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by Paula Stern


Posted by Paula Stern, November 19, 2005.

Towards the end of August, I drove from settlement to settlement in Gush Katif. It was surrealistic because the army was in the process of destroying the towns, one at a time. People were removing windows and doors and even roof tiles in Kfar Darom. The army was destroying the homes in Netzer Hazani and Gan Or. Moshav Katif was standing, but empty. People were still walking around in Neve Dekalim, and Gadid and Ganei Tal had no electricity or water, only their synagogues and public buildings were left standing. Atzmona was still crowded with families, quickly packing their belongings, uncertain of their future.

In Slav, one of the smallest of the yishuvim, there were three pre-fab houses waiting to be moved, dozens of soldiers sitting around doing nothing, and others guarding the gates. We saw where the synagogue had once stood. A pre-fab building, it had already been removed. A Bezek phone remained as a stark memory that this had once been an Israeli town. As I was walking back towards the gate, I saw a toy bicycle, crushed in the rubble of a home. I looked away, saddened for a small child without his toy. My eyes drifted to the edge of the pathway, to a plant with several flowers growing in the sand. The flowers were white and pure and so beautiful. Amidst all the ruins, it called out to me.

I took a picture of the flowers knowing that Israel's impending evacuation would include cutting off the water that nurtured it. In a few short days, it would die. The Gush would be turned over to the Palestinians. The battle to save Gush Katif was over. The government had won the war it had waged against its own people and I was seeing the proof of its merciless efficiency in the way the towns were being destroyed, dismantled and erased. I took a final look at Slav, at what a handful of people had created.

Life is sometimes about the little things we can do amid the greater wrongs we cannot stop. Silly as it seems, I didn't want to abandon the little flowers. I found a broken box, dug up the roots and took the flower and a bucketful of surrounding sand back to Maaleh Adumim.

This was the end of August, a time when I believed that we Israelis would nurture the people of Gush Katif and help them through their pain. We had uprooted them, as I was uprooting the little flower, but I thought that even transplanted from the place that they had created, the communities would be loved and cherished. Whatever our politics, I still believed that Israelis would rally together and integrate our fellow Israelis. Instead, we have produced 9000 refugees. We have made them homeless, jobless, and abandoned.

It isn't right to deprive someone of their home, certainly not without even ensuring that they'll have another community, decent schools, access to their own property, jobs and the ability to make new lives. It isn't right to just let a little flower die, abandoned and alone. Had the government told the truth, that they planned on uprooting these people, moving them from place to place five or six times, packing them into tiny, leaking tin huts, making the children change schools, and do everything to divide the communities, I cannot believe Israelis would have accepted this. So, the government lied. Bassi and Sharon spent thousands of shekels on radio commercials that told listeners there was a solution for each family, but they spent little real effort on finding real solutions.

It turns out the little flower that I dug up is some sort of sand lily. I brought it back and replanted it and a few days later, it seemed to be doing fine. A new home, a little care, the attention it deserves and a safe environment was all it needed. My father is so much better with plants than I am and I was afraid that I'd over-water it, under-water it, give it too much sun, or too little. After being uprooted, the plant, like the people of Gush Katif, deserved to be loved and protected. I shipped it off to Petach Tikvah hoping it would thrive. It was such a different environment from Gush Katif, but with the proper care, I knew it would be fine.

Had we taken care of the people of Gush Katif, ensured that they had land on which to farm, compensation money waiting for them so that they could immediately start rebuilding, they too might have been fine. I have yet to understand what greater purpose was served by rushing to evict them. We certainly haven't gotten peace or security. Our soldiers are on alert every day with new terror warnings, as they were before. We are still victims of rocket attacks, as we were before.

After three months, many of the refugees still have no work. Many are still in hotels, awaiting temporary housing solutions until permanent housing solutions can be found. Most still have not received compensation; many have not even received the required advance that the High Courts ordered had to be paid immediately. Most have been denied access to their belongings, which are locked up in shipping containers. Hundreds of coats that were donated to help the refugees through the winter (now that their belongings are locked away) were stolen from the storage house before they could be distributed.

To add to the absurdity of the situation, Israel Electric Company decided it would charge the refugees a fee for disconnecting the electricity from the homes and greenhouses from which they were forcibly expelled by the government. Banks have threatened and in some cases frozen the accounts of the refugees to ensure that they receive mortgage payments for houses that the government took, despite the fact that the people have still not received any compensation to offset this confiscation.

Life is sometimes about the little things we can do amid the greater wrongs we cannot stop. Where the government has failed, individuals and corporations are succeeding in a small way. Some companies are reaching out, offering retraining and jobs. The people of Gush Katif have created Operation Dignity and the Yochanan Fund to help support the various communities in their attempts to stay together and meet their ongoing daily needs.

Doctors and speech therapists and counselors continue to volunteer their services on an individual basis and wherever they go, the refugees are welcomed by communities who offer what they can, knowing the government still is not doing enough.

My father called tonight. The flower has given off several dozen shiny black seeds. In the spring, he will plant them and the flower and all of its offshoots will flourish. Where will the people of Gush Katif be in the summer? Will we help them flourish, or will we abandon them?

Paula R. Stern is a technical writer, founder and documentation manager of WritePoint Ltd and part of the Techshoret Jerusalem Technical Writers Group. Contact her at or go to her website


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