“We’re at Nezer Hazani,” the woman sitting next to me called into her cell-phone. “I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”
Obviously someone was arguing with her at the other end.
“I said we’re in Nezer Hazani”, she insisted.
I tapped her on the shoulder.
“We’re not at Nezer Hazani,” I whispered. “We’re at Kibbutz Ein Zurim where the people expelled from Nezer Hazani, in Gush Katif, are now living.”
I could understand her confusion. The areas in this corner of Kibbutz Ein Zurim were each named for the settlement of Gush Katif where the residents came from.
And we were sitting in the home of a family from the former settlement of Nezer Hazani.
I had hesitated before going on this trip to visit the expellees of Gush Katif . Was I just being a voyeur, staring at other people’s suffering? Did they really want people to come and see them in their temporary, cramped, makeshift homes?
But I was assured that they did indeed want visitors. They desperately needed to know that they hadn’t been forgotten.
But the sad truth is that they have been forgotten by many people – certainly by the government. All the promises that were made to them have come to nothing.
Our hosts were a very warm, friendly couple. Their home was small, attractive and obviously well cared for and they had made the most of the little garden they had. But I remembered with tremendous sadness, the magnificent homes in the real Nezer Hazani. Homes that this family and many others, had built with their bare hands, over the last 20 years, before they were thrown out and their homes destroyed.
Rachel, our hostess, was a small, gentle woman, who told us with obvious joy that she had only recently become a young grandmother. One of the other visitors who was with me asked her if she had a photograph of her former home. Rachel shuddered. “Yes, but I can’t look at it. My husband will show you.”
We were silent. No one asked to see the picture.
She also told us that she couldn’t bear the thought of our enemies touching her home. “So when our soldiers came to take us away,” she said, “ I told them that I wanted to burn my home down.”
We all gasped.
“Did they let you?”
“And did you do it?”
We were silent for a moment. How could any of us possibly comprehend the pain that makes a gentle homemaker destroy her own home. A home that she had built and cared for and in which she had brought up all her children.
Someone asked Rachel and her husband if they would start again if they had the chance. “Certainly,” they replied, “We would go back tomorrow and start to build and farm all over again. That’s all we want.”
A very small percentage of the expellees are now living in permanent accommodation. But most are temporary visitors on other kibbutzim or moshavim or are still in tiny ‘caravans’ which are burning in summer and freezing in winter. Over half of the families have no one employed and virtually no income. But their emunah, their faith, is as strong as it ever was.
We were guided on our visit by the irrepressible Anita Tucker, still known as the “celery lady” from the days of the celery hothouses she and her husband tended in their former home. The last time I had seen Anita was a few months before the expulsion as a group of us sat on the beautiful lawn in the centre of Kfar Darom, sipping coke and eating pizzas – all in total denial that the disengagement and expulsion could take place. Anita was imploring us to act, to do something to ensure that it wouldn’t happen. “This is no time for letter writing to members of knesset, it has to be something more active and immediate. We’re running out of time.”
We had failed her and all the others who had been forced out of their homes, but it hadn’t broken Anita’s spirit. No youngster herself, she was still in the forefront of fighting for the rights of the expellees, guiding visitors, speaking to the press and showing the indomitable spirit which infuses so many of these people who lived by their faith through so much trouble.
We visited the “caravilla” site in Nitzan and had the privilege of meeting an extraordinary young, but mature, girl, Shifra Shomron. Barely out of her teens now, she lived through the horror and pain of losing her home in Neve Dekalim and found the courage and strength to chronicle the events in the months before the intifada until the expulsion, in a fictional book entitled “Grains of Sand”. She told us about the difficult time her parents were going through having not worked for over two years. There is little in the way of job prospects for displaced farmers.
She also told us about the depression amongst the youngsters who were so ideological and so Zionistic before the government and country they revered and adored turned them into homeless wanderers.
Later on we drove past a high rise apartment block which housed another group from Gush Katif. We were told that their sons rarely came home from their schools and yeshivot, even for Shabbatot because after living most of their life in the wonderful open air and space of Gush Katif they can’t stand these cramped, airless apartments.
It’s not possible to paint a rosy picture of their life, but after a day which could have been so depressing we all came away in awe of these incredible people. Their homes were destroyed but their emunah, their faith, is still intact. They know that everything God does is for the best, that things will be all right. They only ask us to try and ensure that they are not forgotten. They would be grateful if we would continue to demonstrate, to persuade the government officials to give them some land where they can build their homes and their families once again and sow and reap the earth which Hashem gave us and which they loved to tend and till.
But most of all they ask us to pray for them and their families.
Ann Goldberg is a freelance writer in Israel
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.