On Wednesday, former residents of Gush Katif who had been expelled from their homes in 2005, took part in the traditional tree planting ceremony in honor of Tu B’Shevat in the Kisufim Forest.
This year the ceremony was especially meaningful, as families who had three generations who grew up and lived in Gush Katif were specially invited to take part.
Dror Vanunu of the Gush Katif committee, who was present at the ceremony, said that beyond the tree planting which helps build the Kisufim Forest, the ceremony also symbolizes the expellees’ hope that someday they will return to Gush Katif.
“The first year was a very emotional experience for all of us, because for many it was the first time they were visiting the area,” said Vanunu. “This year it’s five years after [the expulsion] so there are mixed feelings. On the one hand, everyone feels their longing for Gush Katif but on the other hand I think that, Baruch Hashem, finally after many years of wandering, we can see some hope and people have been starting to build [permanent homes] in the last few months.”
Vanunu spoke of the absurdity of seeing a high presence of IDF soldiers in Kisufim, when the reason for the expulsion had been to supposedly make the area safe from terrorists.
“That was the illusion behind the idea of disengaging from Gush Katif,” he said. “They said: ‘Let’s kick out the Jews from Gush Katif and the Gaza area will be a peaceful area.’ We all know that the opposite happened. Less than three months after we were expelled from Gush Katif the Gaza Strip became Hamastan, a terrorist state which is dominated today by Iran, and everyday in this area, mortars and bombs are falling and being launched from the ruins of our homes. Meeting these soldiers here is another proof that disengaging was a terrible mistake.”
Doron Ben-Shlomi, manager of the Gush Katif Jewish Residents Association, said prior to the ceremony: “Beyond the association’s efforts to promote the construction of permanent homes and rehabilitate the communities that were destroyed, we are working to preserve the personal and collective memory of Gush Katif. The day of planting, construction of a Gush Katif documentation center, and conducting a Gush Katif day in the educational system are just some examples of our work. I hope that the public will come en masse to meet, remember and reinforce the message that was sent by the spirit of Gush Katif.”
The Kisufim Forest is located near Kibbutz Kissufim and is also close to the location of the uprooted Gush Katif communities. The forest was divided into 21 communities and each year residents of each former community plant trees in their section. In the future an observation tower will be built in the area, from which the expellees will be able to observe the areas in which they lived.