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[A renowned philologist and wiseguy has informed me that "Shevet Achim", the detailed plan for our expulsion, is not "Band of Brothers" as I stated at the end of the last letter. Rather - and I don't know if he is writing as a philologist or as a wiseguy - "shevet" means a stick to be used in a beating. Which makes "Shevet Achim" either "Stick it to your Brothers" or "Beat your Brothers". Much more appropriate.]
[[Some time ago I complained of a strange noise, like the Indianapolis 500. There are, I have discovered, two reasons for the noise. The first are dune buggies driven by kids. Every farm has one. And apparently you don't need a license to drive it. When several of these get together to race up and down the sand hills near our home, the noise is overwhelming. The second reason is treaded armored vehicles, particularly large tractors. When the army uses these in Khan Yunis, the sound is identical to that of the drag-racing dune buggies.]]
[[[A few of you, actually more than a few, while expressing sympathy for our present plight cannot accept that Israel is not a democracy and is rife with corruption. I completely understand your feelings. It's as shocking, and unacceptable, as learning your grandmother turned tricks. There is no reason to take my word for it in light of the fact that my situation may be distorting my analytical capacities. So, separately, I am sending two articles. And if it is too painful, you don't have to believe those, either. And if you come to the conclusion that Israel is just like everywhere else, remember that what we dreamt about, and prayed for, was supposed to be better.]]]
This is insane. I have to leave here about 5:30 for the two hour trip to Dafna in Modi'in, so why aren't I sleeping? Thunder and lightning last night, and mortars crashing down, and it was impossible to differentiate between heavenly and earthly explosions. I must be losing it.
Yesterday we had a visit by Cheryl Kupfer of the Jewish Press. I spent three hours with Cheryl at the Press' fortress-like offices in Brooklyn during my last trip [which you'll read about eventually] to the States, and it was memorable. This soft-spoken woman was faster on the quip than I am, and I looked forward to her meeting Rachel. Well, they got together, and spent their time using me as a dartboard. Outgunned and outclassed, all I could do was sit back and pretend to be a good sport.
I've just come in from a cigar-smoking expedition outside, perfect for rejuvenating my cold. Cloudy, lightning over the ocean presaging stormy weather in a few hours and adding to my anxiety. At least there have been no explosions or shooting and I could revel in the roar of the surf.
What has upset me, I suspect, are several items in the internet edition of the Jerusalem Post. The campaign to demonize us as violent and anarchistic is in full swing. One item reports "intelligence sources" as saying we settlers are "preparing methods of tricking soldiers and police into shooting us". The stupidity of it... the illogic of it... unless one is laying the groundwork of excuses for why we will be shot.
Which fits in nicely with a radio report earlier in the evening to the effect that "violent settlers are distributing cyanide capsules.."
My only question is, do I swallow the capsule before or after I've "tricked" a soldier into shooting me?
Often in my talks with reporters I say that Israel is the closest thing to a democracy in the Middle East, that Israeli democracy is to western democracy as margarine is to butter. It looks, tastes and smells the same, but it's still an imitation. Now I fear that even the look, taste and smell are changing.
The demonization campaign against us intensifies. I remember criticizing Rachel for an article she wrote about Holocaust imagery and terminology being used by our government today. I thought she was exaggerating. Now I see she understated the case.
Just as the Nazis portrayed Jews as untermenschen, sub-human, before starting to exterminate us, so the government is portraying us settlers as being unworthy of the respect shown other Jews: A well known media personality, Yair Lapid, who expressed an eagerness to "deal" with us, and was asked how he could countenance a war between brothers, replied "They're not my brothers"; Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said "settlers who oppose disengagement are not part of us"; the Prime Minister's stalking horse, Deputy Prime Ehud Olmert, a man who doesn't break wind without his Master's approval, said "we'll cut off their hands" if they fight disengagement.
Imagine, just for a moment, the local and international hue and cry against an Israeli government official who, referring to Arab rioters, said "We'll break their bones.". Yet not a word of protest against one who promises to "cut off their hands" when referring to Jews.
Though you wouldn't know it from the media this government is salivating at the prospect of shedding our blood. Case in point: the destruction of the pre-fabs in the settlement of Yitzhar. All you read about were defiant, violent settlers confronting frightened soldiers. In fact, the settlers offered to take down the structures themselves, but the government wanted a violent confrontation and ordered the army in. As a Yitzhar resident said, "They had blood in their eyes." [17.1 I've just sent you an article from Ha'aretz on this subject. And there was an item yesterday to the effect that police in major cities are "inviting" citizens to come in and tell them if their neighbors are planning anti-disengagement activities. Welcome, friends, to the People's Republic of Israel.]
At 8am we leave for the demonstration in Jerusalem that began on Monday. Every day another bloc of settlements has its day, and today it is the turn of Gush Katif. I had hoped to be there from the beginning but my cold and the suggestion that we don't tread on each other's turf has kept me away.
The news that the ultra-orthodox United Torah Judaism party has agreed to join the government will certainly put a damper on our day. Because the decision was made by Torah Giants (hereinafter, TG's), and my Torah knowledge is equivalent to that of a pistachio nut, it behooves me to refrain from voicing any criticism. Certainly the TG's based their ruling on strict Halachic considerations only.
Unfortunately, among a public less respectful and deferential than I, the perception is altogether different. Just a few days ago an anonymous Likud source said "Sharon isn't concerned. When they [UTJ] smell the money, they'll join." This is the view held by most of a public oblivious to the seriousness of the TG's, a view that was confirmed by the decision..
Sadly, the TG's own followers are aiding and abetting those who would misconstrue their decision. One of their newspapers, accessed on the internet, has a headline: "The World of Torah comes before Gush Katif."
This infuriates even the humble like myself. The World of Torah - from the schools to the social structure of the families - is not in danger of extinction. Gush Katif is in danger of extinction. And because it is not just Gush Katif at stake here, but the whole land of Israel, the choice is a no-brainer.
Please don't tell me that I am an ignoramus. I already know that. But if you can, explain to me how alleviating the economic hardship of kollel families, important and worthy as that goal is, can be as important as saving the land of Israel.
later, almost midnight
An insane day. I can't remember when I've been so cold. Rachel and I were turned into Mopsicle and Popsicle Saperstein. Okay, from the beginning.
You know how obsessed I am with being on time. I nagged and nagged, arguing that there would be many people and insufficient buses, until Rachel - much more cavalier about these things - allowed herself to be dragged to the meeting point at 7:45. Not a living soul to be seen. Not even an empty bus awaiting us. By 8 there were less than a dozen people, and no buses. By 8:30 there was a substantial crowd, but still no buses.
We were informed that a terrorist attack was in progress at the settlement of Ganei Tal, and as a result the road was closed. The buses were all at Kissufim, waiting for the road to reopen. I, and others of similarly jaundiced disposition, assumed the Ganei Tal story was just a government ploy to stop or delay our arrival. So far gone am I that even when the attack was confirmed I couldn't bring myself to apologize for my groundless suspicions.
At 9, the road apparently declared safe, the buses arrived and we started to board. But before one's rump could make a comfortable dent in the padded seat there was an explosion, very loud, either a mortar close by or a Kassam just a bit further off, followed by an announcement to take shelter. We streamed off the buses and entered a nearby school where, for almost an hour, Rachel socialized while I pretended to intently study photographs and drawings of both Sephardi and Ashkenazi T.G.'s. [No, I don't suspect the government of being responsible for the mortar or rocket. But I wouldn't put it past them...]
We were back on the bus and ready to leave at 10, only two hours behind schedule. Alas, our traveling travails weren't over. We were just passing Ashkelon when a police cruiser pulled us over. Numerous other buses sailed by so clearly we had been targeted. After some twenty minutes we continued, in a crawl, with police vehicles fore and aft. They left us after some thirty kilometers but we were soon stopped once again. This was repeated several more times, and it was after 1 when we arrived at the demonstration.
Both on the bus and at the demonstration site I was again amazed at the lack of rancor towards the UTJ decision. People were saddened and disappointed, but not really angry. The harshest thing said, by a neighbor, was "It's especially painful when we are betrayed by our own."
The demonstration had begun on Monday and for three days the rain had been constant. Today, though the skies were threatening, there was no rain. But the cold was fierce, the ground sodden, the skies lowering enough to make you feel almost wet. We lived in Jerusalem for almost thirty years but after seven years in Gush Katif have apparently forgotten just how cold it can get. Rachel was appropriately bundled up. I, foolishly counting on my natural padding, was not. There were times I actually thought of the 5000-year-old Swiss herdsman frozen into a glacier, and how when the ice was being chipped away from him, his lower protuberance was accidentally snapped off, the result being that his body is on display in a Swiss museum while an Italian museum gets to display his... How appropriate.
Suffice to say Rachel and I were silently grateful for having arrived late, and spent much of our time counting the minutes til we could re-board the bus at 5pm for the trip home. I, at any rate, was counting. Rachel, having forced me to shlep along the designer Kassam, looked for journalists and photographers so she could be interviewed. The missile was a magnet, and she gave one interview after another. I was amazed at her energy, and ashamed at my lethargy.
Doubtless it was the cold but I was deeply depressed by the whole scene. Teenagers galore, a small number of adults, many police. This is the type of demonstration the government can tolerate, even ignore, especially as only the religious are represented. I felt we accomplish nothing.
My brother came by to express support, and I was happy to see him. Rev. Jim Vineyard from Oklahoma was a towering presence, cheering everyone with his good humor and determination. He has been here since Monday, and is to stay another ten days. I look forward to seeing him again when we return next Wednesday. Vineyard did something quite wonderful, and he did it without fanfare. Seeing that many of the teenaged demonstrators didn't have funds to buy hot food from the canteen, he gave thousands of dollars to subsidize their meals.
There was one other quite grotesque - absurd would be a better word - incident. A character made up to look like the recently elected Ukrainian leader Yushchenko - his face appeared to have gone through a meat grinder - paraded through the crowd at the head of an entourage of five, four of them burly security types one of whom was carrying what we assumed was a Ukrainian flag, the fifth a blond with a chest so large it was a wonder she didn't simply tip over.
A lot of questions should have been asked: What would Yushchenko be doing in Jerusalem? If he were in Jerusalem, why would he be visiting our demonstration? If he were visiting our demonstration, why would he keep parading back and forth? Is the blond available for home visits? To which might be added, Yushchenko on television appears to be over six feet tall, yet this character was a near midget. Yushchenko's face was scarred by dioxin, this character appeared to have been worked on by Freddy Kruger. And, when Rachel approached him carrying our Kassam, he talked to her in Hebrew.
No matter. Our brains frozen, some kept insisting it was Yushchenko. At least until news reports talked about an actor made up as the Ukrainian leader.
It's La Passionara's birthday today. It only took three or four increasingly unsubtle hints before I realized the significance of the date and slipped out to order flowers to be delivered just before Shabbat. It amazes me how she gets more beautiful with the passing of time. While I get uglier. I really can't imagine why she tolerates me.
One of the suit-and-tie wearing monkeys acting as spokesimian for the Palestinian Authority was quoted as saying, "We've just had elections. We are as democratic as Israel".- Breaks my heart, but he's right.
Several reporters today, including ladies from Denmark and Spain. I avoided them until having to take the Spaniola to a bus stop, and because the bus was quite late, having to listen to her tell me about journalistic neutrality in the same breath as she described her happy life among Arabs in East Jerusalem where she lives.
Truly infuriating, we had been on standby since early afternoon waiting for several Minneapolis radio broadcasters brought to Israel by the United Jewish Communities [successor to the Federation]. The mere mention of UJC raises my blood pressure. If I'm not mistaken they, together with Hadassah and some other high-profile Jewish organizations, had publicly endorsed Sharon's expulsion plan as "a bold move for peace". I suspect they hadn't read the plan, which makes them irresponsible. Or they did read it but failed to understand it, which makes them stupid. Or read it and understood it, which makes them evil.
When they did arrive - they had been visiting "refugee camps" - it was dusk, and they were getting panicky calls to clear out before nightfall. Fortunately La Passionara is Queen of the Soundbite, and got our message across in the minute or so of airtime allotted her.
As they got in their car I asked their UJC minder why they had bothered coming at all. "To give the settlers a voice," he replied. Thanks for nothing.
The Defense Ministry sends me to Tel Hashomer hospital for a full workup every two years, and I was supposed to go this morning but I chickened out. If, as I am convinced, the end is near I prefer something sudden and dramatic to a drawn out illness.
This evening we had a wedding. An aging bachelor married a widow. Quite touching, really. La P has written about it at length so you can check out her article if the details interest you.
Rachel, ever competitive, and jealous of my having a cold, has developed bronchitis. So, it being Gush Katif Day at the demonstration in Jerusalem, I went as unaccompanied luggage. And because everyone assumed Rachel was coming no one sat beside me. As the bus was about to leave the "bus director" asked about Rachel and I gave her the sad news. The other buses were rapidly filling, so ours was sent on its way. I was able to exhale, letting my bulk flow onto two seats. Amazing how little it takes to make me happy.
Unlike the histrionics that marked last Thursday's journey this trip seemed to go smoothly. Until, about an hour out of Gush Katif, at least a dozen cellphones began to ring. There had been a terrorist attack - details were sketchy, and contradictory - near the settlement of Morag and a soldier was badly wounded and a civilian killed. We then noticed one of the buses in our convoy make a u-turn. It was the bus from the settlement of Ganei Tal, one of whose residents was the murdered civilian. Rachel soon called, very upset. The dead man, Gideon Rivlin, a 50-yr-old farmer, had been one of her students when she taught English to adults at the Community Center. This was not the best way to get us psyched up for the demonstration.
Nor was my mood improved when, back at the demonstration site, I learned that Rev. Vineyard, with whom I hoped to spend several hours, had been forced to return to the States last night because of illness in the family.
Still, it was sunny and comfortable. I grabbed a chair and sat in the place I had shared with Rachel. Moshe Dann came by. He is a tour guide and writer whose prose fills me with envy. And he is a very good friend. Other good friends followed, including Ralph and Florence visiting from Brooklyn. After a while I was able to emulate the foliage I resemble and turn my face to the sun. And doze, as is proper for the elderly.
I don't know how long I stayed in that position before the first of two encounters took place.
In our ersatz democracy, where civil liberties are reserved for those who hold politically correct views, the government is working overtime to identify those who are likely to actively, ie, physically, oppose expulsion, for the purpose of arresting them before the expulsion begins. Friends and neighbors in Gush Katif have told me of being approached on the street or in shops by strangers who pretend to be locals and engage them in conversation on how they will behave when the moment of truth arrives. These strangers, and perhaps some not so strange, are General Security Services (Shabak) operatives.
So it was not altogether a surprise when someone tapped me on the shoulder, interrupting a reverie which, near as I can remember, involved singing and dancing salamis. It was a male, mid-20's, straight out of central casting, perfectly wardrobed for the part of "militant settler."
"Hi, Moshe," he said.
Did I dislike him because he had woken me? Because I'm naturally suspicious? Because - and I can't explain this - he simply smelled wrong? But he did know my name, so though I couldn't remember ever having met him, I nodded in return. After some inconsequential small talk - he did all the talking, I just grunted - he got to the point.
"These demonstrations are just stupid. They don't accomplish anything. To shake up this evil government we have to do something ... aggressive! Something that'll show them we aren't pushovers." He delivered these lines with such sincerity that I wanted to cheer his pergformance. I wholeheartedly agreed with what he said but knew that he was speaking from a script.
He waited for a response. I adopted a serious mien and concentrated hard on sucking a food particle out of a cavity in one of the few teeth still my own. Then I took out a cigar, carefully removed the cellophane wrapper, and lit the stogie with great ceremony. I could see him tense. It was clear that I was about to deliver A Serious Statement.
[Rachel says I'm a big baby, and will end up in jail because of my inability to keep my mouth shut. She's right. Read on.]
"Young man," I said, puffing with great deliberation, "I don't know what sort of demonstrations are needed. But I've lived a long life. I'm not going to be around much longer. I don't know what to do now, but I have made up my mind about what to do when they come to put me out of my home." I paused, and winced. The wince was to suppress a tremendous cloud of poison gas that was trying to exit my posterior. I knew that such an effluvious explosion would destroy the mood, while the wince could only enhance the sense of this being A Great Moment.
"I have decided..." I paused for a few deep draws on the cigar, "that when they come to take me out I am going to turn myself into a human bomb. I won't harm any soldiers, or police... [dramatic pause] but I will seek out Shabak operatives and take them with me to the next world." He left without a word. I purged my innards.
I was still ruminating on the above, the large idiot part of me delighted, the miniscule common sense part saying "That joke's gonna cost you!", when the second encounter took place.
A couple, mid-40's or well preserved 50's, approached me. Nattily dressed, he bareheaded, she sporting a small hat. They stared. I stared back.
"Do you speak English?" he said.
Only if I have to," I replied, silently cursing myself for slipping into wiseguy mode. I promised to try and behave.
"Are you a settler?" he said.
"Yes," I replied, fighting back the impulse to say "No, I'm a daffodil" or "No, I'm a giant roach."
"Are you here for the demonstration?" he said. "Yes," I replied again, biting my lips not to say "No, I'm here for the tsunami" or "No, I'm waiting for a bus to the zoo."
A long pause during which they kept exchanging "meaningful glances." I was getting annoyed.
"Is there something I can do for you?" I asked.
They smiled at each other.
"We have a proposition for you," the lady said.
I was taken aback. It's been years since anyone propositioned me.
"Our congregation" she continued - she didn't identify the congregation and I didn't ask - "feels the reason the PoorPalestians (she said it like one word) behave the way they do is that they don't know how caring we Jews are."
All my alarm bells were going off.
"We feel that any time an incident occurs..."
"You mean a terrorist attack?" I interrupted.
She frowned. He put his hands in his pockets. "...an incident" she continued, "an incident involving loss of life..."
"Jews murdered?" I said. "...a loss of life. Any life. All life is precious. We feel that..."
He interrupted. "Whenever someone is killed, including PoorPalestinians, especially PoorPalestinians, Jews should build a kindergarten or a playground in a PoorPalestinian village or enlarge a PoorPalestinian hospital ... to show them how caring we are." They smiled at each other.
"Let me understand this," I said, trying to keep the incredulity, the fury, out of my voice. "Every time an Arab kills a Jew, the Jews build them a playground?"
They nodded, and smiled.
"The more Jews they kill, the more playgrounds we build?"
They nodded, no longer smiling.
"Aren't you afraid they'll run out of Jews to kill before you run out of money for playgrounds?"
"See?" he said to her, "I told you he wouldn't understand. That type, hopeless..."
It was all I could do to keep from hitting them. But I smiled, and said "I'm sorry. You've misunderstood me. We already have a program like that."
"Yes, every time Jews are killed by PoorPalestinians we send over helicopters that drop bags of bagels on them. It's called BAGELS FOR BASTARDS."
He took her arm and they turned to leave.
"Unfortunately we don't have money for cream cheese and lox. If your congregation would like to support our program?" But they were gone, lost in a crowd of singing yeshiva boys hurrying to afternoon prayers.
I never did get the details of their proposition.
The few hours til we left for home went quickly. In fact, departure time was moved up so we could get to Gideon Rivlin's funeral. The trip itself was uneventful and one could dream, until we approached Ganei Tal and saw the hundreds of cars parked on both sides of the road, and the preparations underway in our cemetery. Reality tends to intrude in Gush Katif.
Just before Shabbat I glanced at the Jerusalem Post internet site. The headlines alone make me wonder if I shouldn't do a weekly posting called ISRAEL SUICIDE WATCH. Our theme song: "Lemmings call you sweetheart".
One headline was "Nothing will stop disengagement". Not tsunamis, meteor showers, earthquakes? no matter how many Jews are blown to [kosher] hamburger, disengagement will go on.
A second headline, "Special courts for protestors." The wheels of justice ain't gonna grind slowly around here, nosirreebob! No wasting time on lawyers, hearings, defense motions, appeals and all that legal gobbledygook. Still to be announced: the courts will double as firing squads.
A third headline, with apologies for again flogging a dead horse, "Court halts fence construction. Again." Israel's Supreme Court again declares that the convenience of Arab farmers takes precedence over protecting Jewish lives. This doesn't bother me as the so-called Separation Wall is really the Jewish Maginot Line.
A quiet Shabbat, with a bar mitzvah to enliven things. We had a guest for lunch, a new immigrant from the States now living in Beit Shemesh who spends all his time matching up communities in need of a Torah scroll with synagogues prepared to part with a Torah scroll.
Rachel did an interview this morning with Irish Radio and at one point she burst out laughing. She later told me a caller had said "Anyone who believes the Bible is an historical document is living in cuckooland." This, from the country that gave us leprechauns...
As I write this she is in the living room with a small crowd doing a live broadcast to Baltimore. Just as the broadcast was ending a mortar exploded nearby. How's that for timing?
A women's theatre group from Efrat was supposed to perform "Noah" this evening, but they cancelled because the Rivlins are still sitting shiva for Gideon.
I have been in the dumps since hearing of a seven-year-old on Netzarim who lost his arm in a mortar attack yesterday. That hits me where I live. Minutes ago I read an updated report saying doctors are still trying to save his hand. Please God, for my peace of mind if for no other reason, don't leave him a cripple.
Moshe Saperstein and his wife Rachel live in Neve Dekalim, Gush
Katif, in the Gaza Strip. He lost an arm while fighting in the 1973
Yom Kippur War. He was again wounded in a February 2002 incident when
he drove his car into a terrorist who had just shot and killed a
young mother traveling in the car in front of him. He writes
frequently of his physical and emotional struggles. His wife, Rachel
(aka. La Passionara, La P.) works at the Girls High School in Neve
Dekalim and published a booklet last year for families dealing with
He is a Jerusalem Diarist, one of the group of Israelis who are
recording their experiences living in Israel in these interesting
times. Judy Lash Balint distributes the dairists' writings. Her book,
"Jerusalem Diaries: In Tense Times," (Gefen) is available for purchase
Moshe Saperstein and his wife Rachel live in Neve Dekalim, Gush Katif, in the Gaza Strip. He lost an arm while fighting in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. He was again wounded in a February 2002 incident when he drove his car into a terrorist who had just shot and killed a young mother traveling in the car in front of him. He writes frequently of his physical and emotional struggles. His wife, Rachel (aka. La Passionara, La P.) works at the Girls High School in Neve Dekalim and published a booklet last year for families dealing with terror victims.
He is a Jerusalem Diarist, one of the group of Israelis who are recording their experiences living in Israel in these interesting times. Judy Lash Balint distributes the dairists' writings. Her book, "Jerusalem Diaries: In Tense Times," (Gefen) is available for purchase from www.israelbooks.com
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