Grains of Sand: A Novel by 16-Year-old Gush Katif Historian

Arutz-7 Book Review: A historical novel, written by an Israeli teenager who was there, vividly awakens dormant memories of the expulsion of 2005.

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Hillel Fendel,

Arutz-7 Book Review: A new historical novel, written in English by an Israeli teenager who was there, vividly awakens dormant memories of the expulsion of 2005.

The nearly 2,000 families of Gush Katif were what Israelis call the "salt of the earth" - unpretentious, pioneering, and connected-to-the-Land Jews. They built Jewish towns where none had stood before, they brought forth vegetables and flowers from previously barren and sterile sandy earth, and raised their children on the Jewish values that govern meaningful and productive lives.

Most of this came to an end in August 2005. Black-uniformed Israeli soldiers marched in and scooped up men, women and children from their homes, deposited them in buses, and declared their houses 'clean' - so that bulldozers standing by could fell them, one by one, to the ground.

The buses did not take the dazed patriots to anywhere specific; the unwitting passengers merely knew that they were being taken away - away from their homes, from their communities, from their lives.

What type of people were they? How did they live? What did they think before the catastrophe befell them, and how did they react as it began to take shape?

Children are the best observers; children who have grown into youths and are aware of what they are observing, and are able to put what they see into sentences and paragraphs, are better yet.

Sixteen-year-old Shifra Shomron - formerly of N'vei Dekalim, now of Nitzan, just north of Ashkelon - has done it. Having lived through the months leading up to the Disengagement of 2005, having experienced the highs and lows of strong faith, intense hope, energizing public action, and bitter disappointment, she was still able throughout to retain a sense of perspective - the fruits of which she has produced in the form of a book, Grains of Sand.

In fact, Grains of Sand is the only English book about Gush Katif written as a first-hand account by someone who lived in and was expelled from Gush Katif. It is a gripping, moving story that brings the reader right back to the months and weeks and days leading up to the tragic expulsion - and into the salon of a family living through it.

Terrorism Before Disengagement
Of Grains of Sand's three parts, the first shows Gush Katif's largest town N'vei Dekalim in its 'Golden Era' before Arab terrorism even began - followed by a section on how the family deals with the day-to-day terrorism of mortar shelling and roadside attacks. This period was an intense and difficult time during which many residents were murdered - and many others miraculously survived.  Other books have been published chronicling the many miracles experienced by Gush Katif residents during this time; readers can only imagine the fears and agitation suffered by those who never knew whether they would be targeted next.

The third part of Grains of Sand, the most transfixing and emotional of all, leads up to and includes the actual expulsion itself.

Grains of Sand alternates between a narrative of events from the standpoint of Efrat Yefet, a young girl in a religious high school, and entries in her own diary. The main characters in her life are her parents and her younger brother - who, like the narrator, is sometimes fiercely idealistic, and sometimes downright resentful of having to share his personal struggle with strangers who have come to "help."

Efrat's father is a kashrut inspector for one of Gush Katif's many thriving vegetable greenhouses. The painful process of having to decide whether to plan for a future in Gush Katif or without Gush Katif ended with him on the latter side. "I don't want my family to end up in a tent or in a hotel for G-d knows how long," he tells his children with a twinge, explaining why he has agreed to look into the pre-fab homes the government is offering in Nitzan. "I'd have failed as head of the family."

Efrat, the book's heroine, tends to agree. Reacting to those who see entertaining the possibility that G-d might allow the expulsion to happen as a lack of faith, Efrat rails out, "But why should G-d stop it? If we are stupid and sinful enough to dream up such a plan and seek to carry it out, then why shouldn't G-d punish us by letting such a plan happen? ... I don't agree at all with what they think!"

Her brother Yair is somewhat more optimistic: "Sure I realize that it can happen," he told his father. "I see how the army is preparing and how the army is egging it on. But I'm hopeful" that road-blockings, or soldiers refusing orders, or people coming to Gush Katif, or some combination of the above and others will prevent it from happening.

When his father says, "As long as you realize that it can happen. I don't want you to be all shocked and broken up if it does happen," Yair responds that if it occurs, "we will all be shocked and broken up - even you, who expects it to happen."

The Title
A sneak at the book's last pages imply that Grains of Sand is named for what Gush Katif started out as, and what the book's heroes fear it will again revert to. In truth, however, a passage 20 pages earlier provides what is probably a more accurate explanation for the title - and an on-the-mark prediction of today's events to boot:

Efrat sighed. "It's hard to... be a Jew, and even harder to be a Jew in Gush Katif in the month of Sivan 5765 (June 2005)." ... Efrat picked up a handful of sand and stared at it as she let the grains fall between her fingers and stream to the ground... "Sand," she mused to herself. "Tiny grains of sand. So light and so small, any breeze can uproot them and cause them to fly distances away." She paused. "Yet these same grains prevent a mighty sea from flooding the country." She gazed at the darkening sky over [the Arab city of] Khan Yunis. "We too are grains of sand; small and weak - the government can move us, yet we prevent the Arabs from flooding the country with mortars and Kassam rockets. When we are out of here and the army is out too, the Arabs will bring explosives in from Egypt without anyone to hinder them. From our northern communities, they'll be able to hit the city of Ashkelon... We are sand," she murmured. "No more and no less. Just sand."

The failed march from Kfar Maimon is recounted in the book, and so are the rallies, and the short-lived campaign to wear orange stars, and the Shabak attempts to recruit Jewish youths, and the atmosphere in school, and much more - all through the eyes of a family in the thick of the events. But most poignant of all is the book's end - the beginning of Part II of the family's life - where Efrat describes to her diary how the soldiers are struggling with her brother, and helicopters are buzzing overhead, and - "now the soldiers are coming for me!"

Was this the end? The writer herself later did National Service in an elementary school with many children from Gush Katif, helping them with their studies - particularly English, unsurprisingly. She is now studying to be a teacher of English and Bible. Her father has still not found work - though this may be about to change, he has just learned - but the family of seven children, on the whole, has adjusted well. They are considering either building a new permanent home in Nitzan, if they can afford it, or moving to a Yesha community in the Jerusalem area. "The State of Israel took a step backwards with the Disengagement," Shifra's father feels, "but we are still ideologically inclined, and we would like to help stake the Jewish People's claim to this land."

Grains of Sand, an innocently-told account of a suspended dream amidst continued hopes for Redemption, is published by Mazo Publishers and available at Amazon.com, as well as select bookstores in Jerusalem and Barnes & Noble in the US.