Little over a month after losing her Atzmona home and moving into the tent-encampment of "The City of Faith," near Netivot, Avishag Netanel gave birth to her fifth child.
"This birth felt very different," says Netanel. "We hadn't yet recovered from the expulsion... I was exhausted and physically it was much harder. But at the same time, everyone in the community was praying for me... it was a community celebration... Shira is everybody's daughter."
Since Gush Katif was home to many young families, Netanel is just one of the evacuee mothers bringing new babies, in some cases twins, back to unenviable temporary accommodations. Netanel says, however, she was not worried about returning with her newborn daughter to the spartan encampment sheltered under a metal roof in a donated industrial plot.
"For the present, this is my home, my small corner. I'm not dependent on anyone like I would be in a hotel," she said. "Obviously it is not ideal - but it was the only way our community could ensure that we would remain together... Both of our families are here - my parents came from Yamit and helped found Atzmona, and my father-in-law is the rabbi of the community. I have help here. Where else would I go?"
Netanel, who had been sleeping in a tent with her family since the evacuation, was fortunate in that the imminent arrival of the baby won the family one of the few aging caravans that were brought to the encampment a week before she gave birth.
"It's warm inside and although I don't have cooking facilities, we do have a bathroom, so we can manage," she says. "But because conditions outside are much less hygienic, I was far stricter about handling the baby when I brought her home - I made everyone wash their hands before they touched her."
For Naomi Tucker, of Netzer Chazani, who gave birth a week and a half after her evacuation, the days before and after the birth involved a series of moves around the country.
"I had worried how I would get to the hospital when I went into labor - the roadblocks, the chaos - but I was sure that I would be bringing my baby home to Netzer Chazani," says Tucker.
When they were first evacuated, Tucker said, the family was taken to Hispin in the Golan Heights. Later, because she needed more familiar surroundings, she, her husband and their two children, ages three and four, moved in with her parents in Jerusalem.
"After I gave birth, we traveled back to Hispin, where we named our daughter Ori, for the verse 'Kumi Ori' - the light bringing us out of the darkness. But my husband, an electrical engineer, works in Ashkelon, so we had to move again, to Kibbutz Ein Tzurim. I don't think any woman would choose to move house five days after giving birth - but we had no choice," Tucker says wistfully.
"The birth itself was fine, I barely remember it," she continues. "It was so overshadowed by the trauma of the expulsion. It is sad that the expulsion was so overwhelming that the birth was just a rote event by comparison."
Emotionally, she adds, it has been much harder.
"Every time I cry people say, 'It's because you've just had a baby,' but I never cried after my other children were born... it's because of the expulsion."
Anita Tucker, Naomi's mother-in-law, adds the perspective of a grandmother. "When Ori was born, my first reaction was, 'Thank God there's still good in this world.' It gives you the strength to continue."
Yoel and Edit Misao, members of the Bnei Menashe community, lived in Neveh Dekalim for 10 years. On August 24, just over a week after their evacuation, Edit gave birth to their fourth child, a son they named Or Naveh - Or referring to the light the new baby brought to their lives, and Naveh a reminder of Neveh Dekalim. Asked about the birth, Yoel says, "It was such a time of pressure and worry. We were in the middle of such confusion - I don't really remember how we got through it. But somehow we did, with the support of our friends and neighbors.
The Misaos requested to remain together with Yoel's mother and sister and were housed together in the King Saul Hotel in Ashkelon.
Other guests there have complained that the formerly uninhabited hotel is filthy and plagued with cockroaches, but Misao has a more positive approach. "What is important is that we are together with our family and friends. It isn't easy, but we manage with what we have."
Yoel, who is hoping to moving to Nitzan, expresses deep gratitude to Lema'an Acheinu, the volunteer organization that sprung up in the immediate aftermath of the disengagement, becoming an umbrella body in conjunction with the Gush Katif Settlers' Council.
"All of our things are locked in a container but, when my wife returned from the hospital, Lema'an Acheinu had already arranged everything - a baby bath, stroller, diapers, clothes. They were just wonderful. I can't thank them enough," he said.
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