September 21, 2010
A perpetual sukkah
As Sukkot approaches, most Gaza evacuees still live in temporary housing
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Tali Stern from Neve Dekalim, the largest and most urban of the Gush Katif settlements, just moved into her one-story house. About to pick up one of her five kids from the first day of school, the rebbetzin looks happy.
“We went through a very, very difficult time,” she said, sitting at her dining room table, her 2-year-old clutching her skirt. “We asked, ‘Who am I? What am I? Where am I going? What do I stand for?’ Looking for work, looking for friends, wondering if your friends are really friends. So many questions.
“Slowly, slowly [my husband] found work. We had two girls, which revived the family. It made me feel productive as a woman. It made me feel good. Then this house.” She looks around at the unfurnished living room and spacious kitchen with marble counters. Her sukkah will be built on the front porch.
“We’re ‘whoa, whoa, whoa’ everyday. Thank you, God. Thank you, God.”
A few miles west is Yesodot, the future home of Netzer Hazani.
“When I close my eyes, I can see a whole town here,” said Brooklyn-born Anita Tucker, 64, standing on the square lot of her future house in Yesodot. In the distance, a kindergarten, a synagogue and one house with a facade of Jerusalem stone are taking shape.
Netzer Hazani closed its gates when the IDF arrived for the evacuation, and, on the whole, its leadership refused to cooperate with the government on relocation prior to the evacuation.
Tucker takes pride in telling stories of Arab-Jewish co-existence in Gaza before the Second Intifada broke out in 2000. When they first arrived, in the late 1970s, Arab mukhtars in neighboring towns warned them the land was cursed and infertile. Eventually, Arabs made up a large part of the farming workforce.
Today the community sees its purpose as fostering co-existence among fellow Jews within the Green Line. Until now, Yesodot consisted of an ultra-Orthodox cooperative farm. It welcomed the evacuees cautiously and conditionally. For example, its members initially forbade the evacuees from burying their dead in their cemetery, a rule Netzer Hazani fought and overturned when one of its members died of cancer. Their recreation centers — basketball courts and pools — at first had to be hidden from view.
Back at Kibbutz Ein Tzurim near Ashkelon, where Tucker lives in a three-bedroom caravilla, Benny Yefet, her neighbor, is lounging around his caravilla.
“We’re waiting here,” he said from his pergola. His sukkah supplies are stored in a shipping container adjacent to his caravilla.
“I don’t have faith already,” said Yefet, a tall, burly man of Yemenite descent. “I see the infrastructure in the field [in Yesodot], but nothing moves.” By the time his permanent home will be ready in about two years, he’ll be 63 years old. “And who knows how much money I will have?”
Yefet owned and operated a successful herb farm in Netzer Hazani. After the disengagement, he leased farmland in his hometown of Netanya to rebuild his business. He slept at his mother’s house during the week and came back to the caravilla for Shabbat. By the end of the year, he calculated a $10,000 loss. In 2008, he got a bus-driver’s license. He claims the public transportation company discriminated against him because of his age and that liability for private bus drivers is too stringent.
Now, he says, “I love and kiss and kiss my wife.” She laughs and playfully pushes him away. Inside, six grandchildren are playing on the computer. The living room is decorated with pictures of their son, Itamar, who died at the hand of a Palestinian sniper from a Palestinian police outpost while driving into the settlement.
In Yesodot, Yefet hopes to plant avocado and mango orchards. “I have reserves of energy,” he said.
In the meantime, he relies on his community for strength.
“For me, the community is home, and for the community, I’m home. ... We eat the good and the bad together.”
Over coffee in her caravilla in Nitzan, Beziz explains how her own community of Gadid decided to negotiate with the government, while she personally fought it. Her daughter, 20 at the time, forged Beziz’s signature on government papers to acquire the caravilla. In hindsight, Beziz blesses her daughter’s mischief, although Tucker points out that pre-disengagement cooperation did not necessarily lead to a quicker long-term solution.
“It gave us a small stability — not much — but I was independent,” Beziz said. “I cooked for myself, I ran my household, my stuff didn’t rot in storage.”
Beziz made her caravilla as cozy as possible with family pictures, her old furniture and a living room extension. Flag of Israel streamers hang across her pergola, not an uncommon site in Nitzan. Most of the evacuees have remained ardent Zionists but are skeptical of the Jewish state’s leadership.
A few caravillas into the distance, doves are flying over rooftops. A neighbor breeds them, a sign, perhaps, of hope. Within the next two years, Beziz hopes to move into her new home in Be’er Ganim, “Well of Gardens.”
“Even though we went through the same process, you have mixed feelings,” she said. “Some say Gush Katif is over; we’re starting a new life. Some dream of going back. ... All of us are sure there’s an open wound that will forever have a scar.”
Tucker is optimistic. “This is home now,” she said of the lands of Yesodot. “We’re building it, [but] if the opportunity ever arises to go back, I’m sure [we] will. Maybe not for me, but for my great-grandchildren.”
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