Text size

Not far from the gate, the boys are singing "Have pity, O Lord, on your people Israel." The girls are painting final posters: "Cry, the belovedcountry." And in the synagogue Rabbi Mordechai Elon promises that if no great miracle occurs this night, the loam of the destruction will be used to build a new house. But in the secretariat they are at their wits' end: There are no hotel rooms for Shabbat. Israel is discarding us like waste. Like human waste.

It's a complex story, Gush Katif. On the one hand, it is indeed Algeria. Distinctly Algeria. A baseless settlement project of a mother-state that chose to place a low-income population in occupied territory. A closed local regime that maintains a colonialist farm economy, nourished by cheap land, cheap water and cheap labor, all originating in the military occupation. Worse: this Algeria is evangelist. An Algeria imbued with faith. And this faith, which is interwoven in the singular settlement enterprise, lends a messianic cast to the feeling of supremacy. Here the lordship is not only military, political and economic. Here the lordship is also religious. It is not aimed only at the natives across the fence; it is also aimed against the mother state. And therefore it endangers the mother state, poisons its democracy, corrupts its enlightenment and thwarts its ability to function as a rational entity.

However, there is another side to this, too. The anomalous conditions, conditions lying outside present-day reality, enabled the development of an anomalous society. A strong, cohesive and principled society. A society of tenacity, decency and mutual help. A frontier society of members of the lower middle class who found meaning in the sand-swept territory and there fashioned a narrative of meaning. They turned the territory into a place where a heart-touching spectacle was played out. A spectacle of a life of worshiping God and working the land. A life of loyalty to the homeland and a life of sacrificial devotion. A life from another world.

The first containers enter through the gate in the late afternoon. This is how it was in each of the settlements. First vehement opposition to the containers, then fear of the containers, then capitulation to the containers. The containers became the icon of the disengagement. The containers as a manifestation of government endeavor and the containers as a manifestation of government incompetence; the containers as government sensitivity and the containers as government insensitivity. But, above all, the containers carried with them the information that the moment a container was placed in the yard of a house was the moment of the death of that house. The house is emptied into the container. The house disappears into the container. It is the container that will take the house from here. It will replace the house. It will return the Jew to his wandering.

So that now, when the long line of huge yellow trucks enters through the gate, bearing the blue containers and the rust-colored containers, it is obvious that the die has been cast. And as the containers are borne slowly down the ring road past the electronic fence and past the concertina fence and past the fence of concrete blocs that seal off Khan Yunis, it is clear that this particular settlement, too, has accepted its lot. Even this settlement has reached its end.

The planners designed the place for living on its paths. The houses were separated from the plots in such a way that the area of the hothouses slightly recalls a military logistics center, whereas the residential area creates a pleasant feeling of dividing paths and internal gardens and an absence of roads. Maybe because of the far-sighted planning, Gush Katif became such an impressive community success. Or maybe it is the feeling of the frontier that united the community. Maybe the simple faith. Or this revelation, suddenly, that while the mother state of Israel is becoming secular and enlightened and corrupt, here in the daughter-Israel, different values are maintained. And whereas Israel the mother is becoming a hedonistic, reveling Paris, here in little Algeria a faith-driven version of 1960s Israel is being upheld. Nearly all the families have flourishing hothouses. And all of them together, the 8,000 settlers of Gush Katif, weave a community fabric such as exists nowhere else. They have built a kind of model of Zionism in the sand. A blind, strange Zionism. A cruel and naive Zionism. A Zionism that is beyond time and place, which protects itself with reckless abandon and buries its dead with deep devotion. And maintains on the dunes of Gaza beach a form of lost Israeli soul to which Israel itself is already foreign. Israel itself no longer wants it.

So they refused to believe. Not only because of the cognitive structure of the messianic consciousness. Not only because of the potent fusion of faith and denial. And not only because of the rabbis' promises. Not only because the drowning person grasps at every straw. But because daughter Israel cannot comprehend that mother Israel will deny it like this.

The soil-bound Israelis of Gush Katif could not believe that the digital Israelis of Tel Aviv would throw them out like an object no one wants. And would send against them the army in which they believed so much; would send into their homes the people in uniform whom they so loved; would smash their faith-driven world with a short, sharp jab.

So when the moment came, they could not struggle. When they finally got it, they collapsed without a fight. Suddenly, within hours, they shifted from a state of consciousness of faith to a state of consciousness of reality. Hurrying to pack all that came to hand. Filling the yawning container with kitchen tables and bookshelves and double beds. Towels, sheets, toys.

The story of Gush Katif is the chronicle of an end foretold. The attempt to foment colonialism at the end of the 20th century was bound to lead to destruction. The attempt to realize messianism in history was bound to lead to destruction. Nevertheless, when that destruction came, it came abruptly. In a snap. The army's ultimatum. The encirclement. The buses approaching the gate.

The intention was to die like Pompeii. To make the soldiers march into cherry-tomato-red hothouses. To make the State of Israel march into animated family homes: the soup on the stove, the table set for lunch, the children playing outside.

But the other Israeliness, which suddenly inundated Gush Katif, overcame the religious intention. The impulse to pack and save what could be saved was stronger than the ceremonial discipline. So even before the IDF arrived, the story of meaning disintegrated. The strength to revolt against reality ran out. The strength to stage an alternative reality ran out.

In the house, they lit mourning candles. They wept over the children's beds. They wept in the anarchy of the boxes that were being filled. No, the image that will be burned into the memory will not be of Pompeii. It will not be one of life suddenly frozen. The image that will be burned into the memory will be of full refugee status. Bitter, irreparable refugee status.

In the pre-dawn hours, the uprooted of the other settlement remained without a shelter for the night, because the young people who served in the elite units decided to act. Instead of a farewell ceremony, they lit a fire. So that, in the end, when the State of Israel arrived in blue uniforms at the gate of the settlement, the gate was on fire. A bad fire, black, rose up above the olive tree. A bad fire, black, rose up above those who were blowing shofars. A black fire above those who were reciting the "Shema." A black fire above the sign that the girls prepared at night: "Cry, the beloved country."

Under the smoke stood a strong man with a long beard, leaning on a big hammer. Twenty-four years had passed since he settled on this sand, and 42 years since his parents thrust him aboard a ship in the port of Algiers. Does this day resemble that one? It is not the same thing, he says. Here, it is mine. In this sand lies my soul.

What will they bring with them on their return to the other state? Not self-criticism, not a faith-driven stocktaking, not a new insight. What they will bring is great rage. What they will bring is the story of Joseph. The feeling that their brothers threw then into a pit of snakes and scorpions. And the determination to climb out of the pit and become the rulers of the land. The determination to create dozens of new Gush Katifs out of the death of this one. The determination to transform the whole State of Israel into a Katif state.