The Exodus from Gaza

I am a regular reader of Daniel Gordis, in part because I know him and in part because I find his writing to be compelling. If you ask him he might not recognize my name, but my face for certain, not that any of this matters. What I appreciate is that he looks at life in Israel from a very real perspective, placing a human face on all sides. And based upon past discussions and much of what I have read I think that our politics are similar. He has undergone an interesting evolution and I suspect I might have too if I had actually made aliyah. In his most recent dispatch he writes about a recent experience with his family and the upcoming disengagement. It is a long, but well written piece that I am going to grab a few nuggets from.

This year, we decided that with the Disengagement coming up, probably sometime at the end of the summer, we should take the kids to Gush Katif in Gaza so that they could see what it is that we’re actually leaving. I, at least, didn’t want their impressions of these people and their communities to be based solely on the press, or rumors, or imagination.
In favor or against (and the kids are actually split), I wanted them to see real people, real houses, gardens, synagogues, cemeteries. And the Palestinians who live around them. In other words, the whole complicated mess.”

Not to spend a ton of time lauding Gordis, but I really do appreciate his ability to make it human. In the next section he tells of taking the wrong road and illustrates a story that sounds like it should have been part of a movie.

So we set out early Tuesday morning of Pesach to make our way to Gaza.Given the traffic jams that normally accompany every Pesach day-trip, we left relatively early in the morning, and decided to take the back way out of Jerusalem, which means going south, by Gilo, Beit Jala (of Intifada fame) and the “tunnel road” to Gush Eztion. From there, we’d head south-west and wind our way over to Gaza, I figured.

We went past Gush Eztion, via the tunnel road that was the object of all the shooters from Beit Jala a few years ago and that is now shielded by massive concrete barriers on either side. As I looked at the map while driving, it seemed to me that a bit further south there was a road that offered a more direct cut, due west, and that might save us a bit of time. Why not, I figured? So we kept heading south, when all of a sudden, any semblance of being in Israel disappeared. The signs were all in Arabic. There was very little traffic on the road, and what there was, was all Palestinian taxis and trucks (with different license plates, of course, making our car stand out rather starkly). There were kids shepherding their flocks of sheep and goats on either side of the road, and older men in kafiyehs, sitting by the side of the road, or walking. More than anything else, though, people were staring at us, with a look that more or less said, “What in the world are YOU doing HERE?”

I was hoping that the kids would stay in their earphone-induced trances in the back, and that Elisheva would continue to doze, until I’d made the right turn and gotten us out of there, but no such luck. A few minutes later, the kids began to ask, “Where, exactly, are we?”

“South of Gush Eztion,” I said, as if that would be comforting.

The kids went back to their music, at which point Elisheva whispered to me, “I don’t think this road was such a great idea. You notice we’re the only Israelis near here? And there’s not even any army in evidence?”

“You don’t have to whisper,” I pointed out. The kids were behind solid walls of mp3, and as for the danger outside, well, whispering wasn’t going to help. I found myself trying to remember how long it had been since we’d switched the tires on the car, wondering how long, exactly, we might stay alive on this road if we had to stop to change one. I decided not to share that thought with her.

“How much longer till we hit the green line [and enter Israel proper again],” I asked her, pointing to the map that she was holding.

She looked at the map. “A while.”


“Meaning I don’t know. The green line’s not on the map.”

Oh, yeah. That oft-forgotten little fact about Israeli maps. Hardly any of them show where the line used to be. As if, until recently, there was no sense that it would ever be important again.

“Well, how long till we’re out of these Palestinian villages and back near something with a Hebrew name?”

“A while.”


“Meaning, I don’t know. A while.” Still in a whisper, as if whispering would mean that they couldn’t see us. I took the map and gave it a look. She was right. A while. What looks like nothing on an international map can actually take a long time when you’d like to be anywhere but there. I picked up our speed, to about 125 or 130 km/h, which usually prompts a gentle “you’re driving a bit fast, no?” But this time, no objections from the co-pilot. An unspoken assent,basically, “Just get us out of here.”

So we flew along in what will, after another Exodus one day, be Palestine, and eventually, hit an army roadblock. It was designed mostly to stop Palestinians from entering Israel proper from our direction. There was a line at the roadblock, as the soldiers made everyone in the cars in front of us (they were all Palestinians, in Israeli taxis) get out, searched their bags, the trunks, etc. When one of the soldiers saw us in the line, he flagged us over to the left side, and into the lane for ongoing traffic. I lowered the window to answer his questions, but he didn’t have any. He just gave us a look of complete bewilderment at seeing a car with people like us in a place like that, and waved us on.

“Where are we now?” came the question from the back.

“Safe,” I wanted to say, but didn’t.

Sounds crazy, no.

“Was that Gush Katif?” Micha wanted to know.

“No, that was Gush Eztion before.”

“What’s the difference?” as if “Gush” was all that matters.

So,at the next gas station, we pulled over. Everyone out of the car. I took out two maps that together, covered most of the country, laid them
on the ground and showed them Gush Eztion, Gush Katif, and our route.

“Where did we just go through?” one of the older kids wanted to know.

“Some Palestinian areas,” I said, nonchalantly, and pointed to our route.

“That was pretty dumb, Abba,” one of them said. To which Micha said, “Is the part we just went through going back, too?”

“Next time,” one of the older kids said.”

“What next time?” he wanted to know.

The sibling explanation continued: “Now we’re giving up Gaza. But it won’t be the last time we have to give back land. The part we just went
through will be the next thing that gets put on the chopping block.

They want all of this for their State.”

I decided to let them talk it out, and said nothing. But their wheels were churning; that much was clear.

Forty-five minutes later, we drove though Sederot, where the Kassam rockets have
been landing of late, and a few minutes after that, crossed the Kissufim junction, and made our way into Gaza, which suddenly, in relative terms, now seemed rather safe. It was also pretty empty.

The enormous protest march wasn’t scheduled until the next day, and we’d decided to come the day earlier to avoid the masses.

Now the kids had dispensed with the mp3 players, and were looking out the windows, taking some pictures. Of the tanks on the side of the road. Of the horrendous and enormous Palestinian refugee camps, just a few hundred yards from the Jewish communities that were already visible.

Of the sign at the side of the road that said “Kfar Darom will not fall again,” a play on the famous “Massada will not fall again” phrase. Or
of the sign that said “careful – tank crossing,” or the one that read “We love you, Land of Israel.” Not the roadside literature of the neighborhood my kids live in.

We drove around Gush Katif, the biggest block of Jewish communities in Gaza, for a while. We went first to Neve Dekalim, a large-ish community, with streets, and houses, and parks, and a little downtown with a shopping center. And a synagogue. And a cemetery just outside.
It looked, as the kids quickly saw, not like a “settlement,” but like a city. Which it basically is.”

Some people will read this and feel nothing, others may see this and get a lump in their throats, but it is hard for me not to just shake my head because of the incredible complexities involved. How do you just ignore the sacrifices that these people are asked to make and not feel for the Palestinians. Yet, every time I read about another bombing or attack it becomes harder to remember that the other side has a human face.

“Which part of this is going back?” Micha wanted to know.

“Everything you can see,” his sister told him.

“What, ALL of this?”

“Yup. All of it.”

“And they get to keep all the buildings?”


“And they get to live in the houses?”


“What are they going to do with a shul?” Micha wanted to know.

“Loot it and deface it,” one sibling replied.

“You don’t know that,” I interjected, trying to make this conversation a
bit less wrist-slashingly depressing.

we do,” came the response. “Abba, you know what happened to the shul in
Yamit after we gave it back to the Egyptians, don’t you?” I do, so I figured I’d let that one slide.

It was now very quiet in the car. All of a sudden, the “disengagement” was more than a political hot potato. Or the reason for some signs or an argument on the evening
news. Now, it was about people, whom the kids could see on the sidewalks, walking with their families, pushing their strollers. Not wild eyed maniacs walking around with M-16s, just people, real people, who look exactly like we do. Now, the disengagement was about giving up well tended gardens. Playgrounds. Homes. It’s one thing, we were all seeing, to be “in favor.” It’s quite another to see the horrendous price a lot of people — many of them Israel’s most passionate pioneers
— are going to have to pay.

“What do we get when we give all this back?” Micha wanted to know.

“Nothing,” came the icy response.

“Well, do they have to pay for the houses?”


“Do they have to do anything?”

“They don’t even have to make peace. They just get it.”

“Then I don’t get it.”

I was tempted to explain Sharon’s security reasons for getting out, or the high price, in life and in money, that the army pays to hold on to it, or the eventual Apartheid with which we’ll be faced if we don’t stop ruling what will soon be an Arab majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean sea, but I didn’t say anything. None of that,after all, would address what he was really saying. That the cost seems enormous. That the pain feels overwhelming. That the risk is huge. And he’s right.

I continued driving around, when Elisheva said,
“Let’s get out of here. I’m way beyond depressed.” But Talia, who’d been there recently and who knew her way around better than we did, said we should go to another community, Shirat HaYam, which was just a few minutes away.

Five minutes later, having driven a short road
with refugee camps on one side, we came upon a giant fence, with a soldier guarding it. “Is this Shirat HaYam?” I asked him. He nodded, and opened the gate. We drove in, and followed the solitary, single lane road through the …. the what?

Not a city. Not even a community.
About ten little caravans on the most beautiful middle-eastern beach I’ve ever seen, and some abandoned Egyptian buildings that were now being renovated, even as we watched, presumably for the influx of people moving there before the disengagement. Through the car windows, and through the aforementioned high fence, our kids watched the Palestinian kids walking by. One strip of sand, one fence, two utterly separated populations.

We spent some time there, and then went
on to other communities, but left pretty quickly. Later in the day, after a few hours on the Ashkelon beach to try to recuperate, we
decided to head back to Jerusalem.

“Traffic’s going to be murder,” Elisheva said.

“Well, we can take the same route we took to get here,” I suggested, but the look was “That’s not even funny.”

“How about 443?” I asked, referring to the Modi’in Road, that goes by Ramallah and enters Jerusalem from the north. That road was also
impassable in the days of the Intifada (or at least made you a target for the daily shootings there), but it, too, is protected by concrete barriers now so sharpshooters can’t aim as easily at the cars. And besides, we have peace now, right?

“Good idea. That’ll probably be more open.”

So we took Highway 6, Israel’s new road, our equivalent of an interstate, EZ-Pass and all, and got off the exit to the 443. After a little bit of
driving, Micha perked up, again, and said, “What’s this road?”

We told him.

“This is ours, right?”


“This we get to keep?”

Again, the sibling chorus. “For now. This will go back when we give back the road we were on this morning.”

“Abba, is that true?” he asked, incredulous that everywhere we seemed to go was destined to be given back.


“Well, what IS going to be left?”

Not much to say to that. Luckily, he needed to change the batteries on his music player, and the conversation ended.

But his question lingered in my mind, long after the day was over. What do you say to the kid when he says “There won’t be much left, will there?” How do you explain that most people in the country are willing (with varying degrees of ambivalence) to give that all back, in the hope that something better can emerge here. Or because we’d rather face uncertainty with the Palestinians than the certainty of Apartheid. Or because we’ve all got kids in the army now, and the cost, many of us think, is just too high. For a twelve year old kid, who’s lived most of
the years he can actually remember in an Intifada, none of that would be terribly convincing, so I didn’t even try. Or could it have been because after a day of actually being there, the pain that these people
will experience was so palpable that no words seemed adequate?”

(Visited 42 times, 1 visits today)


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

You may also like