Eye on the Middle East Nov/Dec 2005

For Israelis, Gaza is history—it’s over. The tears have been shed, and lingering, bitter memories still distress many of the displaced. For example, the evacuees from Kfar Darom will not forget the heavy price exacted from them when they were forced to pull up stakes and get out of Gaza.

Jewish settlers purchased the land for Kfar Darom in 1946. The state of Israel was still a dream at the time. During the 1948 War of Independence, they defended their kibbutz there, blocking the advance of the Egyptian army for days. When they ran out of ammunition, they filled tefillin bags (pouches that hold phylacteries) with TNT and hurled them at the enemy. Their heroism bought precious time for the embattled Jewish forces and helped save the state. Yes, the families of Kfar Darom carried with them memories of much spilled blood as they took to the roads in August in search of a new beginning.

But Kfar Darom is gone now, and the biblically mandated “time for weeping” is over. Bitterness and recriminations will not bring back the well-manicured towns, lush gardens, and lovely beaches. The question now is, Where do they go from here?

Israel’s terrorist enemies have proclaimed disengagement the beginning of the end for the Jewish state. But they could not be more mistaken. Giving up is totally inconsistent with the character of these deeply committed people who left the Gaza Strip. These are Israelis, cut from pioneer stock. They went into Gaza when it was nothing but sand, bush, and beaches—a veritable wasteland. And their ingenuity, hard work, and commitment to their piece of the Promised Land turned it into a landscape their Arab neighbors coveted. These are not people whom you will find in years to come huddled in refugee camps or ghetto-like resettlement trailers.

During the disengagement phase, people wondered whether Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had sold the country out. “What is he up to?” they asked. They even questioned whether he had any plan at all for Israel’s future. His answer came in a speech while laying a cornerstone for the new settlement of Nurit on Mount Gilboa.

During the difficult days of the evacuation we repeatedly heard claims that leaving Gaza meant an end to the settlement enterprise, and some added that it meant the end of Zionism. These were claims meant to imbue despair and loss of hope. These were false claims, and we will prove it…through action.

For Ariel Sharon, disengagement is not the beginning of the end. It represents a new era in the phenomenal history of this phenomenal people. “The government,” he added, “considers developing the Negev, the Galilee, and greater Jerusalem a primary national mission.”

If you travel across the broad stretch of Israel known as the Negev, it appears a barren wilderness. If you are fortunate enough to be there after a rain, it is a carpet of green. The Negev has need of two elements: water and hands. Water is on the way. Massive desalination plants are gearing up to help supply it. And the Jewish people of the Gaza are uniquely qualified to provide the hands to transform this desert into a garden. They are a tightly knit group and possess a vast knowledge of agriculture and science. And to say the least, they have an ability to develop strong community institutions—educational, public health, and social—under remarkably adverse conditions. In short, these pioneers are up to the task.

The issue is not what we won’t see in the future, but what we will see. I can assure you, there will be a desert bursting with roses.

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