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The Civil War that Wasn't

The Civil War that Wasn't

An invisible but very tangible border arose between those who shared the pain of disengagement and those who did not.

by
The looming civil war, which Prime Minister Ariel Sharon prophesied from the pages of The New York Times, did not materialize.

It did not because a civil war requires two opposing camps fighting each other, hating each other, and most importantly, convinced that their survival depends on the annihilation of each other.

Over the past two months, I spent a great deal of time in Gush Katif, both with families in the last minutes of their lives there, as well as with the soldiers and officers. What I saw, even at the most trying and tragic moments, was not a division into two camps of evacuating soldiers and evacuees.

The settlers and the army were of the same camp -- Israeli citizens placed in a difficult, and often impossibly grueling, situation. Two warring camps simply did not exist.

During the demanding days of the so-called disengagement, there were many dramatic televised scenes of resistance and human tragedy. But many other, no less telling, scenes were not caught by the media.

The cameras missed the joint mincha prayers and the shared volleyball games on opposite sides of the ostensibly dividing Kfar Maimon fence. They missed soldiers being the first to offer their condolences to a family sitting shiva, even ritually tearing their clothes, mourning three generations of life in Gush Katif and the imminent disappearance of a unique world of Torah and modern agriculture built on the barren sands of the Gaza strip.

They did not see the final Torah lesson led by the head of a family for his children, joined, first hesitantly and sheepishly, and then actively and vigorously, by the evacuating soldiers; they overlooked the tear-swollen eyes of the soldiers and settlers alike, discussing what our forefathers, Abraham and Isaac, must have felt when the wells that they had excavated were sealed. They did not cover a senior officer, going door-to-door to the homes of his own soldiers all over Gush Katif, apologizing personally for the pain that the army and state was inflicting upon these families.

They also missed the last Shabbat prayers in the beautiful synagogues of Gush Katif, when the prayer for the well-being of the state was tearfully chanted. In it, Israel is called "the beginning of our spiritual redemption," and God is asked to bless the heads, ministers and advisers -- the same government that had sent the army to destroy the world the people of Gush Katif built with their labor, dreams and blood.

Perhaps the most telling were the dialogues between pairs of Israeli journalists on all three major TV stations. One would be stationed in Gush Katif; the other in the studio. As time went by, the two professionals, who had worked together for many years, started speaking different languages.

The reporter in the studio would still be using the cliches about the dangerous settlers running rampant in the Gush; the reporter who had spent two weeks in the field came to see in the residents of the Gush fellow human beings facing a personal tragedy of unimaginable proportions.

Disengagement was widely portrayed as a battle between the powers of democracy and lawless settler fanatics. For sure, violent acts and protests were committed on the fringes. But the leaders of the Yesha Council, no less than the army and police officers, did all in their power to ensure that, despite all the pain, this would be a "battle" with one side: that both those who implemented the government's decisions and those who protested them would play on the side of democracy.

And yet, the disengagement did cause other fronts to surface. An invisible but very tangible border arose; not between soldiers and settlers, but between those who shared the pain of disengagement and those who did not. The latter could not relate to the disappearing world of Gush Katif as part of their own world.

The excruciatingly painful battle between these two camps was waged on the pages of some of our newspapers, in the often base attacks from the Knesset podium, and in the heartless comments of "they deserve it!" or "I have more in common with the Palestinians than with the crazy settlers," heard often enough in the streets.

Our sages tell us that a two-headed baby was once brought before King Solomon, who was asked to rule if this infant was one child or two. The king ordered hot water sprinkled on one of the heads, to see if the other head would respond in tears. If it did, the child would be considered one human being; if not, two disparate ones. [One could say that] empathy is the ultimate sign of oneness.

Still, like any high tragedy, the struggle for Gush Katif showed not only anguished weakness, but also great hope. Within the depths of this struggle, the Panim el Panim (Face-to-Face) movement was born. Thousands of settlers and their friends knocked on the doors of more than 100,000 homes in Kiryat Shmona, Netanya, Tel Aviv, Beersheba and Haifa. Half of the houses opened their doors. In many homes, the knock was the beginning of an important dialogue and the establishment of vital connections.

Paradoxically, the disengagement itself became a massive and unprecedented face-to-face event, of an intense and often heart-wrenching intra-Jewish dialogue. Yet, we cannot and should not wait for tragedies on such a scale to initiate a dialogue among ourselves.

From its inception, the Gush Emunim movement believed that it should constantly move ahead, build and expand, never looking back. The rest of the nation, they believed, would surely catch up later. Yet, the nation, as the leaders saw all too late, did not catch up. Instead, bridges of dialogue have to be built between the camps.

But for this, the face-to-face process must be encouraged and even become the nexus of our Zionist activity. The civil war that wasn't teaches us that we are all in the same camp - except perhaps those indifferent to their fellow citizens' suffering. We must continue knocking on each other's doors. Breaking down the walls of ignorance and indifference is critical not just to our strength against external enemies, but our ability to address the many societal challenges facing us in the days ahead.

This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.

Published: September 12, 2005


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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) joseph eisenstadt, September 22, 2005 12:00 AM

woe to those who did not feel

iyov (job) was one of paroh's advisers in mitzraim.when paroh asked for advice
about the jews, yisro said treat them well. bilaam said destroy them. iyov abstained. iyov suffered mightily for his lack of feeling.where are the jews
when other jews are in pain? did they have to wait for Katrina and Rita to respond?

(3) BM, September 18, 2005 12:00 AM

response to YH

How could you say lashon haro about klal yisroel that way? The meraglim and klal yisroel made the mistake of saying and believing lashon haro about eretz yisroel and were severely punished - and that was just about a land, not people.

(2) Eduardo Manuel, September 18, 2005 12:00 AM

The cicle of the Moon

28 days,isn´t it?After a dark moon cames a full moon.The most important thing to Eretz Israel must be the hope.The hope that all this is inside a Superior intention to fullfill A Plan,and keep going forward.Inside THE PLAN,for sure.

(1) YH, September 14, 2005 12:00 AM

Not Quite the Way Sharansky Describes It

I read the following: As the organizer of the largest group of Americans to go to Israel DURING the Expulsion, I am both embarassed and shocked at such a selective glorifying presentation [as Sharansky portrays it].
Of the thousands of soldiers and policemen I PERSONALLY encountered during the final 8 days in Neve Dekalim, I maybe saw a handful crying, and that was when we had a dedication of a new Torah procession. The VAST majority (95% at least), coldly and numbly fulfilled orders to expel Jews from Our Land. They overwhelmingly turned away from hysterical mothers and crying children, looked at the ground when grown men were reduced to tears like a 5 yr. old because they were being ordered by these same soldiers and policemen to permanently leave their homes which were to be destroyed only a week later!

And what was the PENALTY to these soldiers for disobeying orders that contravened our Holy Torah? 28 days in jail. That's all that separated the dozens that refused from 60,000 that obeyed!

Yes, it was nice of the soldiers to feel the pain. They would have felt pain if they had to throw the Arabs out of their homes too.

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