The film details the final hours in N'vei Dekalim's main synagogue, where thousands of youths gathered last summer for a last stand against security forces sent to forcibly remove them from Gush Katif. The film raises question about the behavior of the Yesha Council and its honesty with the public it is supposed to represent.
"At the Gates of Heaven" is the name of the documentary, which was produced by Yuval Ginzburg. Speaking with Arutz-7 Hebrew Radio, Ginzburg said the film was not made in order to be a direct critique of the Yesha Council, but to accurately portray the final 24 hours in the community's main synagogue. Due to what the footage contains, he said, certain conclusions regarding the behavior of the leadership were naturally exposed.
In one segment, aired by Yinun Magal on Channel 10 TV Monday night, Gush Etzion Mayor Shaul Goldstein is seen directing his own evacuation. He is seen being held by two soldiers, with a pained look on his face as a snapshot is taken with a camera he handed one of the soldiers. "Did it come out?" he asked the photographer. Upon confirmation, he was carried ten feet and put down gingery at the door of the synagogue.
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Magal also spoke with Arutz-7, saying that although there are a number of ways to interpret the footage captured on the video, it clearly shows Goldstein asking a soldier to photograph him while other soldiers carried him a short distance at his behest. "They put him down after being carried three meters, he patted them on the shoulders and everyone went his separate way," he said, suggesting that Council members were already concerned about the repercussions of their complicity in Gush Katif and were preparing alibis.
Asked by Magal during the newscast about his behavior, Goldstein said that he did not want to walk out on his own two feet, but also did not want to burden the police and therefore only made them carry him "four cubit, about two meters," he said. "He didn't explain the necessity of having the incident photographed though," Magal said.
Arutz Sheva Commentator and former Gush Katif spokesman Eran Sternberg responded to Goldstein's remarks. "Beyond the serious questions that the scenes in the documentary raise regarding the nature of the struggle for Gush Katif," he said, "its importance lies in that it teaches us how not to wage future struggles. Goldstein's explanation that he only wanted to be dragged several meters is questionable when taking into account that the Gush Etzion Regional Council which he heads hired Eyal Arad [advisor to PM Ariel Sharon who was the driving force behind the surrender of Gush Katif] for a publicity campaign. Goldstein's actions will bring upon himself and upon us all a repeat of the scenes of Gush Katif."
Producer Ginzburg said that despite the footage, he is convinced that the heads of the Yesha Council indeed spend most of their time on promoting settlement, but the issues raised by the footage are not with regard to their intentions, but their way of operating.
"The film depicts discussions and meetings that took place amidst the chaos and struggles that took place in Gush Katif," Ginzburg said. "The leadership is seen discussing matters from the point of view of, 'How will this look on TV?'"
In the Channel 10 clip, Hevron Hills Mayor Tzviki Bar-Chai is seen yelling at activists struggling not to be dragged out, saying "This is not the place, not in front of the television!" and repeating the words, "It looks bad!" over and over again. At one point, Bar-Chai lost his temper and began yelling through a megaphone that if the youth struggled "we will stop all this" and he would have them all thrown out of the synagogue in an instant. "This isn't a soccer field!" he boomed.
"These images can be a bit problematic," Ginzburg said. "People came to wage a struggle out of a certain sincerity and they felt used."
"There was never such a situation of forcibly removing believing Jews from synagogues. It runs counter to our faith in the Torah of Israel – and the question was how to do this, especially when standing before our brothers – the army."
In Ginzburg's opinion the movie illustrates the problem of the Council's relations with the opposing side. "It needed to be made clear the severity of the act they were about to commit," he said. "And afterwards, you don't shake hands or hug each other. Not out of hatred but in order to convey the true nature of the situation."
Magal, considered somewhat of an expert on the situation in Judea and Samaria, says that he senses a widening of the opposition to the Yesha Council in the streets. "This is due to the disappointment in the manner which the Council carried out the struggle against past expulsions, as well as concern regarding their behavior in impending withdrawals as well," he said.
This is far from the first time that such concerns have been aired since the Disengagement, but its appearance on Channel 10 has brought the issue to the fore.
"There is a feeling that there were many words, but not a lot of focus," Magal said, citing the treatment of the masses that converged on the small village of Kfar Maimon to take part in a promised march on Gush Katif. The village was subsequently surrounded by the army and police, and in the end the leadership opted to march in circles within the community instead of breaking through toward Gush Katif, as promised.
According to Magal, an attempt to break through the fences of the village and the attempt to march toward Gush Katif, even if unsuccessful or resulting in broken bones of some protestors, would have demonstrated that the Council was doing the maximum within the realm of reason.
Magal said that after Gush Katif, there is a sense in the public that the expellees deserved a struggle more like that waged in Amona, which "allowed them to stand tall once again after the serious lack of struggle in Gush Katif."
With regard to the future, Magal says there will surely be a much more determined struggle, though it is not clear if it can be led by the Yesha Council, which was a body created and funded by the government for the sake of handling settlement logistics, not struggling against the destruction of the project.
"I don't believe that the Yesha Council will take the path of dancing with the evictors [again], but I am not sure they are prepared for the struggle the public is seeking," Magal said.
An alternative communications network was already set up following the Gaza expulsion, allowing SMS messages to be sent out to activists on a grassroots level. This has bypassed the problem faced by activists until now who have yielded to the fact that the council enjoys unmatchable advertising funding. Activists in Israel can join that network, which sends messages in Hebrew, by sending an SMS to 1315 with the words ????? ????.
"The feeling on the street today is, 'We don't care what they say about us in Tel Aviv – they don't count us anyway' and 'we don't care what they say about us in the army,' Magal concluded. "These sentiments will have a great effect on the nature of the struggle, which will be much more determined than anything we have yet seen."