Back to an ancient home
The Bnei Menashe, from the Mizoram province of India between Myanmar and Bangladesh, tell of the pain of being uprooted.
Ezra Zakazauk stood with his 2-year-old son Nehemiah under the blazing sun of the eastern Jezreel Valley, piling up empty cartons in the yard of his new home in Moshav Gadish in the valley's Ta'anach region. From time to time, neighbor ladies come to offer cold drinks to Zakazauk and his friends.
"I feel like we've returned home," Zakazauk, 33, the leader of 13 Bnei Menashe families who moved out of Gush Katif on Monday, says.
The Bnei Menashe hail from the Mizoram province of India, between Myanmar and Bangladesh, and see themselves as descendants of the lost tribe of Manasseh. They came to Israel in the mid-1990s and went to live in a number of settlements - Beit El and Kiryat Arba in the West Bank and Neveh Dekalim in the Gaza Strip. In India they were considered upper class, but in Israel they became laborers, working mainly in farming and factories.
Most of the families, about 50, lived in Gush Katif. With the beginning of the disengagement, the community split, with the majority siding with the anti-disengagment camp and opting to remain in Gush Katif. The rest, "the realistic part," as Yossi Cohen, who married a woman from the community puts it, decided to take their fate in their own hands and move north.
"Their decision stemmed from their desire to fulfill a dream to come back to their own land, Cohen says. Zakazauk believes that everything comes from God. "The Blessed One opened our minds and sent us to our tribal homeland. This is the time of redemption, and with the help of the Lord, the whole tribe of Manasseh will return here."
Nevertheless, Zakazauk's tells of the pain of being uprooted. He says that on Tuesday, when they arrived in Gadish from a hotel in Ashkelon where they had lived since last Wednesday, he wept and prayed alone all day. "The people of Israel doesn't know what its future is," he says. "I hoped there would be no evacuation, but at the same time I decided that we have to take care of ourselves, to take out life insurance."
Zakazauk says that the families who remained behind made a mistake. "It was hard for me too, especially to leave a house I built with my own two hands. I hope that now I have come to the last home for my lifetime."
In the coming days, the small community at Gadish will be joined by additional families from Kiryat Arba. In the coming year, the Bnei Menashe from Gadish, together with two other families who have settled temporarily in a nearby moshav, will move to permanent homes to be built in Moshav Magen Shaul, in the same area, near the Jalameh roadblock on the road to Jenin, just north of the Green Line. Zakazauk says that after living near Khan Yunis, the proximity to Jenin does not scare them, "especially because this is part of the tribal area of Manasseh."
The Gilboa Regional Council is making great efforts to make things easier for its new residents. The council worked hard to get people from Gush Katif to move there, and is pleased that the Bnei Menashe have done so, along with 22 families from Ganim and Kadim in the northern West Bank. The latter have moved only a few kilometers to their new homes.
Council chairman Danny Atar says the council is taking the project of absorbing the newcomers very seriously. Yaron Ohiyon, director of a corporation run by the council, says the council will be at their side and that the greatest challenge is to find them jobs.
The neighbor ladies continue to arrive with trays of cold drinks and words of welcome, and a warmth that Cohen and Zakazauk say is helping them dry the tears of the disengagement trauma.