Ex-Gaza farmers hold fast to link Tisha Be'av to disengagement

'The mourning process is the same,' says one evacuee.

For Shlomo Wasserteil and some 19 evacuee Gaza farmers, the Tisha Be'av fast started two days early, to commemorate the destruction of their Gaza homes and to highlight the government's failure to compensate them for their loss. The 20 evacuees went on a liquid-only diet on Sunday night, and as he sat in a protest tent near the Knesset Monday, Wasserteil said the similarities were striking between the historic day of mourning for the Temple destroyed some 2000 years ago and the narrative of the Gaza evacuation which began the day after the fast in August 2005. "At the same time that the Romans broke down the walls of the Old City and burned and destroyed the Temple, our government, headed then by Ariel Sharon, had the decency to throw the Jews out of their homes in Gush Katif," Wasserteil said. 'Now, two years later... we are sitting here and striking. It is a national day of mourning for the people of Israel, but for us even more so." Before disengagement, Wasser-teil was a geranium farmer in Ganei Tal, where he owned 40 dunams of land and successfully exported his flowers to other countries. Today, living in a temporary abode in Yad Binyamin, he has neither farmland of his own nor a permanent place to call home. Fellow Gaza evacuee Moshe Reuven said that like Wasserteil, "I am fasting and feeling sadness over the destruction of the Temple just like any Jew is feeling. But I am also mourning over the destruction of my house, my land, my community, and all of Gush Katif, which happened the day after Tisha Be'av." They, along with dozens of others, have been protesting in the tent since last Sunday, when the evacuee Gaza farmers held a rally demanding that the government fully reimburse them for the land and money that they lost. This week they have focused their activities around Tisha Be'av. On Monday night they invited hundreds to join them for a candle-lit reading of Megillat Eicha. An afternoon prayer service will be held there on Tuesday as well. "People are fasting and coming to Jerusalem anyway," explained Herzl Elazari, originally from the Gaza settlement of Bedolah. "So we are asking them to stop by the tent and show their support and strengthen us." Elazari now resides in Nitzan, and said that he is living off very little money since he lost all his farming income two years ago. "Our temple was destroyed twice," Elazari observed. "Our homes in Gush Katif were destroyed once, and I hope we will never have to experience it a second time, because the mourning process is the same." On Wednesday, on the actual anniversary of the disengagement, the evacuees are having a full day commemoration event. Beginning in the morning at Netivot, participants will travel to Kissufim for lectures, prayers, movies and people sharing personal stories throughout the afternoon. The highlight of the day is expected to be the dedication of one of the Torah scrolls removed from Gush Katif during the evacuation. In a symbolic gesture, the Torah is being given to the Kassam-ridden community of Sderot. "The strong faith of the people in Sderot is the protection that they will provide for this Torah that they are receiving," explained Nitza Perry from Bedolah. "We will leave our Torah there, and they will keep it safe for us until Gush Katif is rebuilt." On Thursday, Nitzan which is temporarily home to many Gaza evacuees, is hosting several musicians who will perform there, though not all residents are enthusiastic about it. "I don't know if we have the energy to celebrate and be happy," confessed Elazari, "because this is really a time of sadness for us." After Thursday, the protesters are unsure of their next course of action. They might continue protesting by the Knesset, but they are also considering moving their location to Nitzan, since the Knesset is soon starting its summer recess. Nitzan resident David Gueta, formerly of the Gaza settlement of Gan Or, is determined to protest for as long as it takes, however. "This is an ongoing struggle which we will not stop until we get help," he asserted. "At this point, we have nothing else left to lose." "We will continue to protest for as long as it takes to get results," declared Wasserteil. "Last year at this time, we were in shock and we cried, and we went up to Kissufim, the closest place to Gush Katif. We wanted to see if it really had happened, that this wasn't all a dream. Now, today, we understand better and we are starting to despair over the fact that the government still has not done anything to help." He is not alone in these feelings of hopelessness. "I feel terrible, and very downcast," admitted Delilah Yitzhaki, also from Bedolah. "Our sadness is doubled because every year on this day we are reminded of the destruction of our own houses. Tisha Be'av just brings up terrible memories for us." "Maybe Tisha Be'av will be an opportune time for the government to wake up and hear our voices," she added, "since they destroyed our homes and hothouses then."