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Yom Pekuda ("D Day") had arrived! Sharon had sealed off Gush Katif. Yesha, the Council of Jewish Settlements in Yehudah (Judea), Shomron (Samaria), and Aza (Gaza) had called out the "troops". In a three day march we would march from Netivot to Gush Katif and break the siege. Every warm body counted! In B'Sheva, Makor Rishon and various handouts, the message was the same: "Take a sleeping bag, some food and water and COME to Netivot! The more people there, the greater chance of success!"
Sagely shaking my head, I said, "That's good for the Tz'irim (young folk) but I am not as young as I used to be. Sleeping bag? I have not slept under the stars in over 40 years and besides I have back problems".
I had many good reasons why I could not go. I had to write articles and prepare lectures. And if I did go, would it really make a difference? But I also had to look at myself in the mirror. How many times had I pompously orated about the importance of holding Gush Katif and the northern Shomron? The idea of Jews in driving 10,000 Jews out of their homes and destroying 25 flourishing settlements in Eretz Yisrael and handing them over to the Hamas was obscene!
Haratzachta Vegam Yarashta? (Have you murdered and taken possession?). What about security? Most of the population centers of Israel would be exposed to terrorist rockets! Everyone knew it, including the Sharon Government but it did not seem to bother them. All the experts agreed that millions of Jews would be at risk! Ergo, the time had come for Catriel to put his precious body where his mouth was. I borrowed a sleeping bag, packed my Tallit and Tefillin, a sliced rye bread, a container of Skippy peanut butter, bottles of water, changes of clothes and underwear and off I went. I would go with friends by car.
Monday, July 18:
As we approached Netivot, we heard on the radio that the police ("because of secret information received") had declared the rally "illegal" and would prevent its taking place. Sure enough, we encountered police on the road turning private cars and buses away. But our driver was no slouch and somehow persuaded the police to let us through. (We had put all belongings bearing the criminal color orange -- symbol of the struggle -- out of view). He explained that we were on our way to a seminar at some institution or another and we did look very professorial!).
Being totally familiar with the area, he found alternative routes around a second barricade. Surprised to see a private car so close to our goal, the police at the third barrier stopped us and we could not go further. But we had made it to Shuva, a small Moshav not all that far from Netivot. "No problem", said he, "We will drive through the fields."
We were not the only car raising clouds of dust in the parched fields. We saw cars and trucks ahead and behind us. We saw dozens of orange clad people (Ketumim) of all ages striding through the fields on foot to Netivot. Under the blazing sun, whole families marched together. The men carried camping equipment, women had babies in their arms (slightly older children were strapped on their back) and the scores of children were carrying bundles of food. Together, proudly, they trudged through the fields.
Entering Netivot, we parked not far from the piazza near the Tziyun of the Baba Sali. We had heard on the radio that only 150 "demonstrators from the extreme right" had managed to elude the police, but when we arrived we saw 30,000 singing and saying Tehillim. We had made it to Netivot, the first leg of our journey. It was 5:00 p.m.
Others were not so fortunate. Naive person that I am, I did not realize what the bald statement that I heard on the radio that the police did not permit buses transporting "right-wing demonstrators" to precede to Netivot meant. Our friends the Nussbaums were waiting at the corner of Kanfei Nesharim and Ba'al She'iltot (the agreed upon pick-up spot in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood in Jerusalem) to board buses at 2:30 p.m. The crowd was comprised of people of all ages: young and old, men and women, boys and girls, even babes in arms.
Police motorcycles were cruising the area. A few minutes later the police burst upon the scene: The dreaded Yassam (riot control), Border Police, and regular police -- a "riot" of uniforms grey, green and blue. With sub-machine guns, gas grenades, and clubs they would prevent the citizens of Kiryat Moshe from boarding buses scheduled to take them to Netivot. The buses were forced to move on, causing severe financial losses to the bus companies. In many places, the police actually confiscated the bus drivers' licenses!
The crowd started moving towards the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva. In front of the Yeshiva was a line of Parashim -- mounted police. (Last week I read a news report that the police imported 500 horses from Germany. "One horseman is worth 10 policemen on foot in dispersing a demonstration" a "senior police spokesman" boasted). Then the grey, green and blue clad Israeli "forces of law and order" herded the people of Kiryat Moshe into a garden adjacent to the Yeshiva.
Using bullhorns, they screamed "Get off the sidewalks" and Parashim galloped up and down in front of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva to ensure that no citizen of Kiryat Moshe dared walk on the sidewalk. Prevented from boarding their buses, the people of Kiryat Moshe and in the rest of the country received a valuable lesson in "Israeli democracy". A total of three hundred and twenty busses were stopped. While the Nussbaums never did make it to Netivot, many others did.
The crowd in Baba Sali Square grew as more and more people succeeded in finding their way through the fields. While hundreds of police were taking pictures of the participants from all angles, various Rabbanim spoke. The crowd said Tehillim and various sages blew the Shofar. To the joy of the crowd, HaRav Mordecai Eliyahu, former Chief Rabbi of Israel, arrived by helicopter and was greeted by singing and dancing.
At 8:00 p.m. the politicians took over. Former Knesset Chairman Dov Shilansky, M.K. Rav Yitzchak Levy and M.K. Dr. Yuri Stern spoke. Perhaps the most inspiring speaker was Druze M.K. Iyub Kara who assured the crowd, "Druze Lo Megareish Yehudi!" (A Druze will never drive out a Jew!). Dr. Aryeh Eldad, the former chief medical officer of Tzahal and the son of the legendary Dr. Yisrael Eldad spoke. Finally we began to march. I marched almost at the front.
Around 9:00 p.m. we were stopped by a police barrier. There were rows of police with linked arms with a bus parked right across the road. While The Powers That Be "negotiated", we sat down on the road. By now our numbers had reached 50,000. We sang songs. There were Ma'ariv Minyanim (evening prayer groups) galore and Rav Avineir's oratory electrified the crowd. It was also the first time I heard the song, sung to a haunting Breslov melody, "Am HaNetzach Lo Mefacheid Meiderech Aruka..." (The Eternal People is not afraid of a long way).
We sat for two hours before we could continue. On either side of us were thousands of police, soldiers and Parashim. I saw water cannon and portable detention cages. At the front of the column of marchers was an enthusiastic group of singing Chabadniks holding aloft a red Chupah over a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll). A special Sefer Torah had been written at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, N.Y. for the beleaguered people of Gush Katif and the Chabadniks were delivering it!
Despite the lateness of the hour, everyone was in a good humor. When well after midnight we saw the lines of chemical toilets, we knew that we had reached our first resting place. Some groups were quite organized. For example the contingent from Beit-El set up a huge tent for their group. Rapidly a "tent city" rose on the stony open ground.
Not having a tent I plopped down on the open ground and opened my sleeping bag. For the first time in over 40 years I slept under the stars. Unfortunately, I couldn't see them because the whole area was completely lit up with flood lights. But I had thought to bring a blindfold left over from my last trip to the States and they came in very handy. Exhausted, still in my clothes, I dropped in seconds.
Tuesday, July 19:
When I woke up around 4:00 a.m. the whole place was still brightly lit up. I freshened up as best as I could under the circumstances, got up, and looked around. I saw thousands of tents in all directions. Small and shaped like pyramids, they are very light and when disassembled they can be easily fitted in small bags.
We were encamped in a huge shadeless expanse. Thousands and thousands of police and soldiers had surrounded our encampment. As people woke up, they started organizing their belongings and mothers were feeding their children. Long lines formed before the chemical toilets.
Donning my Tallit and Tefillin, I joined one of the many early Minyanim (morning prayer services) which spontaneously formed. When finished, I returned to my "spot" and had breakfast, rye bread and Skippy peanut butter. I didn't even remember when I ate last. After downing a bottle of water, I packed up and started to wander around. Indefatigable Chabadniks were putting on Tefillin on the soldiers and there was no lack of customers.
For the first time I was able to look at the soldiers. Adolescents in uniform forced into an impossible position, many of them were simply embarrassed to make eye contact with us. I recalled an article I recently read written by a man who was part of the "security forces" that evacuated Yamit over two decades ago. Still subject to nightmares, his conscience tortures him to this day.
Suddenly we heard an announcement. We are to be evacuated! Everyone immediately is to collect their belongings and run quickly to adjacent K'far Maimon. "If you are still wearing your Tefillin, do not take the time to remove them!" So we ran and no one interfered. The radio said in a typical distortion that only a few made it into K'far Maimon before it was sealed off. K'far Maimon was much more suitable for camping out and there is plenty of shade! We could not have survived in that totally exposed "parking lot"!
Sights of K'far Maimon
Tractors pulling flatcars loaded down with laughing children.
A swarm of bees resting on an oil tank.
Children collecting around a little pond looking at ducks, chickens, roosters and even a mallard duck complete with green head and white stripe.
Lines and lines of chemical toilets being set up.
Huge black tanks of drinking water being set up at strategic places
A truly magnificent Beit Knesset
Some of the most amazing cactus gardens in front of the homes. They were so gorgeous that they did not look real. But they were!
Orange T shirts, orange ribbons, orange hats, orange...orange...orange...
Some of the T shirts that the young girls were wearing were inscribed Kiatanat Ma'asiyahu ("the prison Ma'asiyahu summer camp") in honor of their having been arrested and incarcerated there for blocking the roads. There are still some 13 and 14 year old girls who have been locked up for over a month.
Children wrapping themselves in orange flags like robes.
Hundreds of journalists, photographers and television crews from all over the world, C.N.N., B.B.C., etc. waiting with baited breath for the violence that never broke out.
Above all, the incredible hospitality of the people of K'far Maimon. They opened their homes and hearts for their 50,000 unexpected guests. I have no doubt that in future generations, legends will be told about the graciousness of these wonderful people.
Everyone found their place. The "upper classes" had their tents, the rest of us "plebs" under the vault of heaven. One area was set aside for Banot (girls), another area for Banim (boys) and the families had their own area. A veritable city of tents arose, green, blue, white, yellow and orange. I recalled Bil'am's blessing, "How goodly are thy tents, O' Jacob, they dwelling places O Israel" and Rashi's pertinent comment, "Because he saw that their doors were not opposite each other (ensuring privacy)". There were non-stop Shi'urim and all sorts of activities for the children. We heard Rav Druckman speak, Rav Avineir, the Rabbanim of Gush Katif. Sitting under the blazing sun, my nose and arms were getting very red.
I saw a line of children waiting quietly in front of a house and I wandered over to see why. The people who lived there were giving them impromptu showers with a garden hose. (I was so tempted to get into line but I restrained myself). After ingesting some more rye bread and Skippy peanut butter, I stretched out and took a nap. I woke up just in time to witness a parade marching up and down "Main Street". It was the "Studentim" of the Ta'ei Hakatome, the "Orange Cells", Gush Katif activists from the various universities, the Techniyon and other institutions of higher learning. Distinguished by their orange mortarboards, they sang songs and carried signs. Perhaps the most telling was one which read "Lamedinah Ein Mo'ed Bet" (A country does not get a second chance).
Sights of K'far Maimon
A glider flying above the encampment with Yehudi Lo Megareish Yehudi (A Jew does not drive out a Jew) emblazoned on the wings. To the delight of the children, the pilot dropped hundreds of orange bracelets.
Night and day police helicopters constantly flying overhead making the most infernal racket.
A man dozing on a hammock hanging between two trees.
A poster which showed Sharon behind bars which said, "Hahitnatkut Lo Tatzil Otcha" (The "disengagement" will not save you). [July 26, 2005 -- "Attorney General Menachem Mazuz announced Tuesday evening that he intends to issue an indictment against M.K. Omri Sharon the Prime Minister's son -- for allegedly violating campaign finance laws, forging corporate documents, breach of trust, and lying under oath. Omri Sharon is alleged to have committed the crimes during his father's bid for chairmanship of the Likud as well as the prime ministership (the so-called 'straw companies' affair). Omri Sharon faces a maximum prison sentence of five years if convicted of the charges"].
Cellular phones hanging from every available electric plug being recharged. Many residents of K'far Maimon invited people in to recharge their phones while offering their guests cold drinks with ICE.
Saw perhaps 5 cigarettes the whole time.
Yellow "Mashiach" (Messiah) flags flapping in the breeze.
Young Ketumim going around collecting papers and other debris in huge plastic bags and bringing them to pre-designated points. Garbage trucks would remove the refuse later. 50,000 people can make a lot of dirt! Keep K'far Maimon clean!
The appearance of hundreds of cartons filled with ice-cold apples and plums, a gift from the people of Nov in the Golan. Bless them!
Announcements over the loudspeaker noting where lost children could be collected.
Soldiers on one side of the fence and Ketumim on the other davening Mincha together.
Soldiers and Ketumim passing apples and cookies to each other through holes in the fence.
Three fourteen year old boys with orange T-shirts emblazoned Yehudi Lo Megareish Yehudi (Jews do not expel Jews) eating Shwarma with a group of soldiers.
Towards evening impromptu Kumsitzes all over the place. They played music of Eretz Yisrael, Carlbach Niggunim and the latest "Gush Katif hits".
That night we remained in K'far Maimon.
I woke up very early, soaking wet from the dew of heaven. Once again I joined the first Minyan in the Beit K'nesset and we said the Shmoneh Esrei as the sun came up. Time passes in what has become a routine, Shi'urim (classes), wandering around, getting into conversations, and fantasizing about taking a cold shower. I was wandering around and suddenly I heard a baby cry. It occurred to me that all time, despite the very uncomfortable conditions, this had been the first time that I heard a baby cry. The little children did not whine!
There was a sound truck from Lev Yehudi (an organization dedicated trying to persuade police and soldiers not to participate in the expulsion) driving up and down "Main Street", playing music and "Yamin, Smol, HaMefakeid, Ani Lo Yachol..." (Right, Left, Commander, I'm not able [to participate in the expulsion]...). The day passed and that night we were hoping to "break out".
5,000 more police and soldiers were transferred to K'far Maimon to reinforce the 20,000 that were already there. Amnon Lord pointed out that more Israelis were employed to seal off K'far Maimon than were used to encircle the Egyptian Third Army during the Yom Kippur War! Embarrassed by the thousands who succeeded in sneaking into K'far Maimon through the fields and orchards, they also surrounded K'far Maimon with barbed wire to seal it off hermetically from the outside world!
That evening we would march to Gush Katif! The atmosphere in the Beit Knesset where the main Mincha service took place was simply electrifying. Indescribable! Mamash Comminute Ruach (real community spirit). Fiery speeches were made by the Rabbanim climaxed by Rav Eliyahu Shapiro's inspiring address. The enthusiasm of the crowd was infectious. Backpacks and sleeping bags packed we were ready to go!
Naively perhaps, many of us had visions of Pinchas Wallenstein of Yesha as a latter day Charlton Heston (who played Moses in the "Ten Commandments") raising his staff, splitting the sea of police, soldiers, water cannon, horses and iron cages, and leading us straight to Gush Katif. But it was not to be.
At nightfall we began to march towards the gate of the K'far. Dozens of police helicopters circled overhead. Suddenly tens of thousands of throats burst into song: "Chayal, Shoteir, Ani Oheive Otcha" (Soldier, policeman, I love you). Again and again and again the crowd chanted the refrain: "Chayal, Shoteir, Ani Oheive Otcha".
This attitude can be contrasted with a very different spirit exhibited by the upper echelons of the police force.
Negev Region Commander Brigadier General Niso Shaham, not noticing -- maybe not caring -- that he was being taped, called on his men to "shit on" right-wing demonstrators at K'far Maimon last week. A Channel 10 reporter recorded Shaham shouting, "I know these Haredim [ultra-Orthodox Jews]...I want arrests, arrests is what will break them...If needed, so hit them with batons, low where it hurts...So they will burn, shit on them and they will learn" (I deleted some of General Shaham's more graphic remarks).
When General Shaham realized his indiscretion -- it would be called later a "lapse of judgment" -- he excused himself saying this was a "private conversation" with senior police officers. It was not for the public record and besides he was "tired").
We started marching along the fence chanting "Chayal, Shoteir, Ani Oheive Otcha..." And then an amazing thing happened. Spontaneously there emerged hundreds of dialogues, soldiers and police on one side of the fence and Ketumim on the other.
Sights of K'far Maimon
Some of the conversations were very serious. The Israeli army publishes a code of ethics calling on soldiers not to obey an "immoral law". What is an "immoral law"? Does driving people out of their homes constitute an "immoral law"?
Two policemen were having a perhaps too friendly a conversation with two Ketumim, until a high ranking officer literally dragged them away screaming, "I told you it is forbidden talk to these people".
Crying, a soldier turning away in shame when he saw his father and siblings on the other side of the fence.
Three Ketumim were singing to a policeman named Yosi, "Yosi, Anachnu Ohavim Otcha" (Yosi, we love you...) and jumping up and down. "Nu, dance with us!" they cried out. And sure enough, Yosi started jumping up and down with them and they were all dancing together on both sides of the fence.
A weeping soldier, son of holocaust survivors, was maddened that the army was forcing him to do this. Even though he was a "sworn leftist", the order to cage Jews behind barbed wire was "breaking him in two". It reminded him of stories that his grandparents had told him about "interment camps" for Jews back in Poland.
A couple of women soldier were leaning against a pole obviously in a state of advanced exhaustion. They said that they had not slept in over 24 hours and they were not allowed to sit down. Two orange-clad 15 year old girls passed them a bottle of water which they drank as if they had not had water in 24 hours either.
Impromptu Ma'ariv Minyanim (evening prayer services) with Jews on both sides of the fence participating.
The constant noise of police helicopters overhead with search lights.
Chabadniks dancing with their Gush Katif Torah and later having a Fabrengen on honor of the release of the previous Rebbe from Soviet prison, complete with vodka.
"Am Hanetzach Lo Mefacheid Meiderech Aruka..."
We did not "break out" and march to Gush Katif and that night again camped in K'far Maimon. What did we accomplish?
The Israeli public saw for the first time the real face of the Ketumim, men, women and children: Honest, determined, full of a unquenchable faith, and driven by love for Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael.
Perhaps Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick put it best, (July 25, 2005): "When a democratic government adopts an immoral policy, it is the duty of its loyal citizens, through acts of protest and civil disobedience, to hold up a mirror to their leaders and their fellow citizens to force them to contend with the implications of their policies. At Netivot and K'far Maimon this week, the protesters did just that. What we saw on the one side was the dignified, humble and stubborn Zionism of the citizens set to be expelled and of their supporters. On the other side, we saw the anti-democratic and discriminatory face of the government that stands against them. The time has come for the people of Israel to be allowed to freely and democratically decide which side they are on".
Larger and even more protest marches are being prepared. More than a thousand people did penetrate the barriers surrounding Gush Katif with soldiers helping them. More and more get through every night.
I was told that on the Shabbat after the march, the Chabadniks read from their Sefer Torah in Gush Katif!
I saw Am Yisrael in its splendor, pur ity and holiness.
I am glad I went. I can look in the mirror and say, "I was there". Gush Katif Lo Tipol! (Gush Katif will not fall!)
Shavua Tov from Liberated Yerushaliyim,
Written from Liberated Yerushaliyim, D.C. (David's Capital), Liberated Israelite Tribal Territories of Yehudah and Binyamin, Kingdom of David and Shlomo, United Israelite Kingdom of Yehudah and Yosef, Yom Shlishi, 26 Tammuz, 5765 -- Root & Branch Information Services.
Catriel Sugarman can be reached by email at
This article appeared on the Root and Branch Association, Ltd of
Jerusalem. Its email address is email@example.com
Catriel Sugarman can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org This article appeared on the Root and Branch Association, Ltd of Jerusalem. Its email address is email@example.com
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