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THE GREAT GAME GOES ON
by Rachel and Moshe
January 18, 2006
Jerusalem Gold Hotel
[Yesterday I had a tour of a number of refugee camps where our people are trying to maintain their dignity and self-respect, and I will report on their condition in my next letter. Rachel]
A little over a week ago Moshe received a call from the lady who tripped over the protruding water pipe. "It's all done," she said brightly. "Come and get your keys."
"All?" asked Moshe with the skepticism of bitter experience.
"Almost all, inside the apartment," she replied.
"And what about outside the apartment?" he asked, already knowing the answer: a neighbor had informed us that nothing had been done.
"Well... You'll move in first. Then maybe it will get done. And maybe it won't get done."
"Let me remind you" Moshe said, "that you tripped over the pipe, and you said 'they must be crazy' to put a sprinkler next to the air-conditioner. We can't move in until these things are fixed."
"I'll call you in a few days" she said.
Three days later Moshe called her and was told "Everything is going to be fixed. Just wait for my call."
The call came today, only it wasn't from her. Our lawyer called and told me that the Expulsion Authority called him and said that though they had already agreed we were entitled to compensation, and were even preparing an advance, they had changed their minds.
Their new position is that we are not entitled to any compensation -- zero, nada, zilch -- and certainly no advance. This means we are likely to be expelled from the hotel at any time. But the Expulsion Authority, merciful as they are, may take pity on our age and condition and allow us a shanty in old Nitzan shantytown.
An American friend visiting us was apoplectic with outrage. "This couldn't happen in a country ruled by laws, like the United States." Moshe answered that the US is less ruled by laws than by lawyers, and in any case Israel is a country ruled by brute force and they are the brutes who have the force.
Serious as this all is we aren't going to let it get us down. After being ejected from our homes and seeing them turned to rubble, this is relatively small potatoes.
A court hearing is scheduled for Tuesday. We'll let you know if we have joined the Wandering Jews.
Jerusalem Gold Hotel January 26, 2006
We were 'invited' by the Expulsion Authority to a meeting. Our lawyer, Yisrael Fuchs of the Legal Forum for Gush Katif, had called to inform us that according to new rules and regulations by the Bassi Expulsion Authority we were not entitled to any compensation for our destroyed home in Gush Katif.
The Authority, in order to harass us and save money for the government, rewrites the laws of expulsion at will. Remember the government had reported that each settler family had received a half million dollars, a new home, and was fully employed. In fact we, Moshe and I, received nothing. A few, very few, residents who had left before the actual expulsion date received some compensation. The vast majority of those who left early received a small advance against compensation and sit in the refugee camps unemployed.
Moshe and I stayed to the end and received nothing to date except a trailer so defectively built as to be dangerous.
We came into the meeting after an exhaustive security check. "They must be terrified in there" was my comment to the security people. Apparently our words were carried over hidden microphones into the meeting room as we were assured that they, too, had undergone strict security checks each time they entered the offices of the Authority.
"Quite a beautiful place you've got here" I quipped.
"It had belonged to the Ministry of Religious Affairs," was the reply.
"Ah... Religion out -- Expulsion in."
Dozens of people were duly employed to deal with expelled settlers. Yet no homes, employment or compensation had filtered down to the actual people who had been evicted.
"My name is Rachel Saperstein and this is my husband Moshe. I'd like to know your names and positions so when I write my blog for the internet I'll have the correct information."
"I'm running the meeting here!" said an irritated Chairperson. We were then introduced to the people around the table -- the recording secretary, a representative of YESHA, of the Expulsion Authority, of the Comptroller's Office, and the Chairperson, an impartial representative.
Our bulging file included documents from the electric and telephone companies, bank statements, Neve Dekalim Municipality, receipts from stores and workmen, architectural plans and the report of the appraiser. Missing, we were told, was our rental contract with the Municipality for 2004 and actual photographs of the house we had renovated, without which documents no hope for compensation.
Here are some of the Expulsion "laws":
No compensation for those who rented on the private market.
No compensation for those who rented from the Municipality even if the housing was originally from government public housing. We are in this category.
No compensation for children three or under at the time of the Expulsion.
No compensation for those who initially rented publicly then switched to private housing.
And the laws go on and on, while the file with the documents grows larger and larger.
But is there enough money in the world to compensate those whose heart and soul are broken?
We are expecting to hear from the Authority. Our lawyer will keep
Jerusalem Gold Hotel
February 2, 2006
I am sitting in my daughter's home feeding a bottle of formula to one of the twins, my new granddaughters. Alma is a week old now; her sister, Ida, is still in hospital trying to put on enough weight so she can join her sister at home.
Last night I went to Shaare Zedek Hospital to give Ida her evening feed. I missed it. So I just held her, sang to her, played with her and discussed world events. Less than two kilograms, she is a fighter. And I appreciate every female fighter, even a tiny one.
In my talks to groups I often tell the story of the teenaged girls who jumped in front of our bus as we were being evicted from Gush Katif. The girls were ready to put their bodies in danger to stop Jews from being pulled out of their homes. Young girls are now in the Amona settlement battling the police and army so that another small piece of the Jewish homeland is not destroyed and abandoned and handed to our enemies. We watch with horror as the police beat our children unmercifully. Dozens ended up in hospital emergency rooms. The homes they tried to protect are in rubble.
Ruth Matar of WOMEN IN GREEN told me that her daughter-in-law, the Jewish heroine Nadia Matar, had brought her children to Amona just as she had brought them to Gush Katif. Ruth said, "Her adversaries admonish her... 'how can you put your children in such danger?'"
My own answer is very simple: "How can you not put your children in danger when the fight is for Eretz Yisrael?"
I reminded Ruth that every single mother in Gush Katif had put her children in danger every single moment of every single day when mortars and rockets rained down upon us. Our Jewish mothers did not take their children out of Gush Katif and run away. They stayed. They held on. They sent their children to kindergarten and to school knowing that the Arabs of Khan Yunis would use the morning hours for sniping and mortar attacks. Jewish mothers are heroines. They will protect their children, but they will also protect their homes and land especially in Eretz Yisrael. And so it is with the children protecting the areas of Hebron in Judea and Amona in Samaria.
Our children are raised with the Biblical stories of Jewish warriors and Jewish heroism. They read of the Jews defeating their enemies during the forty year trek through Sinai leading to the conquest of the Promised Land. We read about endless wars with Amalek, about struggle and courage. Our children learn of the Jewish heroics during the modern period of Etzel, LEHI, Palmach and the Hagana.
What Israeli child does not want to fight for his/her country. But today the Jewish child is fighting against his/her own army, police and politicians. This is what brings tears to my eyes for it is the negation of everything that was to be the State of Israel.
I look at the tiny Alma and Ida. Will they too need to fight for
their land? Will they too, as their grandparents Rachel and Moshe,
become refugees in the Land of Israel?
THE WOUNDED OF AMONA
Jerusalem Gold Hotel
February 9, 2006
Saturday night, February 4th, the Jerusalem Gold Lobby appeared to have turned into a hospital emergency room. Hundreds of young people, bandages around their heads, arms in slings, eyes blackened, cuts and abrasions on their faces had gathered to bear witness to the Israeli army and police gone mad in the Amona confrontation. The call for blood by our Acting Prime Minister had led to the vicious results resonating through the hall.
On the lobby's enclosed balcony lawyers, psychologists and volunteers sat taking testimony from the wounded of Amona, those who fought to save the tiny outpost near the community of Ofra in Samaria .
We watched a video of the event. A sense of anger permeated the room as we saw the Jewish army and Jewish police arrive in their Darth Vader costumes ready to spill blood. Batons clutched in their right hands swung ominously as they marched forward. Plastic helmets protected their heads and plastic shields protected their bodies. Our innocents truly believed the police would act with restraint. Our children came protected only with their knitted skullcaps, their prayers, and their desire to keep the barren hilltop part of Eretz Yisroel. How wrong they were. We watched our police beating, smashing, strangling and kicking our beloved children.
:Why did the teenagers go there?" asked a visiting American rabbi. "Look at how bloodied they are. Are they going to do it again? They shouldn't put themselves in danger."
"Did you see their faces?" I countered. "They were smiling. They are filled with pride. They fought for their land. They are angry, angry that they had not fought bodily for Gush Katif. Had they fought, perhaps Gush Katif would still be standing. Today they will fight. Tomorrow they will fight."
And the world watched with shame and horror as Jewish policeman beat Jewish children while a Jewish Acting Prime Minister, head of a political party that had never been voted into office, screamed for the blood of religious youngsters. The country has gone mad.
IDA [pronounced Eeda] COMES HOME. Our granddaughter Ida is home. She reached the 2 kilogram weight and was released from hospital last night. The joy of her reunion with her sister Alma brought tears to my eyes. I watched my daughter Dafna's face. Her smile at seeing her twin babies together made me laugh and cry. She gathered them up in one blanket, put them on her folded knees and popped bottles into each hungry mouth. And we laughed and laughed.
We are moving to Nitzan next week. Our computer will be offline until reinstalled.
FROM HOTEL TO NITZAN
Neve Dekalim/Jerusalem Gold Hotel/Nitzan
February 26-March 2, 2006
The cartons and suitcases had been trucked in a week earlier. Family, friends, teenage volunteers, two granddaughters and my eighty-nine year old mother-in-law arrived to begin the process of moving into the notorious caravilla that we will call home for the next two to three years. The Expulsion Authority had sent us our final warning: leave the hotel or we will cease payment for your stay. We took a few extra days to put our caravan into order so that we would move into a livable home.
The move from our hotel, from our one small room, frightened us. We are now on our own. A hotel is a womblike existence; food, laundry, cleaning needs are provided. But we ate according to schedule. We received an early morning knock at the door to remind us the cleaning crew was here and we had better vacate or they wouldn't be back for hours.
The Jerusalem Gold was welcoming after their initial shock at putting up with families who never checked out. The owner, Ariella Doron, provided us with rooms for day care centers, used clothing storage, sanitary supplies, a beauty care center, a bulletin board for notices and, attached to each door, a plastic bag for internal mail. The cooks were especially caring, providing children's as well as adult food, the platters always aesthetically pleasing.
We learned to tolerate other families and their kids. We watched children grow independent, serving themselves and younger siblings. We watched parents coping with large families in small rooms. Never did I hear an altercation between families but only concern for a family in need. I watched with the deepest respect how a family of thirteen cared for their beloved grandmother.
We became inured to the sound of buses pulling into the back entrance of the Central Bus Station and the endless announcements of lost backpacks on the public address system. We watched trucks pouring out their junk products for the station's mall. We watched sappers blow up suspicious objects left at the station, always a reminder that terror lurks everywhere.
Now it was our turn to wheel the hotel trolley to our room bringing the last pieces of luggage and our laundry bag to the car. We kissed our friends goodbye. We are the last to leave for Nitzan. Those who remain are waiting for their caravillas now being built in the Ein Tzurim refugee camp some fifteen minutes from Nitzan.
Six months have passed since our expulsion and it is time to get on with our lives.
We came into the Nitzan refugee camp. There are 240 families here, each of us locked into our dun colored trailer with its red tile roof. The water pipe on the lawn is still there. We have put blocks of wood around it to remind us that danger lurks under our feet.
Each day another room is made ready. The showers work. The heating system blows hot air no matter how we adjust the thermostat. We bought curtains to cover the picture window that has no shutters and overlooks two ship containers plopped down by our neighbors. I've spoken to our Neve Dekalim gardener to put in a small but effective garden to camouflage the view.
The problems of a community largely out of work have been brought to my doorstep. The needs of the people are enormous. Their frustration and hurt are there and smoldering. There is so much I need to do.
During the first week old neighbors from Neve Dekalim and from the hotel brought us prepared food. Our first Shabbat we were welcomed by Rav Yigal Kaminetzky. A family from Kibbutz Shalavim delivered our Shabbat meals. We wanted to be alone in a quiet setting after months of shared meals. We prayed, we ate, we slept. The first Shabbat of our new lives in the refugee camp of Nitzan.
Shabbat Shalom to you, our dear friends.
A HOUSE IS NOT A HOME
by Misanthropic Moshe
February 26-March 2, 2006
A house is not a home. Not necessarily. And this house in Nitzan will never be our home. Though Rachel has worked her customary magic and turned a pigsty into a palace, this house cannot be our home.
This house cannot be our home, not because it is a temporary residence. We are committed to living here for a minimum of two years, maximum of four. But few things are as permanent as those labeled temporary, and there is no way of knowing how long we will actually be here. And Rachel managed to turn that most temporary and impersonal of dwellings, a hotel room, into more of a home than this can ever be.
This house cannot be our home because it was built by the bastards who destroyed our home in Neve Dekalim. This cannot be our home because we enter it under duress, and not of our own free will. Many refer to this as the Nitzan Refugee Camp. A high-class refugee camp, but a refugee camp nonetheless. But refugee signifies someone fleeing a conflict or natural disaster and being cared for by a neighboring state or aid agency. Perhaps we would better be described as displaced persons, making Nitzan a D.P. Camp. My own view is that we were not onlookers to a conflict but participants -- I would like to say combatants, but we were far too genteel to have earned that title -- which makes our present domicile an Internment Camp, even a POW Camp.
[Aside: A complicated subject, why we are in Nitzan. Technically -- theoretically -- we can go where we want. Practically, there is no choice. I wanted to go to a community in Judea or Samaria, where the next stage of the struggle -- yes, even though I still believe it is hopeless -- will take place. Rachel wanted Nitzan because those most in need are here and she feels her Operation Dignity charitable work requires her to be here. And she says we are too old to go through another expulsion. Add to the mix that our Bolshevik government has stated that no compensation will be paid to any of the Gush Katif refugees who go to Judea or Samaria. So, instead of tilting at windmills in Judea and Samaria we are moping in Nitzan.]
The move from the hotel was exhausting. Certainly it was murderously so for Rachel, who runs between setting up the house and helping Dafna and the babies, suffering all the while from severe sciatica. Three weeks ago Friday our belongings were transferred from the shipping container behind Dafna's home and we worked every day, except Shabbat, to get things set up. More accurately, Rachel has worked every day. Ari and his girls have worked. My brother and my mother have worked. Girls from a local high school have worked. A Russian couple who helped in Neve Dekalim have worked. I run errands, carry out garbage, busy myself putting my cd's in order -- they had been packed alphabetically, but young volunteers who wouldn't know their ABC's from their XYZ's were ordered to empty the boxes and fill the shelves and the result is chaos -- and try and stay out of everyone?s way. My friend David who runs a large company tells me I have achieved upper management status.
There have been moments of grand guignol during the week of preparation. I was sent to an office to complain about something or other and, while standing in a crowd waiting to attract the attention of some puffed up clerk, someone started pointing at me and yelling "I know you! I know you! But you don't know me!" All conversation ceased as everyone, clerkie included, stared at the both of us. "I was there when you were wounded on the Kissufim road. After they took you away I found your finger on the floor of your car!" I just stared. What was I supposed to say? So I said, "What did you do with it?", fully prepared to hear that he had pickled it or mounted it on a frame over his fireplace. "I gave it to an army rabbi," he said.
[For years after my right arm was blown off I was obsessed with its final resting place. The katyusha had exploded just behind me, at waist level, and I saw my arm fly into Egyptian territory, the arm itself obscured by the sleeve of my uniform, the sun glinting off my watch as the limb spiraled away. The IDF Rabbinate was supposed to have retrieved it but that is hardly possible considering where it landed. So my arm is somewhere in the Land of Lost Limbs. I've hardly spent time wondering about my finger, which I know was retrieved. It was certainly disposed of halachically, though I prefer to think of it as being in the Field of Forgotten Fingers. If there is an afterlife for detached digits I hope it has found a disembodied nose to ... scratch.]
The actual move was made a week ago Sunday. Initially most things that can go wrong, went wrong. Our air conditioner is firm X and we were given remotes from firm Y. That's been straightened out. Cable tv has been hooked up but the remote only gets you some cooking channel in an Eastern European country I cannot identify. [Anyone know of a land where rat pie is a delicacy?] The washing machine was hooked up without the small rubber disk on the hose connecting it to the water, so one has to wear a bathing suit while doing laundry. Our four-burner stove is now a three-burner stove as we lost a part. And on and on it goes. Still, pictures are hung throughout the house so it clearly is a La Passionara dwelling.
The house seems large, 90 square meters, with four bedrooms and two bathrooms. In fact it is very cramped, and though we have lived in far smaller places the sense of crowding is overwhelming. Perhaps we own too much. Certainly we're bouncing off each other the way we did in the hotel room.
It is shoddily built, rather, the building materials are shoddy. Plasterboard walls that you can punch a hole through, just leaning against them makes you fear collapse, and floor tiles that magically always look filthy. Wash them, scrub them, they still look like someone just threw up on them.
Here and there a surprising plus. We have two bathrooms, which means I can leave the toilet seat up without getting yelled at. And -- you are aware of my obsession with excretion and my passion for doing laundry -- as the front-loader washing machine is in my toilet I can combine these disparate pleasures. Sitting on the oval seat doing my thing while watching the clothes whirl in the spin cycle is an wholly unexpected delight.
The yard is problematic. The idiots who put the grass down -- the same mentally challenged folks responsible for the protruding pipe and short-circuiting sprinkler -- were supposed to level the ground before putting down the squares of grassy turf. But they didn't bother, so it's all hills and valleys and I stumble every time I walk through it. Most people leave their yards unadorned, either through lack of interest or lack of money or a refusal to enhance the enemy's property. But Rachel and our neighbors feel that we might as well live in beauty while we're here so she has gotten our Neve Dekalim gardener to fix things up. The cost is substantial but the results should be worth it. Of course there is a small fly in the yard ointment. A small black dog, domiciled two houses away, has chosen to fertilize our lawn. I'm going to find some way to skin the adorable little miscreant. [And I'll bet you thought I might actually get through an entire letter without mentioning dog poop...]
Also problematic is the noise level here. Not as horrific as the hotel and its Central Bus Station surroundings, but far worse than I imagined it would be. This is still a construction site and tractors and steamrollers abound, as do their noisy Arab operators. We are close to the main highway connecting Ashdod and Ashkelon and the truck traffic doesn't fade before midnight. An air force base is nearby and the jets roar overhead. An army base is adjacent and gunfire rings out all day. Railroad tracks parallel the highway and trains are frequent. [I'm developing a theory that the trains, generally idle when I'm in the yard reading, playing pinochle or strip-the-motor, sense when I'm getting into the car and hasten to close the road separating us from the highway.] Firecracker go off at all hours, this being the pre-Purim period. And buses, friendly and unfriendly, noisily crawl through our streets. The friendlies carry sympathetic visitors who get off to talk with Rachel. The unfriendlies carry visiting dignitaries whom the Expulsion Authority rushes through the town to show how happy and well-taken-care-of we are. These don't stop to talk to anyone.
More problematic for us, personally, is the nature of Nitzan itself. Israeli society in general is decidedly uncivil by Western standards. People are loud, aggressive, brutish. Those who are considerate of others are viewed as suckers, and the most corrupt are most admired. In the magical atmosphere that prevailed in Gush Katif there was an aura that induced calm even in times of great stress. Here in Nitzan the atmosphere is decidedly unmagical. Many people are broken by joblessness, hopelessness and a seemingly pointless existence. And those who are not broken are badly bent. I, who am a loner, find the atmosphere here oppressive but bearable. I fear most for Rachel, sensitive, gentle and outgoing.
Less problematic but more annoying is that I am gaining weight. In the weeks before the expulsion, unable to sit at the table in a house full of people, I began skipping meals. In the hotel I found the noise and atmosphere in the dining room simply torture, so I ate and ran. The result, though I myself hardly see and feel it, is a substantial weight loss. No, no need to panic, I'm not fading away. I've simply gone from obscenely obese to frightfully fat. What's interesting is that most people, with nothing to do in the hotel but eat, have gained enormous weight. In the narrow hotel hallways it was difficult to maneuver past people who had developed bulldozer-sized behinds. Now, here, I am able to go shopping and indulge myself as in days gone by. And my clothes are no longer loose. Alas...
It is almost midnight and I just stepped out for another cigar. Cars aplenty, groups of teenagers, the roar of trains and trucks. One of the things I hate about this place is that with the houses so close together, and so many street lamps, the sense of isolation I so cherished in Neve Dekalim is lost. One can't even see the stars, much less hear the waves.
Our first Shabbat -- with food brought in from outside as Rachel was too exhausted to cook -- was spent splendidly alone. We turned down all invitations and reveled in the relative silence. Friday night prayers, in a makeshift synagogue barely a fraction of the size of that in Neve Dekalim, found me surrounded by old friends and singing the old tunes. I could almost imagine... After prayers I spoke with a friend I hadn't seen since the expulsion. "We have been here two months," he said.
"How can you stand it?" I asked.
He looked at me as if I were mad. "After four months in a hotel? Praise God, this place seems like Paradise."
Have a good Shabbat, people.
OPERATION DIGNITY, now an amutah [a non-profit organization], is the umbrella organization to which the Band Aid Fund belongs. We are continuing to give money to each family from Neve Dekalim. The Simcha Fund aids families with brits, bat- and bar-mitzvahs and weddings. The Seed Fund helps families settle into Nitzan and other communities. Send contributions earmarked OPERATION DIGNITY to
Central Fund for Israel
Rehov Hagoel 13
Central Fund for Israel
attention: Arthur Marcus
Marcus Bros. Textiles
980 Sixth Avenue
New York, NY 10018 USA
Rachel Saperstein and her husband Moshe lived in Neve Dekalim, Gush
Katif, Gaza, Israel. Rachel Saperstein was a teacher at the Neve
Dekalim ulpana and a spokeswoman for the Katif Regional Council. Her
book, "Eviction: A Gush Katif Viewpoint", with photos by Moti Sender
can be ordered from www.pavilionpress.com.
Moshe Saperstein is a Jerusalem Diarist, one of the group of
Israelis who are recording their experiences living in Israel. 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
Rachel Saperstein and her husband Moshe lived in Neve Dekalim, Gush Katif, Gaza, Israel. Rachel Saperstein was a teacher at the Neve Dekalim ulpana and a spokeswoman for the Katif Regional Council. Her book, "Eviction: A Gush Katif Viewpoint", with photos by Moti Sender can be ordered from www.pavilionpress.com.
Moshe Saperstein is a Jerusalem Diarist, one of the group of Israelis who are recording their experiences living in Israel. 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.
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