Sixteen years ago on Monday, Av 10 in the Hebrew calendar, more than 8,000 Jews were evicted from their homes in the Gaza Strip in what was officially known as the “disengagement.” Katif’s seventh annual National Responsibility Conference, which brings together those who wish to remember this evacuation, as well as politicians, religious leaders and journalists, was held at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem on July 13.
The Jewish residents of the Gaza Strip – the vast majority of whom were religious Zionists – lived in 21 settlements known collectively as Gush Katif (or “harvest block”). They had turned the sand dunes into a premier agricultural area, growing everything from cucumbers to tulips, much of it in state-of-the-art greenhouses.
It came as a serious shock when the man who had been their champion, then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, decided to end their life’s work. Two Jewish settlements in northern Samaria have also been marked for demolition.
“National responsibility” is a theme reflected in every Katif conference.
Mordechai Better, director of the Gush Katif Memorial Center, told JNS that this was the approach residents have taken to fight the eviction plan. He explained that he had lived in the Gaza Strip for 26 years managing the educational system in the settlements. “There was talk back then of civil war, of shootings, of violence, but our audience said that we will not raise our hands against the soldiers. We will not be violent. We will not shoot. We will do our best to convince with words, ”he said.
The non-violent approach of the deportation plan initially seemed effective. The people of Gush Katif waged a nationwide campaign to gain public support. They went door to door talking to Likud delegates.
Tzvi Hendel, who lived in Ganei Tal, one of Gush Katif’s settlements, and was a member of the Knesset at the time of the disengagement, attended the conference as a private citizen. He told the JNS that Sharon did not have a majority in his own Likud government. “Eventually he realized he didn’t have a majority, and he called for a referendum in Likud. He thought that with the referendum he would succeed and that the Likud would vote for him, but he lost big. What was not expected was that he would ignore the results.
Through the prism of “national responsibility”
Participants at the conference included religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich and Knesset member Amichai Chikli from the Yamina Party of Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Chikli has become popular on the Israeli right for refusing to support the formation of the current government, which includes elements of the left and Arab Islamists. He argued that Bennett was breaking many promises to his constituents.
Trying to explain Sharon’s decision, Chikli said he wanted to “buy a temporary and quiet truce” from Israel’s daily struggles with the Palestinians. “What the State of Israel has really bought is an Iranian division serving the Revolutionary Guards in the Gaza Strip that knows how to shut down Ben-Gurion Airport and Tel Aviv for a month.
Chikli said the fight is now for Judea and Samaria. “The biggest project of the European Union at the moment in relation to us is to expel the State of Israel from Area C,” he said, referring to part of the territories that fall under sovereignty but in which the Palestinian Authority is making illegal incursions, often with the help of European funding. What opposes it, he said, “is a weak central authority that doesn’t know how to stop illegal construction.”
As with other Gush Katif conferences, the panels focused on internal conflicts. “Every year we try to find the conflicts within the nation of Israel – Arabs against Jews, clerics against secularists – and then talk about it through the prism of ‘national responsibility’,” Better said.
A panel discussed the Arab riots in mixed cities of Israel during “Operation Guardian of the Walls” in May. Panel members included Rabbi Israel Samet from Lod and Rabbi Ezra Heyman from Jaffa.
Samet said a watershed moment for Jews in Lod involved a Jewish woman from the city’s Ramat Eshkol neighborhood who often helps her Arab neighbors. A day after helping a neighbor, she learned that the neighbor’s wife had reported cars that were owned by Jews so vandals would know which ones to burn. “This moment marked a change in the relations between populations,” Samet said.
For Heyman in Jaffa, the key event, he said, was when he saw “several hundred young people coming out of mosques with murder in their eyes. It was then that I knew something had changed.
Heyman pointed out that every country in the world collects statistics on anti-Semitic attacks, but not Israel. “No one is counting them, so they don’t exist.” He said it was “unbelievable” that one of the men who attacked Rabbi Eliyahu Mali in Jaffa in April was not even accused of carrying out a “nationalist” or racially motivated attack, despite favorable references to Hitler on his Facebook page and cries. during the attack, “There will not be a single Jew in Jaffa.”
Heyman offered a grim view of the future: “There is a lack of acceptance in principle [among Arab Israelis] of the existence of the state. And that’s just the beginning.
“The left has become anti-Zionist”
Another panel dealt with internal conflicts within individuals, featuring three public figures who had changed their political identities. They understood the sergeant. General (res.) Amir Avivi, director of the Habithonistim (or “Security Experts”) movement; Irit Linur, a Israel Hayom columnist (Israel Hayom was a media partner of the event); and Shabtai Bandat, who works for Peace Now.
Avivi said he came from a “Mapai family”. Mapai was the socialist party of Israel’s founding father and first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Although he initially supported the Oslo Accords, he later observed the “complete dissonance” between what the media was reporting and what was happening on the ground. “Here is [PLO leader Yasser] Arafat and said on the first day of his arrival: “By blood and fire, Palestine will be redeemed. “
The Peace Now Bandat moved in the opposite direction. He grew up in the religious Zionist world, settled in Samaria, worked in institutions in Elon Moreh (an Orthodox Jewish settlement in Samaria) and headed the yeshiva of Homesh, one of the two communities in northern Samaria evacuated during disengagement. He said he went through a long process in which he lost his religious faith. As his faith underpinned his political views, he said he began to question them as well, before finally turning to the left. He noted that his children remain religious Zionists and staunch supporters of the settlements.
“It was much more difficult for them to cope with my political change than my religious change,” he said.
Irit Linur said her apparent left-to-right movement was misleading as she hadn’t changed at all. “The left has moved. The left has become anti-Zionist. My basic feeling has always been and remains very Zionist, ”she said.
Another panel featured three religious Zionist members of the Knesset from different political parties, reflecting the different views within religious Zionism itself.
Three plays animated the day of the conference, between the panels and the speakers. One featured a young nun immersed in the daily struggle against disengagement. Another described the internal strife of a resident of Gush Katif and an Israeli soldier as they struggle to find the best way to confront each other. A third dramatized a Supreme Court debate on whether or not to allow the destruction of synagogues in Gush Katif by the Israel Defense Forces.
The plays were researched, written and directed by Tzvya Margaliot. “There isn’t a single word that’s mine,” she told JNS.
She said the soldier’s words came from an official IDF document, the girl’s speeches from a newspaper and the Supreme Court debate from hundreds of documents. “I took all the documents and pretended it happened in 15 minutes,” she said. (In the end, the court gave the IDF permission to destroy the synagogues, but then Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz could not bring himself to give the order “as a Jew The synagogues were quickly destroyed by the Palestinians once the Israelis left.)
Can a Gush Katif-type evacuation be repeated in present-day Israel? Hendel said the Israelis learned from their mistake. Indeed, he believes that Israel will one day return to the Gaza Strip. “It’s not the fashion thing right now, but there is no solution for the Gaza Strip except as part of Israel. It may take another year, another 20 years. I don’t know if I’ll be able to see it. But there is no other solution, Gush Katif will get up.
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