“It’s God crying,” said the woman, a Netiv Ha’avot resident, as the unseasonable cold rain began to fall in Gush Etzion Tuesday.
Tears filled my eyes as she said it. Minutes later young police officers – some who couldn’t be more than 20-years-old – carried out an older man from a home and gently sat him on the ground. His kippa falling off in the process. A resident of the area rushed forward and handed him water to drink as he sat crying.
I broke down completely – one of the border patrol officers asked if I wanted to sit down. I told him I was fine. “I need to see this, it’s important.”
“We are Gush Katif,” shouted a boy in the crowd. “Netiv Ha’avot will always be our home – today is a dark day for our people.”
A different boy was forcefully carried out of the home, his face was red and tear stained, and he too was gently placed on the ground. A police officer put an arm around him in a bid to comfort him – something the cameras didn’t catch. His father and sister then picked him up and hugged him tightly.
You see, it’s a strange dichotomy – the officers evacuating each of the 15 houses were also trying their hardest to comfort the victims. Several of the odd couples cried together, while other residents pulled away from the arm extended by the police officers.
Security was tight and most protesters and observers, unless they had permission, were not allowed to cross a barrier that had been put up by the border police.
Amid the chaotic scene, there were some almost comical moments. A large group of teenage boys “guarding” a family and its home prior the eviction stood on the roof holding Israeli flags. Another group in the garden below began to sing. Minutes later boxes and boxes of ice cream bars were being pushed onto the roof by people below and the group on the roof began throwing them to friends above and below.
Some of the youngsters began to giggle, but the moment of laughter was short-lived as another house began to be evacuated a few doors down.
More characteristically, the atmosphere was solemn and deathly quiet. A friend, who lived in one of the 15 homes, stopped me and we began to talk. He asked if I’d seen his home. I asked which one, and he pointed to the one on the corner – a home I’d photographed earlier. It was a home that clearly showed signs that it was packed up and left in a hurry. The glass in the windows had already been taken out.
I noticed a soldier standing under the veranda, taking a break from the chaos, smoking a cigarette. As I walked further down the road, I saw one of the police officers clad in blue, who was sitting on the ground smoking a cigarette - his eyes bloodshot. He too was crying. I recognized him as one of the security forces who had earlier carried out the old man.
Several boys argued at the barrier with Border Police officers who listened intently to what they were saying, but had no answer. Only one officer could bring himself to put his arm over the barrier and place it on a young boy’s shoulder, “Achi [brother],” he said, shaking his head.