HOME March-April 2008 Featured Stories Background Information News On The Web



by Nadav Shragai


The slogan "We will remember and return" is a moderate replacement for "We will not forget, we will not forgive" among some uprooted Gaza settlers. It turns out that it is difficult to live for years with anger and malice, which do not allow forgiveness. It is easier to pin new hopes on the dream of return.

Thus the memorial ceremonies held by some evacuees from the Gush Katif settlements are gradually assuming their own unique character. At the last event –– held on Tu Bishvat (Jewish Arbor Day, which fell in January this year) at the Kissufim Forest, the closest place to where their homes stood –– the evacuees spoke of their destroyed homes and their yearnings for their land, while the teenagers and younger children swore to return to the area from which they had been forcefully uprooted.

About two and a half years ago, they planted a forest here that was divided into 21 sections, one for each of the settlements in Gush Katif, and this year, they visited the site again. During the ceremony at Kissufim marking "two years of exile," Ami Shaked, the stalwart former chief of security for the Gaza Coast Regional Council, addressed the approximately 1,000 youngsters gathered there. His voice cracked as he echoed Joseph's last will, at the end of the Book of Genesis: "I am making an oath with you, children of Gush Katif, that you deal kindly with me. Even if I am very old, you shall take me with you, and if I die, you shall carry up my bones from here and bury me in the field that is mine on the border of the Muasi, under the palm tree."

A few weeks ago, many religious Zionist schools held a "Gush Katif Day." The programming for the day covered all aspects of the life that existed there for 35 years –– the world of Torah and education, the flourishing agriculture and the different communities –– as well as hopes for the future.

"The Gush Katif exiles are taking responsibility for the 'we will remember and return' legacy," said Rabbi Kobi Bornstein of the Katif Communities Council Documentation and Commemoration Center. "Gush Katif belongs to the whole Jewish people, but the uprooted have assumed the responsibility for the Jewish people's yearnings for that place."

Bornstein is not calling for breaking through the fences around Gaza. But he recently explained: "I tell people who wonder at our resolve, 'Now that we have returned to the Land of Israel, how difficult is it to return to Gush Katif?' After all, if 200 years ago we had heard students of the Vilna Gaon speaking about returning to Israel, we would have thought they were delusional. On the day of the Likud referendum (May 3, 2005), my children and I planted a carob tree beside our house. The house was destroyed, but not the tree. My children know that the carob tree is waiting for us, just as the lone oak tree waited for the return of Jews to Gush Etzion."

For many of the Gush Katif evacuees, this is an abstract dream, but they are unwilling to give it up. Today, most of them are preoccupied with the brutal war for survival, with no permanent homes or jobs and caravan sites that look more and more like the bygone transit camps. Soldiers in the Kissufim area speak of former residents of the Gush who come here and stand silently near what used to be the Kissufim crossing into Gush Katif and gaze tearfully at the horizon. Micha Hadad, principal of Midreshet Hadarom girls' seminary, which was once part of Neveh Dekalim and has relocated to Moshav Shekef, in the Lachish region, said he is among those who come "to listen to the silence and yearn."

Others have kept the keys to their destroyed homes, just like the Palestinian refugees who lost their homes 60 years ago.

Ari Odes, principal of the Midreshet Netzarim seminary, which has been rebuilt in Yavul in the Halutza Sands region, has been taking groups of tourists to observation points overlooking what was once Gush Katif. From the fence surrounding Netiv Ha'asara, the ruins of Nissanit are clearly visible just a few hundred meters away. Odes wants to encourage the memory of and yearning for Gush Katif, just as the children of Gush Etzion would gaze at the lone oak tree that was all that remained of that community (destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948), and as the residents of Jerusalem used to climb onto their rooftops before 1967, to look toward the Old City and the Western Wall.

There are even some who want to take action and make Kissufim into something more. Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the chief rabbi of Safed, has already participated in a march aimed at breaking through the Israel Defense Forces roadblocks on the way to Nissanit. Eliyahu was joined by Knesset members Uri Ariel and Aryeh Eldad (National Union). Eliyahu has also gotten rabbis, public figures and ordinary Israelis to sign a manifesto calling for a return to Gush Katif.

"We need 100 courageous people to come with sleeping bags and equipment ... We were expelled under false pretenses and we have to restore truth to its rightful place," said Eliyahu.

Eldad speaks openly of "demanding our right of return," warning: "Anyone who thinks the homes from which Gaza residents were exiled will be forgotten is deluding himself."

Ariel, who shares the idea that the time has come to demand this "right of return," says, "The mistake of the disengagement, which has brought such a terrible security situation on Israeli society, must be rectified."

Nadav Shragai is the author of At the Crossroads, the Story of the Tomb of Rachel (Jerusalem Studies, 2005); The Mount of Contention, the Struggle for the Temple Mount, Jews and Muslims, Religion and Politics since 1967 (Keter, 1995); and "Jerusalem is Not the Problem, It is the Solution," in Mister Prime Minister: Jerusalem, ed. Moshe Amirav (Carmel and the Florsheimer Institute, 2005). He has been writing for the Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz since 1983. Contact him at This article appeared March 6, 2008 in Haaretz


Return_________________________End of Story___________________________Return

HOME March-April 2008 Featured Stories Background Information News On The Web