A left-wing kibbutz member, who had never seen a Yesha settlement until the day she came to destroy it, asks forgiveness of the people she expelled. "Three years without a home is much too long," she says.
The soldier publicized her story, and request for forgiveness, in an interview with Yedidya Meir on the Kol Chai radio station. She had been an active member of a left-wing youth movement in her kibbutz, never having met a "settler" (Jewish resident of Judea, Samaria and Gaza), or been inside a Jewish town there, in her life.
After enlisting in the army, Maayan - as she is known during the interview - and her fellow soldiers were given the tasks of packing up the nursery school in Bdolach, a community of some 40 families, between N'vei Dekalim and Atzmona, and expelling the residents of Kfar Darom in northern Gush Katif. She did not even understand at the time why her "victims" should be upset at her. Excerpts from her story:
"It began when we were sent to Bdolach to help pack up the nursery school. I was simply amazed to see the entire nursery still there, with all the toys and all the games as usual, despite the fact that they were supposed to be evicted three days later. Nobody had packed. While we were packing, a woman came and yelled at us, 'Go away, don't pack, who gave you permission?!' I wanted to talk to her and ask her why she was angry at me.Later, apparently the same day, Maayan's army unit was taken to another town-to-be-destroyed, Kfar Darom:
"Suddenly, she asked me, 'Do you know what they are planning to do with us, or where they're planning to take us?' I didn't have the answer, but I was sure that someone else did. I told her, 'I'll make sure that someone will take care of you. The State certainly has a place for you to live.' I was sure that if this turned out not to be true, we as an ideological movement and as citizens would organize to protest such a thing.
"Three years is not a short time, and things should have straightened out already. But year after year we see that this is not the case. I'm very ashamed to look these people in the eyes. I am ashamed that I represented the values of the State, while the State forgot these values."
"We entered Kfar Darom. This was the first time I was in Gush Katif. I saw that it looked just like a Kibbutz - large lawns, very nice one-floor houses. I had always thought that 'settlers' meant caravans and poverty, but suddenly I saw how beautiful the place was.Maayan has another story about a family of immigrants from Ethiopia:
One of my friends, said, 'You'll hear these cries of this boy as you're giving birth.'
"We got to the houses of the families, and then it became very, very hard. The pain that was there, we also felt. We waited for a long time outside the houses, watching from the side as the officers went in and tried to talk with the families. There was one family that decided to leave on its own, but they had an 11-year-old boy who refused. He just yelled and cried and sobbed.
"At one point, his father and brother said they refused to let any soldiers come into their house, and that they would take the boy out by themselves. When they took him out, he simply cried and screamed and kicked. I could see that this was no show. He was doing this in his father's arms. He cried and asked, 'Why are you doing this? How can you leave the house?! Why are you listening to them?!'
"It was a traumatic experience. My [girl]friends started to cry, for the first time. One of them next to me said, 'You'll hear these cries of his as you're giving birth.' It was truly jolting. The cries of that boy are with me every day. They really are."
"There was an Ethiopian family that we moved out; it really broke my heart. I remember that there, even I cried. The father kept on giving his little daughter candies to give to us - the people who came to take them out - just so she wouldn't be afraid of us. He asked to speak with all of us, and explained that ever since he arrived from Ethiopia by foot in Operation Solomon [in 1991], he has been wandering in Israel among different caravan neighborhoods, and only here, in Kfar Darom, did he finally succeed in building his house. He asked us not to take him out forcefully, as he wanted to go out by himself. He took his little daughter in his hands, and his suitcase, and when he reached the door, he just broke down in tears and crying, held on to the doorpost and simply refused to part. Where is he today? Did he ever recover from what we did to him? Did he end up wandering again among caravans? I don't know. But that moment was shocking. It it something that you remember every day, something you get up with in the morning. If you ignore it and leave it aside, everything is fine - but when you really think about it and the pictures return, it is shocking. It's alive and kicking and painful and burning."
When you really think about it and the pictures return, it is shocking. It's alive and kicking and painful and burning.
Maayan said that she and her friends did not advertise their experiences during the expulsion:
"People don't talk about what happened then. It's like this thing that people don't talk about that period. We came home, related some things that happened, but even with our parents and friends - it's something that no one wants to talk about. No one who was there is proud of it. It was something very difficult for everyone.
"I hope the families and residents will forgive me, first of all as a private individual who did this terrible thing, and also as a citizen of this country. I hope they forgive me as a soldier, because I carried out a mission in the name of the country and its legislative branch, because of my belief in the country's values. But I feel that that as a country, I betrayed them. I betrayed them as an individual and as a country, and I hope that they forgive me.
"I hear much talks about additional evacuations [of Jewish towns and people] and various concessions. It seems to me that everyone can see what is happening in the place that we evacuated. I remember that the chairman of my youth movement spoke to us during a seminar in preparation for the Disengagement, and said, 'We are not happy at their misfortune; we want to do something good. If it turns out to be not good, we will be strong enough to admit that we failed.' Well, I never heard that he asked forgiveness. But if we have to be strong enough to admit that we failed, then I feel that this move was a failure. It was a wrong move."
Maayan wrote an open letter of apology to the residents of Gush Katif, noting, "How could I, a little girl who never built a thing in her life, have dared to come and destory with my own hands entire lives of people who built up so much with such hard work?" She explained:
"It took me a long time to reach the point where I feel I have to say I'm sorry without trying to look for explanations. As far as I'm concerned, there is no explanation for what happened in Gush Katif, and I simply regret it very much. I'm not getting into an ideological argument... But from my emotional experience, I feel that I was part of a terrible injustice that was done to these people - an injustice that, looking backwards, was not necessary, in my opinion, and with no real [positive] results, only negative ones."
"I'm coming out with my story," Maayan said, "because I want to ask true fogiveness from the families, and to strengthen them. But I hope that other soldiers will also follow me and will do the same. I know that no one can say, 'We did a beautiful job in the Disengagement,' because everyone was broken from it."Many of the soldiers were warned beforehand that they would feel this way, but most did not listen. Click here for details.
The Ethiopian Family
The weekly B'Sheva newspaper found the Ethiopian family from Kfar Darom described above, living in the temporary site in Shomeriya. The father, Avraham Simon, was asked to comment on the soldier's request for forgiveness, and said: "We're not yet in our permanent homes; we have not yet reached our 'rest and inheritance.' To come and say to us 'we're sorry' without doing something to repair what they did, has no meaning. The soldiers who feel bad about what they do have to tell their commanders in that well-oiled machine that they will not take part in another expulsion, and they must go the people they threw out of their homes and see what they can do for them, and they must educate their future children not to take part in something like this."
This is not an issue of an individual soldier, Avraham said, "but rather a national correction that must be made. The Nation of Israel has to know that if someone destroyed an area in the Land of Israel, it doesn't get solved just by saying 'sorry.' When it comes to the destruction of the Land of Israel, there is no forgiveness!"