Dividing the Land / Shifting Sands
Gabi Kreim remembers the beginning: dunes. Monster dunes. And where the jeeps were trying to cut a path through the dunes to locate the place where Zionism would plant the Gush Katif settlement bloc.
Gabi Kreim remembers the beginning: dunes. Monster dunes. Dunes of 10 and 20 meters. And the jeeps with the balloon wheels from the Land Settlement Department trying to cut a path through the dunes to locate the right place: the place where Zionism would plant the Gush Katif settlement bloc.
Back then, no one knew as yet that there would be a bloc. What they did know was that there would be three settlements. Nor did anyone know that their names would be Nezer Hazani, Katif and Ganei Tal. What they did know is that there would be Katif A, Katif B and Katif C. But they prepared an exemplary plan: moshavim (cooperative farming communities) like back home, modern villages of the 1970s. With an internal system of paths, well-kept green areas and an agricultural zone divided into two-dunam (half-acre) rectangular plots laid out next to one another in almost military order.
And the Palestinians? Would they not see the Palestinians? Would they not think there was something amiss about creating three home-style moshavim in the very heart of the Palestinian Gaza Strip? The architect in charge of planning, Gabriel Kreim, thought there was a problem. He had done reserve duty in the Gaza Strip and had mopped up the terrorism there and he knew whereof he spoke. The director general of the Land Settlement Department, Yehiel Admoni, thought there was a problem - that three isolated moshavim had no right of existence in the area of the gorgeous dunes that was locked between the sea and Khan Yunis.
But Yigal Allon had asserted back in May 1968 that the creation of a Jewish presence in the heart of the Gaza Strip was of supreme national importance. And Motta Gur thought that establishing settlements in the center of the Gaza Strip was of great military importance. And Yisrael Galili believed that the settlements would forge a strategic buffer between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. And Ariel Sharon proposed that the Gaza Strip be sundered by means of five penetrating "settlement fingers."
An initial government decision was made in June 1970. In 1972, the first Nahal (combining military service with agricultural settlement activity) outposts were set up at Netzarim and Morag. But it was only after the Yom Kippur War of October 1973, only during the period of the first Rabin government, that a detailed plan was drawn up for permanent civilian settlement. The place was chosen. The plots of land were fenced off.
Thus, at the beginning of 1976, the huge bulldozers of the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet) were already leveling the dunes. And in the summer of 1976, five glass houses were placed on the dunes. In February 1977, when prime minister Rabin arrived for the ceremony to "civilianize" the paramilitary settlements, there were already first fruits. The first cherry tomatoes had already been harvested. One could believe Yitzhak Rabin when he said that Nezer Hazani is Israel's security. One could believe him when he said that Nezer Hazani is an integral part of the State of Israel.
The aerial photograph tweaks the heart: 40 houses in the sand. Forty red-roofed houses in the sand. Khan Yunis is not seen. The Muasi area is no more than a distant hint. So on the face of it, this is all completely innocent. Life on the sand. Life against the sand. And this deep temptation of Zionism: the emergence of the actualization of life. Thus, where before there was nothing, in the white sea of dunes, life was actualized.
But the Zionist movement that placed Nezer Hazani on the sand was already a movement in crisis. It was a Zionism whose traditional strengths were diminishing. A Zionism which, precisely because of its loss of self- confidence and direction, knew no limits, no boundaries. It was trying to demonstrate durability in Gush Katif after the trauma of the evacuation of Yamit, in northern Sinai. It believed that it was capable of taking this virginal basin of dunes and ignoring all around it and building on it a Zionist oasis. A Zionist fata morgana. A Zionist miracle of rare devising in the heart of Gaza.
Anita Toker remembers that there was nothing. Not a bird, not an insect, not a plant. When she and her husband came here from Be'er Sheva, in 1976, seven years after immigrating to Israel from Brooklyn, there were only dunes here. She herself wanted to leave, but the children fell in love with the dunes. They slid down the dunes and wallowed in the dunes and refused to go. So that if there are Jews in Hebron because that is where the Tomb of the Patriarchs is, she is in Nezer Hazani because the kids refused to part with the dunes.
They were nine families, the first settlers in Gush Katif; nine families and two bachelors. And a large part of the magic was the group. The strange mix of Yemenites and Kurds and Moroccans and Americans from moshavim. A mix that, surprisingly, worked exceptionally well. Very quickly a potent sense of togetherness was created. A sense of different Israelis from different backgrounds who would be molded into a community by this isolated, sand-swept place.
Each household received a Dutch hothouse of two dunams. The instructors suggested that they bring earth from the north but the settlers preferred to try growing crops on the sand itself. In the end, the sand turned out to be the secret of the success of the Gush Katif economy. Its neutrality made possible a calculated, computerized, controlled agriculture. An industrial, almost laboratory agriculture.
But it wasn't only the neutrality, Toker insists. There was a blessing in the sand. There was something the children felt when they slid in the dunes. So in the first year they grew five tons of tomatoes per dunam and today the yield has reached 35 tons a dunam. In Gush Katif the agricultural produce is worth NIS 6 million . In Nezer Hazani itself there are still 60 active farms that work 600 dunams of hothouses producing high-quality organic spices and flowers and vegetables.
I have to see it with my own eyes, she says, and takes me in her pickup to the hothouses - which, indeed, as it was blueprinted in the plans, is a centralized zone of rectangular plots standing next to one another in almost military order. Except that some of them are already abandoned. Isolated. In the process of being dismantled. In contrast to these, there are many that are still green; a great many that are still being cultivated. And awaiting the bulldozers in their full splendor.
What will be, I ask. What will be here in another week. The orders will be issued on the 15th. And on the 17th they will start evacuating. On the 20th nothing will remain.
I have lived here for 29 years, Toker replies. And in every one of those 29 years, they came and told me that next year I would not be here. Every year they asked me, Anita, where will you go. And for all those 29 years I have replied to whoever has asked that with God's help, he will come here next year and ask me the same question. I am not blind. I know that this time it is different. It is closer. But look around. Everything is growing here. The settlement is alive. And I am a believing person. Every farmer is a believer. So last week I planted 10,000 celery seedlings. This week I will plant another 10,000. I still believe.
At first Benny Yefet doesn't want to talk to Haaretz. He is furious at Haaretz. Your lies. Your distortions. You don't really want to understand us, do you. You don't want to hear anything that will spoil your leftism. That is why you don't listen to us. Don't report our story. You are not fair.
But slowly, Yefet comes around. Despite everything, there is a deep need to talk. To shout. So after he collects enough evidence to the effect that it might be possible to talk to this journalist, after all, he takes me in his 4x4 to the house at the edge of the moshav. Sits me down on the sofa across from his armchair and says his piece. With great passion he says his piece.
I was 26, when I came here in 1976. I came here for the dream of being a farmer. With these two hands I built a magnificent farm. From a hothouse of two dunams, I got to 24 dunams. My son has 14, my daughter has 10. All told, nearly 50 dunams. Basil, sage, mint, coriander and asphodel. All according to the highest American and European standards. Everything tip-top. Eighty percent for export.
I also established a family here. Me and my wife and six children. Six counting Itamar. Itamar was murdered, you know. The first to be killed in the intifada. But all the other children are here, with us. And six grandchildren. And every Shabbat they are all here, under the bug tree, sitting together for the se'uda shlishit, the "third meal."
Do you want to understand what I feel? I feel that the state has betrayed me. Because the state allowed me to come here. Rabin himself sent me a letter in which he wrote, Be strong and of good cheer in your permanent settlement. And I built the house with these two hands. I built the farm from morning until night. I put everything I had into this place. And now they are taking it all from me, they are taking me apart; and by taking me apart they are taking apart four families.
As a leftist, you can say that this is democracy. But I tell you that there was a trampling of democracy here. Absolutely. There was a decision here to destroy my home without anything in exchange. To destroy my home for nothing. Not for peace and not for an agreement. So I say that the Knesset members who supported this are already today sitting on bloodstained seats. Arik Sharon is sitting in a bathtub of blood. The blood of all those who will soon be murdered in Sderot. And will soon be murdered in Kfar Sava. And in Ashkelon and in Ashdod and all over the country. You will not have calm, understand that. You will destroy my life but you will not have calm.
There are moments when I still believe, hope for a miracle. Really, this can't be happening. It's so insane. So insane. And I still don't believe that after 30 years and five children and six grandchildren and Itamar that they will erase all I have. It doesn't make sense to me. I don't see it happening. You know, Arik Sharon is killing me here. At the age of 56, where will I go. What will I work at. He is simply killing me.
But at other moments, when I understand that it is going to happen, that it cannot be stopped, that even though it is insane it cannot be stopped, I say that I myself will destroy everything. I will not leave stone on stone in my hothouses. I have already prepared tractors from Ganei Tal. I will not leave it for them. I will not leave it for my son's murderers. I will demolish it all myself.
There will be no violence here. Violence is your invention, in the media. We here are not like that. But they will have to remove me from here. I will not get on the bus myself. I will not leave the house by myself. Maybe I will go with the whole moshav to the synagogue. Because here we are one community. We here are all together. So maybe we will wait for them together in the synagogue.
Listen to me, we have a wonderful country. And a wonderful nation, I know what marvelous people we have here in Gush Katif. But what is spoiled with us is the government; what is spoiled is the leadership. And that corrupt leadership is now coming to kill me. Not to kill me physically - to kill me mentally. To kill my family.
His hair is already gray. His skullcap is blue. Spectacles hang by a ribbon on his chest. Restless, he takes me to see the workout room that Itamar built. The declaration of love that Itamar engraved in concrete half a year before he was murdered. And tells me with restraint about that night. And about another night, when Rabbi Michael died in his arms. And about the five kids who were wounded by a mortar shell. The recurring waves of stones, knives, terrorist attacks and Qassam rockets. Everything that was a product of that blindness. Everything that was entailed in planting Nezer Hazani between the sea and Khan Yunis.
Did you never think of leaving? Even after Itamar was murdered, did you never think of moving elsewhere?
Leaving? Never. Not for a second. The rabbi's family did not leave, either. And neither did the family of Etti Shahima, who was also murdered. Or the families whose children were wounded. Because we are a community here. You will not find a community like this anywhere. With this community I will go to live even in tents if need be. Maybe across from the Prime Minister's Office. Maybe across from Sycamore Ranch. Because in the end, and remember what I am telling you, in the end Arik Sharon will be placed on trial for doing this. He will be placed on trial for murdering me.
MK Effi Eitam (National Religious Zionism) came to Nezer Hazani five months ago. On the porch of his house, under a blue canvas sheet, he offers me black coffee and melon. He looks very sad. Not agitated but reflective. Almost in mourning.
What is the worst? The worst is that in another few days, in line with the government's destruction order, not a stone will remain standing here. Yet there is no war here. No natural disaster. No force majeure. Only evil majeure.
I was in wars. I saw and carried out difficult deeds of destruction and killing. But the context of those actions was the preservation of life. Whereas here there is no such context. There is no security, no peace. Only destruction for its own sake. Destruction for its own sake.
I see this as corrupt. What I see exposed here is the corruption of the moral elites in Israel. After all, on the day after, our public will overcome this. It lives according to spiritually and morally solid and eternal foundations. But you people, Ari, you will have no reason to get up in the morning. In the name of what will you speak? In the name of democracy? In the name of humanity? And what will you talk about? About human rights? About freedom of expression? Against house demolitions? Against transfer?
Arik Sharon is simple. That is clear. That man resembles Nero. His whole communication with history is through destruction. When he was in the army, his lust for destruction found a legitimate outlet. But throughout his entire civilian career, he has left only scorched earth. Even his building episodes were intended to create combustible material. Material for destruction. Like the house in whose shade we are now sitting, which Sharon himself built and which Sharon now intends to destroy. That is what happens when everything is done from the insane sense of arrogance that I have the power to build and I have the power to destroy. I have the power to plant and I have the power to burn. I have the power to bring to life and I have the power to kill.
But Arik is not the problem. We know Arik. We all know that he is a roughshod bulldozer. The problem is that our intellectual elite is now becoming addicted to the pleasure of trampling by bulldozer. Like other intellectual elites in history, it, too, is hypnotized by the brutal personality. It is captivated by this savage figure who casts everything aside and runs roughshod over everything and marches on. There is a very deep and very interesting phenomenon here of people who believe in the word and in ideas and in the spirit of man, who abnegate themselves before the brutality of the crude man. Precisely because they are not people of action they are thrilled by the strong man. They become addicted to the strong man. And they serve his evil.
Therefore, what makes me sad is not Arik Sharon but Ari Shavit. And not only you personally. You, at least, are here. You, at least, are listening to the people who are clinging to this place. But you and your friends now appear to me as a group portrait of pen pushers and intellectuals with a dumb smile of corruption smeared across your faces. Because you know that everything here is corrupt. You know that it is wrong. But there is not one among you who will stand up and say, No farther. There is not one among you will say that it is not moral, not humane, not just.
I think it is clear to all of you, too, that what is happening here is a strategic collapse. What will transpire here is the greatest Arab victory over the Zionist enterprise since its inception. A city will be laid waste. Twenty-two villages will be conquered. The Palestinians' feeling will be that Zionism no longer has the strength to defend itself. And after all, you do not think that the Palestinian war of liberation will make do with getting a remote ghetto in Gaza that is surrounded by electronic fences. You do not think that after such a great victory terrorism will truly stop. What will happen is that Kissufim and Nahal Oz and Nirim will become the new line of confrontation. But I do not know whether those settlements will have the same staying power that Gush Katif had.
What is even more serious is the destruction of values. What is happening here is a multidisciplinary moral catastrophe. What is happening here is a total democratic systems failure. The loss of the checks and balances. The loss of the humanitarian norms and concepts. For that, our public will not forgive you. We will no longer view you as a moral elite that shapes thought and should be respected. You have shown yourselves in all your shoddiness. Hypocritical and hollow.
What will happen? I am against refusal to obey orders. But I think Sharon is bringing the country to the extremity of its capacity to function. Refusal to obey orders is wrong because that hastens the collapse of the system. But what the state will encounter in the uprooting is not refusal but the extremity of capability. It will encounter many people who will not be able to perform the inhuman act that they are being required to perform.
What we will do here, at Nezer Hazani, is gather in the synagogue with tallitot (prayer shawls) and tefillin (phylacteries) and Torah scrolls. It will not be a provocation. The synagogue is the center of our life. All the private homes in Nezer Hazani draw their sustenance from the synagogue. So it is only natural for us to gather there. With prayer shawls and phylacteries and the Holy Ark open.
Will soldiers be able to drag a Jew wrapped in a tallit and wearing tefillin? I don't know. I don't know if soldiers are capable of dragging a Jew who is in the middle of prayer into a truck. I know I would not be able to do that. I think that anyone who is capable of doing that will need a very large antidote afterward to rehabilitate the human being within him and the Jew within him.
Arik Sharon will be remembered ignominiously in the history of Israel. He will be remembered as a destroyer. As someone who, wanting to be monumental, built the largest monuments, and then, wanting to be even greater, destroyed them monumentally. But what disturbs me is what kind of Israel Arik Sharon will leave after him. What code of morals and values this country will have. It will be a different country, I am sure. If, heaven forbid, the bulldozers lay waste to Nezer Hazani, the State of Israel will be a different country. n
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