settler protest 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Last Independence Day, nearly 100,000 people crowded into Gush Katif for a special demonstration of unity with the endangered community. This week, newspapers and Torah newsletters aimed at the National Religious public were filled not only with advertisements inviting the public to attend Independence Day celebrations at the caravilla communities established by the Gush Katif evacuees, but also articles on how to appropriately commemorate Independence Day in light of disengagement, the IDF and police, the violence at Amona and the looming specter of Ehud Olmert's convergence plan.
General consensus amongst Religious Zionist rabbis, including Rabbi Yigal Kaminetsky, former Chief Rabbi of Gush Katif, is that Independence Day should continue to be celebrated with the traditional Hallel prayer and festivities.
Kaminetsky, who now lives in Nitzan, was quoted in B'Sheva newspaper as saying, "We make a clear distinction between the government and the State... the reality that we were in exile and were given a state is a miracle and we need to be grateful for this... The Sages warned of ups and downs in the process of the redemption and I am not alarmed... Even if events occur that don't fit our plans, God has told us that 'My thoughts are not yours.'"
But many evacuees will find it difficult to celebrate this year from their tents, caravillas and hotel rooms.
Says Rina Akerman, a mother of eleven who lost her home in Neveh Dekalim, "Everyone has their own opinion of Independence Day this year... we will probably help to run the booths our community is setting up for visitors to Amatzia."
"I will definitely not hang up flags," she continued. "The flag of Israel was desecrated by the soldiers who entered my home wearing the flag on their uniforms and expelled us... when they covered the bodies they dug up from the Gush Katif cemetery with the flag, using it to justify immoral actions... I can no longer bring myself to sing Hatikva if the soldiers who expelled us also stood and sang Hatikva, I have lost all respect for these symbols of the State."
Akerman explains that the trauma undergone by the evacuees is deep and reflexive, offering as an example an incident that affected one of her teenage daughters. "She was returning to her school dormitory on Sunday morning a few months ago. The bus there is very infrequent and just before it arrived, her stop filled with soldiers and she simply couldn't bring herself to push her way onto the bus surrounded by all those uniformed soldiers... she was paralyzed by her memories of the expulsion... so she missed the bus. Even though my son continues to serve in the IDF, he removes his uniform before he comes home so as not to cause us pain."
By contrast, Arik Harpaz of the secular-religious community of Alei Sinai that is still living in tents near Yad Mordechai, says that at first "it was very hard for me to see the soldiers, but when it comes down to it, the IDF is the only army we have and Israel is the only country that is ours. It is very, very sad that the army was used for political ends in the disengagement, but politicians come and go while the army remains. Instead of complaining about the IDF and the government, our young people must enter its ranks and change it... enter politics and change that too."
Harpaz says that Independence Day is always a very difficult day for him and his wife, overshadowed by the preceding Remembrance Day; their daughter, Liron, served in the IDF at the time she was murdered by terrorists together with her boyfriend in Alei Sinai. On Remembrance Day, Harpaz will attend the memorial ceremonies at Liron's old school and in the tent city and later watch the flag lowered to half-mast at Liron's grave.
Harpaz says, "I have paid a heavy personal price to this country but I am proud that I am an Israeli. I love this land and this people."
Chana Cohen, now living in Ein Tzurim, refers to the IDF chief of staff's criticism on Holocaust Remembrance Day that the evacuees' vow, "We will not forgive, nor forget," demeans the memory of the Holocaust. Cohen responds derisively that "this same phrase is painted on a wall of a building at the entrance to Kibbutz Negba, near Ein Tzurim. They painted it after Rabin's assassination but the chief of staff saw no reason to criticize that. Somehow it is acceptable to say of the one crime that it is unforgivable, but not the destruction of the Land of Israel."
Continues Cohen, "Already last year there were those who wouldn't celebrate Independence Day... the majority said that this is our country, even when it acts destructively. But this year, I am in too much pain. I cannot bring myself to hang up flags or celebrate. I don't know what I'll do. I still believe it was a big miracle that God established this country for us, but after what happened, I personally cannot celebrate the State as it is at present... the State that sent its army to destroy the Land of Israel."
Cohen, who teaches in an Ashkelon religious high school, adds, "The school principal is also an evacuee and at the school celebration, he plans to tell the students that the miracle of the State of Israel is greater than the wrongs that have taken place in it. In his place, I would not be able to speak like that."
For Ella Hoffman, who made aliya less than two years ago, subsequently marrying David, a Neveh Dekalim resident of twelve years, the problem is "that I love the country and I'll celebrate being a part of Israel - but I still hate the corrupt government. We'll put out our Gush Katif flags and think about hanging up the Israeli ones. It is going to take a long time to get my respect back for the military... a long time until I look at a soldier without scowling at him - but it will probably happen unless they do it all over again."