Aside from meeting and socializing with the besieged Gazan residents, participants ate and slept in a Jewish area just outside N'vei Dekalim. They thus displayed complete unity with the “brave citizens of Gush Katif,” according to one participant.
All of the Jewish communities in Gaza, along Israel’s southern Mediterranean coastline, are slated for expulsion and demolition under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's proposed disengagement plan. Four additional communities in Northern Shomron, east of the heavily-populated Haifa-Tel Aviv area, are also part of the expulsion plan.
Given the intense political climate surrounding the Gaza evacuation, participant Michael Friend, of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, was glad to witness routine life in Gush Katif. “This is where we come to see life that’s actually normal,” he said.
Many of the participants, including delegation-leader Hikind, believe that the "normal" aspects of life in Gaza go largely unnoticed by the Jewish public abroad, and especially within Israel. “If they only knew what their country is willing to give away,” he said. “Too many people just have no idea what life is for these individuals.”
He is trying to correct false perceptions within his own community, by bringing as many New York Jews as possible to Gaza in upcoming weeks. Hikind also called upon rabbis to do the same, exhorting them to take off a few days and lead their congregants on short trips to Gush Katif.
“I intend to bring 1,000 Jews to Gaza at one time, in upcoming weeks, as a show of solidarity with our Jewish brethren during this tragic period” Hikind said. “It would be radical and extreme to allow them to feel isolated.”
This was Hikind’s second trip in just one month. He believes it is not improper for a U.S. assemblyman to spend so much time and energy on a small strip of land, an ocean away from his congressional district. "It's my obligation to support the Jews of Gaza," he said. “Israel is extremely important to me, as it should be for every Jew. No one would be concerned if a Puerto Rican congressman was involved in humanitarian matters in Puerto Rico. No one would be concerned in an African-American leader was concerned about Africa.”
Overall, participants were pleased with the gracious Israeli hospitality they received – despite having been detained by airport police for close to a half-hour upon their arrival in Israel. Some members of the delegation were questioned about the purpose of their visit, and some had their American passports temporarily confiscated while being falsely told that Gaza is a "closed military zone.”
While incensed at the methods employed by the police, Hikind was pleased that the incident brought additional attention to his mission, as stories of the airport questioning appeared in news services across the world.
At least one of those detained was upset that her time enjoying Israel was being cut short. “Why won’t you let me go home?” asked Baltimore resident Beth Gordon, of her interrogator. Beth, who considers Israel to be the true home of all the Jewish people in the world, is planning Aliyah [immigration to Israel] with her family in the summer of 2006. “This has been a dream of our family for twenty years,” she said.