Monday, September 19, 2005

A friend visited a refugee camp.

A friend of mine visited people she knows in one of the refugee camps. She gave me permission to post her letter.

Dear All of you,

Here's some stuff I wrote in a letter to my friend D the other night, while the impressions were fresh, that I thought you might also like to see. Apologize in advance that it's unedited, unrevised.

The images in that presentation [] are wonderful. That's exactly how it was.* * I wasn't there in the days of the evacuation, but I was glued to the TV much* * of the time, and many of my friends andneighbors were there. The whole* * issue of ordering soldiers and police, Jews, to expel--I'm not being* * hyperbolic here and I am being literal-people who may include their teacher,* * parents, brothers, and best friendsfrom their homes, this issue has been* * tearing us apart ever since Sharon first started talking disengagement.* *

Some leading rabbis have forbidden their soldier students to follow these* * orders, while others have passionately argued that the IDF IS the Jewish* * state, and nothing must ever be done,no matter how painful restraint may* * be, that might weaken our army. The settlers themselves, T and E* * and all their friends and neighbors, really and truly believed a miracle* * would happen at the last minute and the evacuation would never actually* * happen.

Very few people did any packing or any planning for the day after* * the expulsion (some finally did a week or so before August 15 or 17, and* * many didn't even pack then, taking with them only what you'd take if you* * were going away for a couple of days, which, ostrich-like though it may be,* * kept morale very high until the very end and made any visit to the Gush in* * the months and weeks before theexpulsion an experience that left one amazed* *at how normal, how positive thesepeople and their lives were, even living* * under such a shadow.* * When I get a little time,I'm going to take a look at Naomi Ragen's site and I'll* * probably subscribe to it.* *

Today I went for the first time to Ir Ha'Emuna, "The City of Hope", near* * the city of Netivot in the Negev, to visit T and E in their new* * temporary home. It was an unbelievable experience. For one thing, I may* * have stupidly made myself a littlede hydrated (I'm better now). The* * important thing is how they're living.The secretariat of Atzmona, where* * their home used to be, first decided that Atzmona was going to stay together* * at all costs, and they got (I guess someone donated) a huge empty industrial* * structure consisting of a floor and a sort of a roof, which is subdivided* * into scores of tent-like units for those families who wanted to be REALLY* * together with each other (for those who preferred a little more privacy and* * something approaching something slightly more solid, there are caravans-or* * in T and E's case, since they and their 3 children are considered a* * small family, half a caravan, surrounding the big "tent"). Overnight,* * because of the dictates of their new reality, they're a kibbutz. There are* * duty rosters, communal toilets and showers (most people try to shower during* * daylight, since the solar water heaters can only provide so much hot water),* * a big dining area where a catering service brings in hot lunches (H and* * E like the potatoes, rice, and pasta fine, but they won't touch the meat* * because it's too spicy), and off to the side are deposited, in a more or* * less orderly fashion, some of the possessions of individual families as well* * as of the community that they managed to get out of Atzmona before the* * bulldozers got there. These include the synagogue furniture. There's a* * shack opposite the pews that's been designated as a synagogue, but for the* * thrice-daily prayers the men just gather together where they happen to be in* * the huge "tent" to pray. There are also play areas for the children, with* * slides and swings and such, and subdivisions for day care and for school,* * and a couple of washing machines adjacent to the lavatories, and some of those long metal two-sided* * sinks with maybe 10 faucets like they have at cemeteries, and laundry drying on racks outside the various "houses". Mothers stand talking in the common area balancing babies on their hips, and children and teenagers walk, run, bike, trike, and skateboard all over the place.* *

But what struck me most was the building. It's a very male thing. I don't* * know all the people well enough to know how many are professionals brought* * in from outside, how many are volunteers, and how many are Atzmonans* * themselves, but it's easiest to peg the teenage sons of Atzmona who must be* * having the time of their lives, to balance out the hardship of being* * homeless:

I think everyone has finally been hooked up to electricity, but* * there still is no water in T's or most of the other caravans, meaning* * lots of men are working on plumbing. There are piles and piles of* * corrugated metal (I hope it's not asbestos) waiting to be laid to extend* * that huge roof, with guys walking purposefully back and forth up there.* *

Outside the huge structure you walk on rubble (after I got back home I felt* * like I wanted to soak in a tub for an hour), and you pick your way around* * forklifts and bulldozers. There weretwo boys helping b-they* * assembled some plastic cabinets for her and moved stuff around so that she* * could plug the refrigerator into the outlet (no easy matter-every inch of* * floor space in her caravan is taken up by carton boxes).

Entering the huge* * structure from the direction ofT's caravan, the first thing you see is* * a "room" whose plank walls are onlywaist-high. Inside are 3 beds in a* * U-shape around 3 of the 4 walls, with an area rug in the middle giving it* * all a homey touch. I asked T who lives there, with so little privacy?* * She said that room's for the teenage boys who are working and building and* * doing odd jobs, and that they're contstantly adding to the walls, so that by* * tonight they will have privacy-only then did I notice Y with a* * bunch of nails in his mouth and a hammer. See what I mean about the time of* * their lives?* *

Y's mother O, whom I like verymuch, spoke about Atzmona's decision* * to come to Ir Ha'Emuna instead of accepting the government's offers of* * hotels and various other temporaryliving arrangements. Ora says that those* * who accepted the government's offer shave been split up and dispersed (many* * who I do not consider conspiracy-theory types at all, excoriate the* * government, accusing it of intentionally undermining the strength of the* * evacuees by their "divide and conquer" strategy), and have been enjoying* * being spoiled by the good people who can't do enough, can't give enough to* * make the lives of the DPs a little easier, instead of putting all their* * energy into building their community like Atzmona are doing.

My friend* * E told me her son-in-law from Katif, another destroyed Gush* * Katif settlement very similar to Atzmona in composition and spirit, visited* * Ir Ha'Emuna and came away very excited. He and his wife find the spirit and* * energy there very infectious and they think they want to join them.* *

There, I guess I'm pretty talked out, and it's late.


Esther said...

WOW. Thanks so much for sharing that with us!

Batya said...

I'm glad she agreed.