A painful anniversary
In August 2005, Israel began officially disengaging from Gaza. Residents of the 21 Israeli settlements in Gaza were given until August 15 to pack their belongings and voluntarily vacate. Otherwise they would be forcibly evacuated. The disengagement was painful for all concerned, but particularly for soldiers who were born and raised in Gaza, and who were under military orders to evacuate their families, friends and neighbors. The scenes shown on television were heartbreaking, and even viewers whose politics were not in sync with those of those of the settlers could not help but weep at their plight.
Few of the promises for speedy resettlement and rehabilitation that were made by the government of Ariel Sharon were kept. Many families were permanently traumatized, especially those whose young people went off the rails. There are still families that have not found permanent housing, though most have succeeded in making new lives for themselves. Even so, the pain has not left them.
On the approach of the 15th anniversary of the disengagement from Gaza, the junior residents of Bnei Dekalim, which was established to house the evacuees from Neve Dekalim, decided there was no longer any point in waiting for government responsibility.
Some 50 teenagers, some of whom were born to families that were evacuated in 2005, decided to renovate the public areas of their community. They assembled, erected and painted dozens of benches and pergolas throughout the village. This effort was initiated and assisted by the volunteer unit of JNF UK.
Acutely aware that Israel is currently enduring a series of crises, Yonatan Galon, CEO of JNF UK, speaking of the organization’s support for the residents of Bnei Dekalim, says “Our hearts are with the evacuees of Gush Katif, just as they are with the residents living near the Gaza Strip.”
Of the youngsters involved in the sprucing up of Bnei Dekalim, Tamar Bakshi, 20, a youth coordinator who is still bitter after losing her childhood home in the Gush Katif settlement bloc, decided not to do national army service, but to do civilian national service in her community. “I still have the image engraved in my mind of my father, Rabbi Roni Bakshi, choking with emotion while urging soldiers not to evacuate the synagogue,” she says. The decline in public interest of the fate of the evacuees bothers her, but she is heartened by the British support.
“This lets me know that we have not been completely forgotten,” she says.
Nahala Ahuva Avraham, 15, whose parents emigrated from Ethiopia and were among the few Ethiopian-Israeli families in Gush Katif, complains that the youth in Bnei Dekalim feel neglected.”We teenagers do not get enough attention,” she says.
Another 15 year old, Elkana Gobi, was named after his uncle, a special forces soldier who in 2001 fell in battle at the Kissufim crossing, which was the main route for traffic into Gush Katif. Gobi says that, when he thinks about the disengagement, it evokes “a feeling of missing out because we are not there.” He would be happy to return to Gaza one day.
Dvir Serloi, 18, was born in Neve Dekalim and was there at the time of the evacuation. “I was on my sister’s shoulders with a megaphone and urged the soldiers to refuse orders,” he recalls. The evacuation is a constant presence in his family, says Serloi. “My father has a kind of Neve Dekalim museum at home. We have a Qassam shell and a piece of rocket shrapnel that we collected, along with objects from the synagogue that my father saved before the destruction.” For all that he is not certain that he would ever want to go back. “Finally, after many years of wandering, we have a permanent home. We will not leave it so soon.”
Harel Hania, a 15-year-old whose mother Mazal was televised imploring soldiers not to drag her from her home, is less focused on the past, and places great importance on the renovation work. For him, it confirms that this is his home, and this is his future.
■ ALSO LOOKING to the future are members of the Druze Veterans Association who have entered into a partnership with the government of Israel and Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal, to create the first Druze Hi-Tech Economic Empowerment Center. Although the bill proposed last week by Yesh Atid-Telem’s Druze MK Gadeer Mreeh for an amendment to the Nation-State Law, which would clarify the equality of all citizens, was defeated, the Druze are moving forward in their quest for equality with the groundbreaking ceremony for the hi-tech center, which will be known as DTec. These days, the D stands for Druze, but with help of Prof. Uri Sivan of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, who has pledged his support to ensure that the project will thrive, DTec will one day stand for a doctorate in technology.
An initiative of the Druze Veterans Association, which was founded and is headed by Koftan Halabi, DTec’s groundbreaking is the fruit of five years of intensive lobbying and hard work, and was deliberately held on the eve of the festival of Eid al-Adha.
It had been hoped that the ceremony would be attended by President Reuven Rivlin and Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, but COVID-19 got in the way of plans, and in the final analysis, the state and the government were represented by Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shai, who enthusiastically lauded the project, and the tectonic promise it provides not only for the Druze community but for the national economy.
Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Moafak Tarif laid the first brick. Although many people who had wanted to attend had to be disinvited due to Health Ministry purple standard restrictions, Keren Hayesod World Chairman Sam Grundwerg, stood out among those present.
Halabi particularly regretted the absence of the project’s pro bono management consultant Dr. Mike Cohen, who had helped to design and brand DTec and to bring it to the attention of influential people around the world. Cohen was unable to attend because he was in coronavirus isolation.
■ IN THE Zoom era, much of the population is all but glued to the computer screen. Eli Knoller, the director of development and community relations at Laniado Medical Center in Netanya says that a virtual fund-raiser scheduled for August 8 will include live enjoyment for people living in the Netanya area. Titled the “Big Bagel Brunch,” it includes a full Sunday bagel brunch meal delivered directly to the doors of participants in Netanya and immediate surrounds, who will be able to enjoy it as they tune in together to a Zoom program presentation plus trivia on the history of the Bagel presented by the Jewish Baking Center.
Participants will pay NIS 100 per meal, which will include a bagel with a choice of different fillings, a salad with dressing, a vegetable wrap and cake.
Due to logistics, deliveries cannot be made beyond the wider Netanya area, but the Zoom program can be watched by anyone who is interested and who wants to donate to Laniado.
■ PROTEST DEMONSTRATIONS are heating up around the country, and in at least one case are being rekindled. Residents of South Tel Aviv, who are furious with the judges of the Supreme Court who have thwarted all efforts to rid the southern neighborhoods of African migrants and refugees, have sprayed the homes of Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, and judges Uzi Fogelman and Daphna Barak as well as that of former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak with the words ‘Jewish Blood should not be Forsaken’. The perpetrators were South Tel Aviv’s most vocal activists, Doron Avrahami and Shefi Paz, who contend that what is permissible for Balfour (i.e. by the Prime Minister’s residence) is permissible in Tel Aviv. For as long as residents of South Tel Aviv will have to suffer in their neighborhoods, so the peace of the justices will be disrupted in their clean neighborhoods, say the two.
■ IN EVERY generation, the elders bemoan the future, concerned that the youth are not following in their ways, but are going in different directions. Despite gloom and doom reports of assimilation on the part of Diaspora Jewish youth, young Jews from around the world, particularly the US, continue to come to Israel to serve as lone soldiers in the IDF. Last month, 78 Americans joined 3,500 lone soldiers currently serving in the IDF – and more are on the way. Not all lone soldiers are halachically Jewish, but the Jewish gene prompts them to come and contribute to Israel’s security.
Some lone soldiers are the offspring of fathers or mothers or both who served in the IDF, and have grown up listening to their stories, knowing that they want to be part of a similar scene. Others feel that as Jews, it’s not enough to simply identify or raise money for Israel. They also have to give of themselves. Of these, many eventually make aliyah.
One such person who came with the last group is Naomi Jaffe, 18, from Boulder, Colorado, who after two visits to Israel, fell in love with the country and decided to come back permanently. She will make aliyah after completing her army service.
Israel may not be a bed of roses, and many government policies are subject to controversy, but the concept of Israel as the Jewish homeland remains strong. Hopefully, these youngsters will remember, that just as the countries in which they were raised are home to different minorities, Israel too, is home to people other than Jews.