Leaning on the Shoulders of Friends on the Left

A dialogue that began between leftists and settlers in Gush Katif has become particularly important.

Yesterday, after her first visit to one of the temporary accommodations for the Gush evacuees, Sharon Leshem-Zinger said that it was now very hard to sing and to keep up the joint song.

She appeared in these pages more than three months ago at the end of a day of touring - with fellow leftists, as well as Gush Katif residents - Shirat Hayam, the Gush settlement whose name meant "Song of the Sea," referring to the hymn of praise sung by the Israelites on the shores of the Red Sea.

During that day Leshem-Zinger recalled the rabbinic commentary on that song of praise: As Pharaoh's troops drown, and the Israelites rejoice, God reproved the revelers: "My creations are drowning in the sea and you sing?" Leshem-Zinger asked herself at the time whether it is possible for the left not to sing when Gush Katif would be evacuated, for the right not to sing when the left is in crisis, and if we all even see the "Egyptians" drowning.

"We seek to compose songs that invite each individual to date to look closely at his own blind spot," Leshem-Zinger said at the time.

After visiting the evacuees yesterday, she added with unflagging optimism, "I believe that we have begun to create a new Song of the Sea."

Leshem-Zinger, a mother of two, and Hagit Yaron from Neveh Dekalim, a mother of five and a senior activist in the anti-disengagement camp, are joint group facilitators in Kolot B'Negev, an association dealing with education for democracy, pluralism and egalitarianism in Israel. A year ago, the association answered the call of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the War-Torn Societies Project (WSP) to conduct a dialogue between Gush Katif residents and leftist activists. The gap between the two sides is enormous - one participant from Gush Katif was dumbstruck when a member of her group from the joint Arab-Jewish community of Neveh Shalom, said that Arabs could also be her brothers.

Together the two women conducted 17 meetings, in which nine men and women from the Gush and eight leftists, mostly from nearby communities, took part. They toured settlements slated for evacuation, visited greenhouses and talked with Palestinian day-laborers. The last meeting took place after the closure of the Kissufim road into Gush Katif, near the roadblock.

On Sunday they met in Jerusalem. Leshem-Singer came to ask how the group members, who had been dispersed among various hotels, were doing. Yaron had her ear glued to her mobile phone in an effort to find her neighbors from Gush Katif who were in nine different places in the country, so they could come together. Her partner remained behind in Gush Katif to pack up the equipment from his car repair shop and to pay the wages ("a month ahead") for the last of his Palestinian workers. Yaron says she is trying to pick up the pieces that the Disengagement Administration (Sela) left behind of her beloved community. In the spring, she had talked about the hope that the group members from the left were "our ambassadors to the people of Israel." She expected them to stand at her side in the struggle to keep the Gush Katif communities together and rehabilitate them.

A moral obligation to help

Liron Makhraz, from the UNDP, who follows the sessions closely, said she thought the leftist members of the group felt a moral obligation to help their friends from the Gush get what they wanted, and that they had already begun taking action.

"The residents of the Gush and the right have been going through a process of mourning for the past months, which has moved from denial to anger," Leshem-Singer says. "Their ability to go on processing until they make their peace with it depends to a great extent on the sense of inclusion and support the citizens of the state and its institutions give them."

Danny Fuchs, a dialogue participant from Kibbutz Be'eri, who has meanwhile become a facilitator himself, says he came to the meetings confrontational and "moved to a place that understands that confrontation and hatred lead to terrible processes. Today I am looking for conciliation and unification."

Fuchs says the group has moved from a group in conflict to a task force, The task which he shares with the people from the Gush is to protect their elementary right to stay together. Shlomit Berger, an evacuee from Ganei Tal, is Fuchs' cofacilitator, and the author of the "Gush Katif Blog" on the Internet. From her temporary quarters at Kibbutz Hafetz Haim, she says that yesterday, when she left Gush Katif for the last time, she decided to visit Danny at Kibbutz Be'eri. "It was important for me to see him. I had gone through something so difficult and I believed that he had also gone through something. I went to tell him that in spite of all the difficulties, we will go on, that we remained friends. That I am not angry with him, that I have no sense of vengeance. I am angry, but not at him and not at the nation. The meetings were very important to me."

It could be that Fuchs, the secular kibbutznik who had been at her side for the dialogues of the past year, connected her to the home that no longer existed. "I lost control of my life," Berger says. "I so needed privacy, and the mobile homes will only be ready in two months. Luckily, my husband went back to work, and that is wonderful. But I am alone with the children, who need me very much now. I want to look ahead to the future, but it's impossible."

For Daniela Kitain, from Neveh Shalom, who is active in the Israeli-Palestinian group of bereaved families called the Parents Circle, it was her first meeting with Israelis who for years she had considered "beyond the pale." She gave up the attempt to persuade the settlers and knew they would not persuade her. "It was important for me to make clear where my pain as a leftist was and to listen and understand their pain," she says. "Today I care very much about them personally. I worry about them and seek them out. I deeply understand the attitude of `sensitivity and determination' not necessarily in terms of the state and the army. I will gladly join the struggle to protect their rights and keep their community together."

Lieutenant Colonel (res.) Ron Shatzberg, a member of Kibbutz Tammuz, works for the Economic Cooperation Fund (ECF) headed by Yossi Beilin. The fund is now dealing with the transfer of property in Gush Katif to the Palestinians in exchange for generous compensation to the evacuees. Shatzberg was quoted in a previous article expressing himself very harshly to the settlers in one of the meetings: "As a young officer in Golani, 17 years ago I shot a Palestinian boy. Four years later I took the life of another Palestinian. A few months later the Oslo process started and these people became my partners in dialogue. The Zionist project you took me into left me with deep scars that I carry my whole life. Because of it my hands are blood-stained. But we must protect the delicate fabric of Israeli society. That is the reason that I will fight against any refusal to carry out orders."

Still critical

Shatzberg continues to be critical of the settlers. "Let's assume for a moment that there is no disengagement," he says, speaking to them. "Would you be prepared to say what is on your horizon?" Hava Golan from Neveh Dekalim responded: "And what is your horizon in Jaffa or Kiryat Shmona? They want Jerusalem and the right of return. [Commander of the Al-Aqsa Brigades in Jenin] Zakariyah Zbeidi says he wants Caesarea. After disengagement your kibbutzim and moshavim around here will get the mortar attacks."

Shatzberg was not fazed. "As opposed to you, I have no direct contact with Heaven, and therefore I have no guarantees that if we leave the territories everything will be all right. But my way has a horizon. I do not believe in "devouring the sword forever."

Shatzberg, who has since joined the facilitator team, is heading an organization to assist the people from the Gush keep their communities together. "In spite of the disagreements, exposure to positions, people and human stories creates a kind of immediate empathy," Shatzberg explains, "together with an understanding of the complexity of the situation, which requires complex solutions.

This exposure has made me look more realistically at what can and must be done. It has given me the possibility for a deeper connection and opened potential for dialogue and developing more of an attitude of compromise in the future struggle. I can see who it will be possible to build the country with on `the day after.' The Gush was established out of a monolithic concept, and these meetings may have created a concept that has many more shades to it."

Hava Golan, who has meanwhile become Ron's cofacilitator, is staying at the Shalom Hotel in Jerusalem. She has no idea where she will be sleeping tomorrow night and she expects more from her group members than mere solidarity. "The group was very significant for me," she says. "I thought the connection crossed boundaries, but now I am angry and disappointed that the members from the left, who fought for human rights, are not fighting for us. They send me messages of embrace, but that's like handing out candy.

"I'm glad to hear they're organizing to help us," Golan continued, "but I'll believe it when I see it. I expected to be taken from my house to another house, not to be at the mercy of volunteers to wash my family's clothes. If the left gets organized to protect our rights, in spite of our differences, I will not give up on the dialogue in the future."

Golan, like all her friends from the Gush who took part in the meetings, evacuated her house without lifting a hand against a soldier or a voice against a police officer. Facilitator Hagit Yaron complains about the lack of sensitivity of the army, which sent no less than seven soldiers to remove her from her house. "They prepared the soldiers for a meeting with monsters," she said. She wants people to know there is a sticker on her car that says "Jews do not expel Jews." Period. "Jews do not expel anyone," she says, "and that includes me and my children. I expect to hear the members of my group shouting continually to the media, asking why I have no home."

Positive impact

Leshem-Singer believes the group has had a positive impact beyond itself, in the region and on the left, which has come to the fore in the struggle waged over the past months and especially the past week. "In spite of the serious acts and the threats that have sometimes been made in recent decades," she says, "we all have the responsibility to make things right, but under no circumstances by causing further injustice."

Amir Haspri, who has been documenting the meetings on video since their inception, particularly remembers the words of one settler, who said that his obligation to the Land of Israel remained, but "the tears of the other side will go with me everywhere from now on."

On the other hand, Haspri heard leftist members speak with understanding about the refusal to obey orders on the right. As an onlooker, he says he has no doubt the dialogue softened the pain of being uprooted from the Gaza Strip.

He is certain that if someone restarts the dialogue between the left and the settlers in the West Bank it can soften their evacuation when the day comes. Haspri gave the documentary he made the name "Cracks." In the positive sense of the word.