Evacuees from Gaza, northern Samaria, remember their loss

Activists launch three-week program including 100 commemorative events to mark five years since disengagement.

“Bye-bye,” a small boy said as he waved at dozens of orange balloons floating off into the evening sky at the Kissufim crossing to the Gaza Strip on Wednesday.
In a dusty field, several thousand Gaza evacuees and their supporters gathered to mark fifth years since they were pulled from their homes during the disengagement.
At the end of the ceremony, children who were born that year and since stood on the stage decked in orange bands, and released balloons.
The withdrawal began on August 15, 2005, just after the fast of Tisha Be’av, which marks the destruction of both the First and Second Temples.
Evacuees from the 21 Gaza settlements and four in northern Samaria often commemorate the loss of their communities around Tisha Be’av.
Wednesday’s ceremony launched a massive program to hold 100 commemorative events over the next three weeks – 80 in Israel and 20 in countries such as Norway, Germany, the US and Canada, according to Dror Vanunu, formerly of Neveh Dekalim in Gush Katif.
“It is a symbolic time. Five years is not four or six,” Vanunu told The Jerusalem Post, as he sat in the field next to what was once the major entry point for Israelis headed to the Gaza settlements.
“We want people in Israel and abroad to learn the lessons from Gush Katif,” Vanunu said. Their story should serve as a warning, in light of talks of further territorial withdrawals in the West Bank, he said.
Avi Farhan, who had been evacuated twice, once from the Sinai community of Yamit in 1982 and a second time from the Elei Sinai settlement in northern Gaza, lit a torch on a stage that had been set up in the field.
If the disengagement had not happened, he said, “a soldier would not have been kidnapped, there would have been no Operation Cast Lead, Sderot would not continue to be targeted by rockets, there would have been no Gaza flotilla, there would be no international inquiries, and we would not have been refugees within our own nation for the last five years,” Farhan told the audience.
“When we screamed, ‘Stop the mistake,’ you did not pay attention to us,” he said.
“We will free [captive soldier] Gilad Schalit [from Gaza], only when we return home,” he said.
Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud), who has been a consistent opponent of territorial concessions, said he would have liked to see some of those who supported the disengagement in the audience.
These were the people who said that after the disengagement, the southern border would be more secure and Israel’s international standing would improve in the world, Edelstein said.
MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi) said the disengagement was one of the greatest disasters to befall Israel. It has plagued Israel like a snowball that becomes bigger as it rolls down a hill, as it continues to be at the root of Israel’s security problems, he said.
Dani Dayan, chairman of the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, urged Israeli leaders not to repeat the mistake of withdrawing from Israeli territory.
Dayan called on the government to say, “‘Yes, we will build in [east] Jerusalem.’ Say, ‘No, we will not extend the [10-month housing-start] moratorium, and we will continue to build in Judea and Samaria.’” Gaza evacuees at the ceremony spoke of their longing for their former homes.
Vanunu, a father of four, said he is among the 15 percent of Gaza evacuees who have a permanent home.
The remaining 85%, he said, are still living in temporary housing. But he added that he anticipates a dramatic turn around in their condition in 2011.
Vanunu said he expects that 18 new communities will finally be ready for the evacuees during that year and that many of them will be able to move into homes in these new towns.