The Israelis: Still Life

The disengagement led to bitterness for most former Jewish residents of the Gaza Strip.

aizen 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
aizen 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Disengagement has aged Jay Aizen. “A formerly very strong, athletic 60 year old is now an old man,” the former resident of the north Gaza settlement of Elei Sinai told The Jerusalem Post.
It was not the slow shift to 65 that had made the difference, he said, but the loss of his home and neighbors as well as the pride he once had in a well-lived life that has weighed him down physically and psychologically.
“I was always very athletic. I ran and played basketball. I have put on 15 kilos since disengagement,” said Aizen.
He now has high blood pressure and stress-related problems in his shoulder and neck.
“I am not a very happy camper. I am not out there crying the blues, but you are asking, so I am telling you,” said Aizen who now lives in a rented apartment in Ashkelon.
It’s the fourth space he’s rented since his Gaza home was destroyed, not including the two hotels his family lived in immediately after the withdrawal.
Aizen, like 85 percent of the evacuees who chose to live in the 22 new communities set up by the government for them, has yet to move into his new home. Only now is he at the stage where he can design and build the house in an area of Ashkelon, nicknamed “the Golf,” which is likely to be home to 150 evacuee families.
But the thought of a new home has not given him a sense of hope. “I do not have the heart for it. My heart is broken. I have to do it. It’s like a job,” he said.
Nor has he chosen to mark the fifth anniversary of the withdrawal from 21 Gaza settlements and four in northern Samaria. The actual date falls in mid-August, but many evacuees have begun to mark it according to its date on the Hebrew calendar, a few days after Tisha Be’av.
Initially, Aizen said, he would head to the border with other members of Elei Sinai. But standing there, so close to the spot he had loved, only brought him more pain.
There are people who have films of their home being torn down and pictures.
“I would not want to look,” he said. And when he sees photos of his former home, “it makes me cry.”
A native of Philadelphia, Aizen came here in 1974. He and his sabra wife Pnina moved to Elei Sinai in 1991, out of a deep ideological conviction that Israel should hold onto the territory it captured during the Six Day War.
Back then, Aizen said, he thought that such grand gestures made a difference.
In the small seaside community of some 400 people, he raised his six children and built a 385-meter home with a view of the water from every room.
“I am an only child; I lost my father when I was 17. I did not come [to Israel] with my family; I came by myself. I met a woman. I found a community. I built this house. I made a life for myself. It was taken away,” he said.
“It was like losing a father or a loved one. The connection you had to friends [was also lost]. The village has been broken. A lot of bitterness and cynicism has developed.”
He recalled how before prime minister Ariel Sharon first talked about disengagement at the end of 2003, he and his wife walked through their yard and held hands. His wife said, “I want to grow old with you in this house,” Aizen remembered.
Initially, they did not think Sharon truly meant to destroy that vision.
Who would have thought that Ariel Sharon, the same person who built up the settlements, would give up Gaza, said Aizen.
“It was like being sold out by the last person you would expect to sell you out. My son is named for him.
His name is Arik, not Ariel and not Ari. I have a picture of him holding my son in 1993,” he said.
INTERNALIZING THE FACT that they would really have to move took a long time. He only began packing two weeks before disengagement. They moved many, but not all of their possession out, then returned home and slept on mattresses so they could join their neighbors who walked out of the settlement as a group.
The disillusionment was so great, he said, that he even contemplated leaving the country. “But I couldn’t. I have kids in the army all the time.” His children now range from 30 to 17.
“When one is leaving, one is getting ready to go in.
That is the kind of children I brought up, they believe in all of this,” he said.
“I am very bitter. I do not think that you or the Knesset really gives a damn.”
Although he is lucky that his family has remained intact, he said, there have been many divorces as a result. Children, who might otherwise have been on the right track went on the wrong on.
The Elei Sinai community was not able to withstand the strain and instead of maintaining its ties, splintered into small groups, Aizen said.
He himself has not really been able to return to his work as a consultant to furniture businesses. “I have not felt well enough,” he said.
Nor from where he sits has disengagement benefited the country. “We had war. We had Gilad Schalit.
We have have horrible relations in the world. We have flotillas coming to Gaza.
Can you tell me what you gained, nothing.”
In a way, he said, he regrets that he moved to Elei Sinai. He was happy there, but the destruction that followed in his personal life wasn’t worth the price. “If they opened the border I would not go back, not because I don’t believe in it. It wasn’t a mistake when I did it.”
But he has learned that one person cannot move a national agenda. Withdrawals from territory won’t be prevented because people have built houses there, he added.
“I am just a small part of everything; someone else is in control. Why sacrifice your family and your health for something you cannot change,” said Aizen.
It turns out, he said, “all these things are not written in sand.”
It isn’t, he said, that his values have changed. “The Zionism that got me here is still inside of me, it just doesn’t exist in this country.”