Disengagement Diaries

Day 12: The End (Until We Return)

I refused to go on the bus after being forced out of the Neve Dekalim synagogue. I wasn’t about to leave Gush Katif like cattle. I demanded that I at least go to the bathroom, which was fair enough, since the army kept feeding us water in the synagogue — like patting us on the back and then stabbing us. The girl who took me out of the synagogue escorted me to the bathroom to keep watch. “I can’t believe this. I’m 28 years-old with a lot of experience and this 20 year-old girl is dragging me out of a synagogue. It’s so humiliating!” “I’m not at peace with this,” she said, “but this is the system.” “The problem is that no one wants to fight the system.” With a sad look on her face she left me at the curb and continued with her work. I asked the policemen to let me feel normal and give me a cigarette. “Okay,” said the commander eventually, handcuffs on his waist. “You had your cigarette, now get on the bus.” “But I want to leave with my friends to Tel Aviv. They’re on the grass!” “Sorry, you can’t. Girls!” he called out to the female officers, who were busy dragging other girls. It was clear that this was a power issue, but the policewomen had rowdier girls to deal with. They ignored him. I snuck away and met an Israeli media assistant …

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Day 11: Ariel Sharon vs. God

Sharon beat God. I was there.  I saw it, with my own eyes.  I saw the ark of the Torah and the tablets of the Ten Commandments above it.  I was in there when those beautiful, earnest, loving young women were praying and singing with all there hearts, with hope still burning inside them.  I felt their passion, their love for Israel, their love for God. I sang with them.  I heard their cries, and I cried with them. “Our Father Our King, annul all evil decrees against us!” “Our Father Our King, have mercy on us and answer us — for we have no deeds — act with charity and kindness and deliver us!” And I almost thought, looking at the Torah, that this was the moment — that we had it — that God would hear our prayers and that our cries would strike the hearts of the soldiers — and possibly even Bush’s — and they would be awestruck.  The decree would be annulled, and the soldiers would either join us or turn around, for how could they destroy such beauty?  How could they desecrate the God of Israel’s name in broad daylight, in the eyes of the world. “No, I can’t do it,” they would say to each other and to their commander. “How could we do this?” “We need a miracle!  Where’s the miracle?” cried one girl next to me, tears streaming down her face. …

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Day 10: What’s This Country Coming To?

In all the time I’ve lived in Israel, my mother has never been so worried. I’ve lived right near cafes where terrorist bombings have taken place, but she never had my dad and sister call me to try to convince me to be careful. Now, with brutal Israeli Police threatening to use force against stubborn infiltrators, she’s all aghast. She’s more afraid for my safety under the threat of a Jewish army and police force than under the threat of enemy terrorist attackers. What is this country coming to? Last night soldiers were sitting on the sidewalk near the Neve Dekalim gate and I sat in front of them. They weren’t doing anything in particular and I just started to sing. I sang zmirot, or lyrical tunes, of my teenage years and they sung from the move “The Prince of Egypt”, which Miriam and the Israelites sang during the Exodus from Egypt. “There can be miracles, when you believe. Though hope is frail, it’s hard to kill. Who knows what miracles you can achieve. When you believe, somehow you will.” Some were moved. Some weren’t. “Cleave to your cause,” said one soldier to me, privately. “What about you?” I asked. “I don’t think this is right but if I don’t do this they’ll take me out of my brigade. They’ll make me a ‘jobnik’.” “But you’ll have a clean conscience.” He just frowned. “There’s nothing to do,” said another. “Yes …

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Day 9: Getting Engaged

Settlement residents and infiltrators are ambushing security forces — ambushing their hearts and their minds. I am on the frontlines of the Jewish soul. Border police created a new human border at the entrance of each settlement, and here at Neve Dekalim, and residents and infiltrators are ambushing them — ambushing their hearts and their minds. First, I shook their hands in my jeans and white T-shirt. They smiled back. They were trained not to smile, not to talk, but they were engaged. My friend Nava, one of the “Americans Opposing Jewish Expulsion,” engaged a pretty blue-eyed woman, dressed in black, trying to look tough. “You came from Russia to be here. You left a communist country to be part of the Israeli KGB! You shouldn’t be doing this. You should be a model!” She smiled, but the mean old policeman drove a wedge between soldiers and protestors. “Give them space.” “Give the people back their houses’ space!” I shouted. Then an 18-year-old woman, dressed modestly, found another black angel to pick on. “My grandfather was taken out of his home, now you’re going to take me out of my home? Jews don’t do this to Jews! We’ve suffered together! We’ve gone through so much together! Why inflict this suffering upon us?” “Listen to her,” another yelled. “She’s 18 years old and she understands more than you!” He couldn’t look her in the eye, but he was trying to hold …

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Day 8: Sex on the Beach

I totally lost it on Friday. I was sitting under a beach hut with some residents who were lamenting that this was their “last Shabbat” at the Gush. The young, robust man who had snuck me in was gulping whiskey, tears in his eyes, his face red. I stepped into the ocean with my blue bikini and white belly button ring. The strong waves began to attack me and I fought back. It gave me strength. Yonder, I saw the hotel that the army had taken over by force about two months ago. There was a long, wide stairway leading to a corridor where soldiers seemed to be in the middle of an exercise, their guns pointed at the sea. I run into shooting range, fall on my knees on the sand, and put my hands up. “Don’t shoot!” I yelled. “Don’t shoot me,” I pleaded. Then I fell down on my back, moaning as I faked death. They all applauded my Oscar-winning show and invited me up to them. I happily obliged. Around 10 young, hunky Jewish soldiers surrounded me, tongues hanging out. “Are you the pullout forces?” I asked playfully in Hebrew, with my American accent. “What’s it to you?” asked the commander. “Because I have a fantasy.” The soldiers’ smiles widened. “How old are you?” one asked, looking me up and down. “I’m 17,” I said, then added as an afterthought, “And a virgin”. All eyes and …

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Day 7: The Limits of Friendship

I cried for the first time today since I’ve been here. It wasn’t because I imagined cute little Israeli kids being torn from their parents; it wasn’t because women in wheelchairs will be begging officers to leave them alone; it wasn’t because synagogues and Jewish graves will be plundered; it wasn’t because I was warned seriously that police might hit me, even though that made me scared as hell. It was because my friends couldn’t give a shit. I decided I would call them and ask them to do something to help me. I asked one of them, who actually supported our struggle, to simply forward my to our mutual friends since I didn’t have their e-mail addresses. She hesitated. She couldn’t really explain why — she was busy — but it seemed like some sort of inconvenience. I called another good friend, who also supported our struggle, and pleaded: “I’m turning to you will all my heart — they might beat me here, and there is something you can do to stop it. There are organized marches to Gush Katif that will tie up the expulsion forces.” “I’m not going to a rally,” she said curtly. “But I might get hurt.” “You can’t tell me what to do,” she said. “It’s not my cause. I’m not as extreme as you are. You shouldn’t put yourself in danger.” “But you’re against the plan!” “But I think it’s going to happen. …

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Day 6: Yellow Yankees

Gush Katif had a pleasant surprise today, like a bucket of sunshine. Men and women wearing bright yellow shirts with black letters “Americans Against the Expulsion of Jews” somehow managed to get in. The ingathering of exiles has begun. There were about 25 of them from different states: New York, New Jersey, Florida, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, of all streams and religions: reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Chabad, and Christian. Some were down-to-earth professionals, while others were down right cooky. But all of them decided that they could not sit at home and watch TV while this insanity, which their President encouraged, was going on. A Lubavicher guy organized the group, and somehow, they all found each other — through the internet, through word of mouth. And now they are here. And they are brimming with joy. Reporters were drawn to their yellow like little bugs. Many of the interviews turned into conversations. “Don’t you think we have to do something for peace?” asked an Israeli-Brazilian reporter, not only the story, but also for himself. He made aliya a few years ago and doesn’t know what to believe anymore. These Americans helped this poor soul out of the intellectual muck that the Israeli government, media, and intellectuals had stuffed his brain with. One replied: “Yes, and what you have to do is to stand-up for yourself, to stand up for Israel — not to appease the terrorists and give them what they …

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Day 5: Frequent Flyers

Many flyers were handed out today. One advertised a handholding chain from Gaza to Jerusalem. Another advertised a communal prayer in the evening. Another flyer informed residents of the siege that would befall the settlements next week, when transportation between settlements will be forbidden and power and water possibly cut. The community called on us to stock up on canned foods, water, flashlights, toilet paper and many other amenities for at least two weeks. An official flyer from a senior IDF General, casually handed out to residents at Netzarim, Morag, and maybe some other settlements, expressed to the residents the government’s “deep understanding” of their pain but that nevertheless, starting Monday they have two days to leave voluntarily and receive the full compensation package and the luxury of having the army move most of their stuff. If not, it went on, the government will relinquish any serious responsibility for providing for them thereafter. The flyer acknowledged that Tisha B’Av, the day the siege begins, is the saddest day of the Jewish people, but that sometimes growth spawns from sorrow. Some residents burned the flyer. Then there were many national “flyers” that didn’t mention anything about these other flyers. The front page headline of Maariv read (and I kid you not): “Danger in Antalya.” Obviously, more Israelis are in danger in Turkey then they are in Israel itself. The other headlines read (paraphrased): “Veteran Israeli Actor Accused of Rape” and “One …

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Day 4: CNN & Dew Drop In

Yesterday, for the first time in nine years, I davened (recited) Shakharit, the traditional morning prayer. It wasn’t the result of any religious revelation or desire to return to Orthodoxy. Some student supporters had simply decided to go to shul, and I joined them. I recited the summer prayer that God let the dew fall. After Shakharit, a small CNN crew landed in Morag to film the place. No one really welcomed them except me. No one really likes to talk to the press unless it’s for a live broadcast. In the editing room reporters manage to turn things around and preserve only those remarks that bear well for the disengagement and present the settlers in a negative light. Noticing my friendliness, CNN decided to interview me as secular supporter of the Gush and probably also to fish for some information about Morag’s resistance activities, which I wasn’t about to offer. Here are some non-verbatim snippets of the conversation should the important parts be cut or should my interview remain on the shelves: CNN: Until when are you here? Orit: Until the thanksgiving celebration. CNN: What are the settlers planning to do the day of? Orit: There are some who are packing, but I just spoke to a family who didn’t pack a thing. My sense is that they don’t want a violent confrontation. Their weapon is love — love for their family, love for their homes, love for Israel. …

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Day 3: The Nine Days

A new week in the Gush — and I have a feeling it will bear a different tone than last week, which was filled with euphoria. This week will be filled with more solemnity, as we are counting the nine days leading to the destruction of the second temple — and the planned destruction of Jewish communities in Gush Katif. Everyday at Gush Katif brings something new — a new friend, a new experience, a new idea, or a new understanding. I heard that a group of students against the expulsion, the “Orange Cell,” had landed in the Gush, illegally of course, and I thought I would become acquainted with them. They were roughly my age, some of them were secular, and the leader was pretty cute and charismatic. He flirted with me too, although I later realized that he flirted with almost every female. They invited me to join them at Morag, the southernmost settlement and the most precarious. It’s surrounded by three Arab villages, which make them a popular target for mortar attacks. Morag is slated as one of the first to go. A 50+ year-old man with a grey beard, a teacher, welcomed us into his home to get acquainted. He explained that there were 40 families in Morag and that they were split regarding their dedication to refusing the pull-out, but he believed that the media exaggerated the percentage of families who would leave willingly. He …

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Day 2: Shabbat in the Gush II

The last time I spent Shabbat in Gush Katif, the topic of Disengagement was a self-imposed taboo; this time it was all the families could talk about. Mothers, fathers, children were all venting their anger, upset, humiliation, suffering, pain, and most of all — incredulity — incredulity that the Israeli government could be so cruel and heartless by putting them through such a traumatic ordeal. I entered the home of the family hosting me for the Friday night meal — it was not a house — but a home. The home was filled with hundred of plants and paintings and sculptures created by the artistic mother — and with warmth, generosity, and love. The table was set immaculately for their four children and five guests, and ten different kinds of salads added color to the table. “Doesn’t your mother get a kiss for Shabbat?” the lady of the house asked her handsome, lean 22 year-old son as he walked in from shul. He looked more like her brother. He immediately obliged. As we sat down, the conversation easily turned to the subject of the Disengagement — no, it’s not a “Disengagement” the mother reminded us, it’s an “Expulsion” — and the father simply declared the unofficial Israeli anthem, trying to emanate strength: “It will all be okay.” But we all knew it wouldn’t be. The couple came to the Gush 30 years ago, when the area consisted only of sand …

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The End of Sanity

Published originally in the Jewish Journal, this piece describes my first visit to Gush Katif, a visit that I didn’t know at the time would change my life–forever.

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