I found the document entitled “So far – we’re winning” in 2005, on a notice board near the two synagogues in the former Gaza Strip settlement of Neveh Dekalim. The paper, which was signed by a senior figure in the right-wing Jewish Leadership group, Michael Puah, was published on Tisha B’Av, on the eve of disengagement from Gaza. In it, Puah explains how, although security forces were making their final preparations for evacuation, there was still a good chance that then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan would fail.
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He mentioned the masses of supporters who had come to Gush Katif, the army’s failed preparations, the determination of the settlers and the mass resistance that would break out at any moment, he said, and stop the evacuation. “We are winning, continue to hold on strong,” he wrote.
An anonymous hand added in red ink in the left-hand corner of the document: “death to Arabs.” Just three days later the synagogues of Neveh Dekalim were evacuated, a kind of final chord to Jewish settlement in Gaza as a whole.
The first time I came to Gush Katif was in February 2004. Earlier that day, Sharon had met for breakfast with Haaretz journalist Yoel Marcus and told him about the disengagement plan, and the paper had sent me to obtain the reactions of the settlers. I subsequently covered the struggle and daily life in the shadow of the plan, until the evacuation and the departure of the Israel Defense Forces from the Gaza Strip.
Throughout that time I collected fliers at demonstrations, posters from notice boards, pamphlets from synagogues, prayers, official propaganda and articles written independently, calls to soldiers to refuse orders, a guide for detainees and endless ideas to stop the disengagement. The collection was recently contributed to the National Library and on Friday a digital display was posted on the library’s website.
In retrospect, Puah’s document, like dozens of others, reflects the failure of the settlers’ fight against a strong prime minister and a determined army. The high points of the struggle was the human chain from the Erez crossing to the Western Wall, the settlers’ victory in the referendum of Likud voters and the mass rallies. The low point was the dramatic evening at Kfar Maimon, when the settler leadership decided to pull back and not clash with the police who surrounded them.
The documents, only a small number of which were scanned for the exhibit, tell the story of the failure. In them can be found the seeds of phenomena that developed subsequently in religious Zionism – protest against the leadership of the Yesha council of settlements, increasing calls to disobey orders, the rift between the desire to preserve the old statesman-like stance and the burning feeling of betrayal that led to the hilltop youth, price-tag actions and Jewish terror. But there are also reflections of personal and familial crises among the Gaza settlers.
One such document announces “immediate and unilateral renunciation of my Israeli citizenship on the day the representatives of the State of Israel try to forcibly uproot me from my land and my home,” leaving space for personal details to be filled in. Another calls on people to “defend friends of the families who cannot defend themselves – pets, such as cats and dogs.”
A good deal of the material encourages soldiers to refuse orders and plays on their conscience. One letter, to “Captain Moshe,” states: “Behind the broken-down door you’ll find a whole family ... the children will inscribe your name on their heart ... you will star in their memories, in their nightmares, in their stories and books that will be written, in the poems they leave after them.”