Five Years Ago I Was Expelled

Gush Katif expulsion
Gush Katif expulsion

My name is Rachel Saperstein. I am almost seventy years old. My husband and I have three children and twelve grandchildren. We lived in Jerusalem for close to thirty years, in Gush Katif for nearly nine years, and now we live in a plasterboard caravilla in the refugee camp of Nitzan between Ashdod and Ashkelon. During the Cast Lead war we were bombed by missiles coming in from Gaza. The missiles and rockets followed us from Gush Katif to Nitzan. There is no escape from enemy assault.

In the evening I take power walks. I also observe life in our refugee camp slum. Most of the gardens are overgrown with weeds. People are slowly moving away. It doesn’t make sense to keep a garden growing. After people leave for their permanent homes up the hill, flat-bed trucks arrive. First, the red tiles on the roofs are removed. The caravilla is then cut in half, loaded on the trucks and taken somewhere. We don’t know where. Perhaps to a new site being prepared for the next victims of expulsion. We do not know what plans Obama and Netanyahu have for the people of Judea and Samaria. What seems certain is that these plasterboard structures will be used again.

I visit the construction site of the new “permanent” homes, especially when we go to the attaching-the-Mezuzah ceremony. We wish the new occupants well. We “ooh” and “aah” at the up-to-date shower stalls, the new kitchen, the lovely floor tiles. The occupants invariably admit they have used all their funds on the house. Some have taken bank loans to finish the house. Many of our friends are in their late fifties and sixties. They worry about how they will ever pay off the loans, much less how they will live from week to week on their meager salaries, if they are lucky enough to be working. There is a tragedy waiting to happen.

Some cannot build at all. They have been living on their compensation money as they have had no livelihood since the expulsion. Some of our people were renters in the private market in Neve Dekalim, and though they lived there for fifteen or twenty years are not entitled to any compensation at all. Some have lost their money to swindlers, some have lost their money in bad investments. Others see building here as the final nail in the coffin of hope – the hope that they will return to Gush Katif.

In one community families had built and moved into permanent homes. They breathed a sigh of relief. At long last each family had a proper home. But something strange happened. Their children, who as pre-teens had lived through the expulsion, went berserk. They began drinking, smoking, vandalizing public property. The professionals who were called in declared the children victims of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The children felt betrayed by their parents. By building elsewhere their parents had admitted they would never return to Gush Katif. This betrayal had brought on a violent reaction.

On one of my power walks I met my friend Dina. I told her I would be speaking here tonight. “What shall I tell them, Dina?”

Dina is a mother of five. Two of her sons are married. She now has grandchildren.

“I should be happy” Dina tells me, “but I’m not. Every night I see soldiers surrounding my home. I wake up shaking and sweating. Then I start to cry. I can’t go back to work. I miss my home, the view of the sea, the Beit Knesset. Tell those good people that my heart is broken.”

I hug Dina as I’ve hugged so many others. I cry with them. I admit that I, too, suffer from flashbacks. We move forward but the past returns at odd moments. There is so much hurt.

The poverty of our people, out of work, lining up for food parcels, is growing. The charge accounts at the mini-market have grown to proportions unheard of in the past. Parents send their children to purchase the necessities because they are too ashamed to be seen in person.

As the director of Operation Dignity, a chessed Non-Profit Organization, I raise and give financial assistance to some wonderful families – always with a smile and certainly with dignity.

Health issues have increased. Heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, hypertension have taken their toll of our people. But not all is black. Children have been born, marriages have taken place. Over five hundred brides and grooms have been showered by the wonderful volunteer bridal group, bringing essential gifts to start our young couples off even as they move into crumbling caravans near their parents homes.  Watching our young couples walking with their baby carriages brings us hope and joy.

These young couples fought for Gush Katif, and using the return of our people to Gush Etzion as their inspiration, know that when the call to re-establish Gush Katif is made they will be the first to answer that call. The Almighty always performs miracles.

And for us, my husband and myself, we are going to Lachish. South of Beit Shemesh, north of Kiryat Gat, Lachish is a wonderful place to establish the township of Bnai Dekalim.

Lachish is a grape-growing region often compared to the Napa Valley in California, or Province in France. Gentle hills, wild flowers and refreshing breezes make the Lachish area an ideal place to build our new home. This will be a truly Jewish town. Our field school will teach the halacha of grape growing and wine making. Our spa will teach healing of body and soul according to Rambam and other Jewish sources. Visiting rabbis will bring their families and enjoy the state-of-the-art Judaica library in the Yeshiva and Kollel.

Come and visit. Walk in the footsteps of Joshua and Bar Kochba. Whenever we visit, and now that we actually own our own plot, I feel like dancing. Yes, almost seventy and I feel like dancing! I feel a lightness in my heart and begin to sway with the rhythm of the winds.

Soon I will have a home. What a privilege to be almost seventy and to be a pioneer in Eretz Yisrael.

But if the Almighty wills it, with joyful heart and soul we will return to Gush Katif.

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