they know what’s in store for their fellow countrymen, should the Arabs have the chance to hit them. And truthfully, I’m doubtful if those city residents would have the stamina or faith to endure such constant attacks, such as we’ve witnessed in Gush Katif for the past four year years.
That’s why we go there – that’s why we took the kids there – first, by our physical presence to show our support – to let them know that they are not struggling alone. But also to let our kids breaththe great courage of others – to show them that Gush Katif residents are the bravest people alive in Israel today.
It really was a beautiful day. Not in the classic sense. The weather was rather miserable. But that doesn’t stop Hebron’s children from having a good time. We had lunch on the beach, at the ‘Pagoda,’ once a stylish restaurant, perched on the Mediterranean Sea. The hotels closed, the tourism dried up, and the restaurant’s clientele became non-existent. But the owner, a pleasant fellow named Menachem who could not abandon his dream, still lives there, and opens the building to wayward wanderers like us, who need a few tables and chairs for a lunch break. The wind was chilling, and he was gracious enough to make me a cup of coffee, a lifesaver on a cold day next to the water. We talked for a while, and I could see the sea in his eyes, the idealism of a true Israeli pioneer, who could never, everabandon his homestead.
After lunch we drove down the road a ways, to a small community called ‘Shirat HaYam.’ Today inhabited by 17 young families who literally live on the beach, this community was initiated by a few single girls, a few years back, who fell in love with the site. They married and established their homes there – small, simple caravans, - with the sea as their back yard. It’s an amazing place populated by amazing people.
Our last stop was the Neve Dekelim Yeshiva. It was during our brief stay here that the kids really got excited. They heard booms in the background, booms of mortars falling, not too far away.
But that wasn’t what struck me at this yeshiva, which was originally established in the Sinai community of Yamit, which was deleted from the face of the earth following Menachem Begin’s abandonment of the Sinai to Egypt, almost twenty-five years ago.
Inside the yeshiva building, just as you walk in, is a memorial to the Yamit community – called the ‘Yamit wall.’ A Neve Dekalim resident who happened to be there explained the significance of the wall to the children – telling them about Yamit, explaining how it was destroyed, and how the wall remained as a memorial to the fallen community.
Watching the children, and listening to the explanation, I had a hard time keeping my composure. I kept asking myself: Twenty five years from now, will one of these kids be standing in front of a group of children, explaining to them the significance of the ‘Katif wall?’
I sure hope not.
With blessings from Hebron.

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