The day following my trip to the Weizmann Institute of Science, the opportunity to visit Jerusalem arrived. I had a morning army meeting to attend and, upon completion, headed for Machane Yehuda shuk (bazaar) in search for craft beers unavailable where I live up north. Dodging the scattered rainshowers, I successfully procured some fine stouts and meandered through the bustling shuk until reaching the light rail. Glancing at the station map, I noticed that there was a museum just around the corner – the Gush Katif Museum.
Having moved to Israel in 2009, I missed the dark chapter that gripped the nation just four years earlier. I’m referring to the Israeli disengagement of the Gaza Strip in August 2005, the disbandment of Jewish towns and their inhabitants who called Gaza their home. Gush Katif is the Hebrew name for the area in the southern part of Gaza where Jews have been living on and off since Biblical times. The first recorded mentioning of Jews in the Gaza area was about Abraham settling in the Nachal Grar area (I have previously written about this in the Be’eri Forest post). Another notable Biblical period was the time of King Solomon, when he ruled “…from Tifsach to Gaza”. And then, during the times of the Romans and Byzantines, when Israel’s largest excavated synagogue was built.
Fast-forward to relatively modern times and the Jews were expelled from their homes by the British following Arab rioting in 1929. It wasn’t until 1968 that Jews returned en masse and began to repopulate the area, eventually establishing 21 towns and creating a booming agricultural industry. At its peak, Gush Katif was exporting some $60 million of produce annually. Crops included lettuce, tomatoes, oranges, peanuts and potatoes, stemming from Gush Katif’s technologically advanced greenhouses. Quoting Wikipedia, “Economic consultants estimated that the closures [of the greenhouses] cost the whole agricultural sector in Gaza $450,000 a day in lost revenue.”
Once the Second Intifada began, the security situation became a bit dire, and the Jewish settlements of Gush Katif received 6,000 mortar and rocket attacks, resulting in tremendous property and psychological damage. Despite the heavy resistance (more than 60% of the general population opposed), the Sharon Administration decided to disengage from Gaza. What ensued was a period of hardship for the Israeli nation. The counter-movement to the disengagement was “The Orange Struggle” – orange representing Gush Katif. Tens of thousands of protestors – civilians, policemen, soldiers – all stood in solidarity against the disengagement, even creating a “Human Chain Demonstration” with 130,000 people stretching 100 kilometres.
Alas, on August 15, 2005, the forced evacuation began, and it continued throughout the towns, one by one, until the 18th, when the last town was cleared. Without getting into great detail, the evacuation had some hiccups but eventually the newly homeless Israelis were moved into temporary living places such as converted shipping containers. I once spent Shabbat in a town between Ashdod and Ashkelon called Nitzan which has a large population of Gush Katif refugees living in mobile homes. To this day, nearly ten years after the eviction, there are families still living in sub-standard housing.
The Gush Katif Museum is both a memorial to what once was and a recognition of the ongoing movement in support of Jewish living not only in Gaza but in Judea and Samaria as well. Historical objects, photos and books help relay the message, one that I knew so little about. The short film about Gush Katif’s modern heyday and the tragic disengagement really brings the harsh reality to mind, but when I watched it I found myself distracted by a familiar face. I think an Armoured Corps NCO that I met during Operation Protective Edge was captured on video at a mournful synagogue scene, I’d like to ask him if I ever see him again. What a small world…