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The Gush Katif-Sderot Connection
July 11, 2007
A phone call... "Rachel, why are you writing about the suffering in Sderot when your own Gush Katif people are still suffering? Here you are two years after your expulsion and you still have no home, barely any compensation, and many are still without employment. All attempts to set up permanent housing come to nothing. Rachel, open your eyes! See what's going on around you!"
"But I feel terrible about the people of Sderot," I reply. "They're living with the dread of rocket attacks. I lived that way for five years. I know what it can do to you. These people are also neglected."
We argued. We discussed. I saw no disconnect between Gush Katif and Sderot. They are one. The pain is real for both of us. Both peoples suffer from severe health problems. You cannot live with constant fear, a sense of helplessness and governmental neglect without severe mental and physical trauma. Many people from both communities suffer from depression, diabetes, cardiac dysfunction and cancer.
Two weeks ago our dear friend and former Neve Dekalim neighbor Yaakov Freiman died of a broken heart. He had buried his first wife in Gush Katif, and with the expulsion he and his second wife Miriam had to rebury her. Their story was filmed by another neighbor, Hadar Bashan. The film, "In the Freiman Kitchen", won a place in Jerusalem's Israel Film Festival and was shown several days ago.
We watch the elderly couple go from disbelief, anger, hope, prayers and finally resignation as they are expelled from their Gush Katif home. The audience, many from Gush Katif, caught in the turmoil of their emotions, sat stunned. They could not applaud. The tragedy had played out similarly in each of our homes. With his death Yaakov Freiman had become another casualty of the 'disengagement'.
I received a call from an Ashkelon social worker. "Rachel, can you help? One of your people needs intensive dental care. All of his teeth fell out. The trauma of the expulsion brought it on."
"I'll call people. Operation Dignity will pitch in with the cost. Somehow the money will come through."
Einat is a close friend. "Rachel, we are seeing more and more cases of miscarriages, infertility, marriages falling apart..."
"Rachel", says a voice on the phone, "can you continue paying a monthly NIS 1000 to the supermarket for the 'X' family. They're desperate."
What will become of my own people? What will become of the people of Sderot?
I witness the death of friends and the poverty and despair of once thriving neighbors. In Sderot I see the same. Tension, trauma and neglect affect both your mental and physical health.
We received a flyer, rolled up like a parchment and tied with a ribbon. The 'Youth of Neve Dekalim' are inviting the adults to the third Shabbat meal, keeping the Gush Katif tradition alive. "Remember our communal meal on the grass below the meeting hall? We do not want to forget our past as we move on to our future".
Our children are our hope.
This 9th of Av, as we remember the destruction of our holy temple and the city of Jerusalem, remember the destruction of Gush Katif. Two years later we weep for our past, live in the indignity of the present, and hope for a better future.
On the 10th of Av, Wednesday July 25th, the people of Gush Katif will march to Sderot carrying a Torah scroll to be placed in the Mishkan Ellah synagogue until our return to Gush Katif.
Two Years Later
July 31, 2007
We have been immersed in ceremonies, exhibits, films, tv talk shows, and even an evening of religious rock singers lauding the people of Gush Katif who were expelled two years ago from our homes and communities. We went to some of these events, choosing those most meaningful to us despite the extraordinarily hot and humid weather. We must not allow the people of Israel to forget.
Last Saturday night the program, 'Diary', was shown on Israel Broadcasting Association tv Channel 1. I had walked with the crew near the kassam rocket display in Sderot. "This is the direct result of our expulsion from Gush Katif" I explained. "Freedom for the Arabs to commit wholesale attacks on Israel and its people."
The farmers of Gush Katif have finally taken to the streets. A hunger strike near the Knesset brought the plight of our growers to the people of Israel. Two years later they are still without land, homes and employment.
On the IBA English News one of our farmers, Avraham Sher, spoke of his imminent expulsion from Kibbutz Carmia where he and other Gush Katif farmers have been living. The government's two year contract with the kibbutz is over and the sides are fighting over renewal terms. August 15th is the date that these farmers, caught in the middle, once again face the fate of the wandering Jew.
The day after the Fast of the Ninth of Av we attended a ceremony near what had been the Kissufim crossing, our former entry point to Gush Katif. My husband didn't want to go but I insisted. His tears began to flow as we drove down the old familiar roads and didn't stop un/til long after our departure. We couldn't even approach the Gush Katif memorial at the border as the Arabs fired eight mortars in its direction. Two years later we are still unable to mourn properly for our destroyed homes.
My husband noted with bitter satisfaction that Kibbutz Kissufim, adjacent to the former crossing, whose members harassed us and held signs saying "End the occupation! Destroy Gush Katif!" and rejoiced at our expulsion, now exists in name only. Incessant shelling of Gush Katif had only strengthened us. But incessant shelling of the kibbutz following our expulsion has driven these enlightened souls to abandon their homes. One family, reportedly, remains to prevent looting.
Our valiant teenagers made an effort to return to the northernmost Gush Katif community of Nissanit, now occupied by the IDF, on the border with Ashkelon. Army and police dragged our children away as they tried to cross the fence and return home.
I watched a television documentary about the expulsion showing army generals discussing the best ways to drag Jews from their homes. I had to turn away. Two years later I am still filled with anger.
Enough! Two years later we still live in refugee camps. The government talks of future expulsions from Judea and Samaria. Terrorist murderers are released from prison. Two years later we watch the mistakes of the past being repeated.
Migratory Birds, Migratory Refugees
August 17, 2007
"Hello, Mrs. Saperstein. I'm a reporter for the Jerusalem Post. I'd like your opinion on the demonstration planned for this Friday by the Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel against your building on Hazan Hill in Lachish. Why are you building there? You will be in the path of the migrating birds that fly over Lachish twice a year and you'll disturb their nesting area. Why don't you build elsewhere? People from Tel Aviv need this green area to visit."
Think fast, Rachel! Surely you've got an answer. Don't be sarcastic! Don't scream "What about my nest?" Where will Gush Katif refugees migrate to when we are forced to leave our refugee camps?
I took a deep breath, calmed my charged emotions, and began to speak.
"Our first project in the Lachish area, Egoz Hill, was scrapped because the Israel Electrical Company refused to move dangerous pylons. We negotiated for Hazan Hill and are now receiving government approval and permits. Surely migrating birds, who manage to avoid the electric pylons and will manage to avoid us as well, should not take precedence over 500 families waiting for a permanent home."
"How many people have visited the Lachish area?" I asked. "How many even know of its existence. Our presence there will draw visitors to see the area's wonders and beauties. We will develop the long-neglected caves in the region. We will build nature trails in the footsteps of our prophets and ancient kings. We will guide the people and tell the stories of our Biblical history and those who trod upon these rolling hills.
"We will build a hotel and spa so visitors can enjoy its unspoiled beauty while being treated physically and spiritually with Jewish concepts of health and healing.
"We will place proper observation posts near bird sanctuaries so our visitors can truly enjoy the migration?
"We will establish a residential school for handicapped youngsters.
"An assisted-living hotel and apartment complex will meet the needs of our elderly.
"Our own homes, built with the environment as our guide, will be nestled in the hills along with small cabins for low-cost family vacations.
"Everything that we do -- everything" I continued, "will be compatible with the unique ecosystem of the area. That is why we ask SPNI to welcome us, to work with us, to lend us their wisdom, experience and desire to protect our beautiful homeland.
"The wildflowers will continue to blossom. The birds will pass unhindered. Wherever the people of Gush Katif live, the land will be blessed."
August 28, 2007
"I'm from Gush Katif" I say.
"There is no Gush Katif. Where do you live now, Rachel?"
"I live in the refugee camp of Nitzan. I'm still from Gush Katif."
Two years ago I lived in the pretty township of Neve Dekalim in Gush Katif. Today I live in a neighborhood called Neve Dekalim in the refugee camp called Nitzan. Nitzan lies between the coastal cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon on the Mediterranean south of Tel Aviv.
Four hundred fifty families live in Nitzan; two hundred in Neve Dekalim. Other neighborhoods are named for other Gush Katif communities. The old signs from Gush Katif stand in front of each neighborhood as residents cling to every remnant from the past. At the southernmost point of Nitzan are the neighborhoods of secular residents, with a separate access road so they can enter and leave on Shabbat.
Each area's street names are connected to nature. Ours are named for trees. We feel especially fortunate that our street name is Tamar, or date palm, as that is also the name of our elder daughter. Nearby are streets named for descriptions of the sea, and just beyond, for birds and streams.
There are at least six synagogues in Nitzan, with furniture and wall hangings rescued from Gush Katif. One mikve serves the community.
A small community center, a park and a full-size basketball court are in a public area. The Orange Gallery and B'nei Menashe Motif structures stand on their own site quite near our home.
Yellow 'moshiach' flags flutter in every direction as the Chabad representative, Rabbi Kirshenzaft, has his home, office and library nearby.
A playground that had stood near my home in Neve Dekalim has been reassembled here in Nitzan. Though poorly maintained with trash swirling about, at least our children can use it. Our government had wanted to offer it as a gift to the Gazans after our expulsion, but the American Jew who was the benefactor for the park was infuriated. He even paid thousands of dollars extra to have it dismantled and reassembled here.
Ship containers, repository of our belongings that couldn't fit into the 'caravillas', are everywhere. Some have become additional rooms, offices, businesses, even apartments for young couples. With some wood siding a container looks like a rustic cabin. But most containers, ugly and rusting, are an eyesore.
All the caravillas are exactly alike in design, substandard building materials and shoddy construction. There is no insulation: air conditioners run round the clock in the stifling heat; heaters, in the winter damp. Small plots surround each house. Many are filled by ship containers. Others are mostly weed filled and overgrown. A few, reflecting the aesthetic needs of the occupants, are well-tended gardens.
There are five to nine houses on each small street, with a parking lot serving as playground. Most homes are sparkling clean, with brown squeegee, floor rag and water pail decorating the entrance. The lots, however, are a depository of cigarette butts, candy wrappers and nut shells. This is very Israeli and perfectly respectable. I am looked upon with some amusement as I sweep the lot. I'm still Jewish American. My squeegee, etc, are kept in a closet.
One can often see plastic bags filled with stale bread tied to the metal frames of the dumpsters. Having been told that it is a sin to throw away bread, the residents leave it to the garbage collectors to commit the sin. Of course the cats claw the bags open long before the collectors dispose of them, spilling the bread onto the ground like manna from heaven for ants, roaches and mice. A practiced sinner, I untie still intact bags and throw them in the trash.
A health clinic, mini-market and greengrocer constitute our commercial center. An enterprising couple have converted a ship container into a store selling spices and health food. Other containers and pre-fabs contain offices for the bureaucratic apparatus with which even a refugee camp cannot exist in this country. Each of us has a mailbox, but postal services -- stamps, registered mail, paying bills -- are in a mobile post office that arrives between ten and eleven every morning.
More important to my mental well-being than any of the above services, Sarah my hairdresser from Gush Katif has her 'salon' in a nearby container.
Schoolchildren are bused to nearby communities but there are nurseries, kindergartens, a small but attractive library, and rooms have been allocated for youth movement activities.
There are no bomb shelters though we are already in Kassam range. A fire would destroy a home in minutes, and there is a working smoke detector in each room. They go off so often, for no apparent reason, that many have removed their batteries. The detector in our kitchen sounds whenever we fry an egg. Opening the front door turns it off.
Just as we were in Gush Katif, we are blessed with charity collectors. And as it was there, so it is here. No one is turned away.
We are looking forward to building our future homes both in the dunes of upper Nitzan and the rolling hills of Lachish. May the Almighty grant us these wishes for the coming year.
Shana Tova. A Happy New Year.
Help our people take their fate into their own hands.
Contributions, earmarked for OPERATION DIGNITY, should be sent to
Central Fund for Israel, 980 Sixth Avenue, New York 10018, USA
Central Fund for Israel, 13 Hagoel Street, Efrat 90435, Israel
Contributions sent to Central Fund are USA tax-deductible, ID#13-9933006
Before her community's expulsion from Gush Katif, Rachel Saperstein
was a teacher at the N'vei Dekalim ulpana and a spokeswoman for the
Katif Regional Council. She and her husband Moshe, were among the
thousands of Jews kicked out of their homes in Gush Katif, in the Gaza
Strip, and forced into temporary quarters so dismal, their
still-temporary flimsy trailers in Nitzan, seemed a step up. Contact
them at ruchimo@.netvision.net.il
Before her community's expulsion from Gush Katif, Rachel Saperstein was a teacher at the N'vei Dekalim ulpana and a spokeswoman for the Katif Regional Council. She and her husband Moshe, were among the thousands of Jews kicked out of their homes in Gush Katif, in the Gaza Strip, and forced into temporary quarters so dismal, their still-temporary flimsy trailers in Nitzan, seemed a step up. Contact them at ruchimo@.netvision.net.il
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