Personal Recollection of the Expulsion from Gush Katif

By Zimra Siegman-Schlessinger

Oct. 15 2005 (TI) — It is now almost 2 months since the pogrom, although it has taken me until now to sit down and write about it. Actually, I haven’t been able to sit down and read or write anything lately. I seem to have developed a short attention span and inability to concentrate. I am afraid I will not remember everything — people have a tendency to forget things that are awful. What I seem to have disengaged from are my emotions. I feel as cool as a cucumber and suddenly I find myself bursting out into tears for no apparent reason.

Our personal tragedy is dwarfed beside the national tragedy that will go down in Jewish history as one of the darkest stains the Jewish people have seen. A cruel and truly wicked dictator managed, by undemocratic means, to make unprecedented cynical use of the Israeli security forces. Jewish soldiers aided the enemies of the Jewish nation from all times and exiled the Jewish People from part of its holy land, thus encouraging further terrorism and endangering the entire state of Israel. The damage is yet to be told…

The Day of Deportation, My Personal Story

Neve Dekalim, Israel, August 17th 2005 — The army announced that we would be permitted to attend a tfila together at 11:00 am and that they wouldn’t start dragging people out until afterward. We hoped we could believe them, and went with the kids to the temani shul where we once again poured out our tears and wrenching hearts to Hashem, not knowing that His answer would eventually be "NO". We returned home at about 1:00 pm with our hearts in our mouths.

Shortly afterward "Shiri", as she announced herself, came to the door. I looked through the peephole and saw the young brunette who had been sent to destroy our lives. I screamed at her and told her what I thought of her mission, and that it was her obligation to refuse such orders and that she should leave, which she did, although she returned about an hour later. We told Menachem to tell her that his parents were not home (although we were right next to him) and that she should go away. She came back several more times in the following hours and each time Menachem told her that we were not home.

We were exhausted. We hadn’t slept the previous night, and we hadn’t slept well for a long time. Every time we would doze off for a few seconds, a knock on the door would pull us back into the nightmare. Some man dressed in an orange vest marked "Rabbi" came a few times to try and convince Menachem to open the door. I don’t think he actually was any sort of "rabbi". He believed Menachem that we were not home, and I was appalled that he stooped so low as to try and convince a young child to do something against his parents’ consent when he is home alone and frightened.

Somewhere between 5 and 6 pm "Shiri" returned with a great entourage. There were at least 40 soldiers with her. They all wore those pathetic blue vests and caps with Israeli flags — just so we could be sure we knew who sent them. They told Menachem they were going to break the door down even though his parents were not home. He informed them that his 2 year old little sister was standing near the door and that they could kill her by doing so, but this didn’t seem to bother them, nor the "fact" (which in fact, was a lie) that his parents (we) "were not home". Obviously, we held 2 year old Rachel away from the door, and as they started breaking in the door we moved into the kitchen, and locked the door behind us. Within about 20 minutes, there was a repeat performance with the door after a give and take between them and Menachem.

This time we moved into the girl’s bedroom and locked the door. About a half hour they broke into that room too.

This is when our monologues began. Chananel and I poured our hearts (and words) out trying to make them see what a heinous crime they were partaking in, and they (as they were brainwashed to do) listened through us without saying a word. Shiri — the commanding deportation officer — asked us to board the bus, which was standing outside our house. We told her that we would not help them in any way and that we would not take any part in helping commit this crime.

One by one, each of us and each of our five children were lifted by many soldiers and forced onto the bus where there were more soldiers assigned to each passenger to make sure we wouldn’t run off. It had just turned dark. According to halacha, it was already the following day, the 13th of Av. Only a week later would I realize that it was Simcha’s birthday, which we would have spent together in our home as a festive event had we not been dragged off into the abyss.

The Bus Ride — The bus ride was a harrowing experience. Some of the men on the bus managed to kick out the windows and run. The soldiers ran after them, caught them, and brought them back to the bus. We were at complete standstills for hours at a time. The soldiers, who only moments earlier heartlessly dragged us out of our homes suddenly became stewards and stewardesses — handing out mineral water and potato chips (and some sandwich that we wouldn’t eat anyway because the hechsher was unclear). We would rather choke than take part in such a game. After we gave the children to drink we used the water to pour over the policemen who lined the streets on our way out. One of them got very angry at having been wet by the water I threw at him, and came up to the bus. I spit at him — even though I don’t think he deserved to have my spit. Just then I realized — I had forgotten! Our "illegal" guests, who we had hosted for the weeks preceding the expulsion, were hiding in our house! I quickly called them on their cell phones to make sure they weren’t found. It made me feel good to know that they were still there. I hoped and prayed that this entire nightmare would be over and that we would be able to turn around soon and go back home. I said tfilat haderech — and added vtachzirenu lbeitenu bshalom with lots of extra kavanna.

At around midnight we were dumped onto some street corner in Sderot. Did we find Yonatan Bassi handing out refreshments? Of course not. There was bedlam. Crying babies and children, dumbfounded adults, and no one knew who was to go where. The garin hatorani from Sderot organized a light dinner and some toys for the kids to play with until we would continue the next leg of our "journey". They helped us carry the children, who were half asleep as well as the few belongings we managed to take with us. About an hour and a half later, we found ourselves on a bus going to a hotel in Natzrat Elite. We arrived at about 5:00 am

The Hotel — Did we find Yonatan Bassi at the hotel handing out refreshments? Of course not. There were a few good Jews who came out to help us with the kids and to do whatever they could. What on earth could they do???

Chananel and I were given a large room for all the kids and a room for us attached — with one mattress. This angered me so!! It was already morning — neither of us had slept for one minute on the bus (Rachel kicked and cried the entire way) and now — only one of us would be able to lie down. Someone brought us some shirts to give the girls to sleep in — we had no pajamas — and we all "conked out" for a few hours.

When we got up — I took the kids to get some breakfast. The Arab who ran the dining hall said, "Breakfast is over." I disregarded him and went and took whatever I could find and sat the kids on the floor in the hall and let them make a mess. Seeing all the Jews who were vacationing particularly troubled me. They were on their way to the swimming pool at the same time that The Jewish army was busy exiling the Jews from the holy land of Israel and from their homes. The little ones kept running into the elevator. I was sure that there was no way I could continue like this. I realized that geographically, I was so far away from where I needed to be. If we would receive permission to go back and pack up the house — how could we manage from so far away? How would we make such a long trip to the lawyer with the kids? We certainly couldn’t leave them alone there — not even with a babysitter. They probably would think they would never see us again the same way they were told that they would never go back home again!!

The Klavans — Yossi Klavan (formerly of Teaneck, NJ) was one of the first people I spoke with, not because I had the wherewithal to call anybody, but because he was persistent in calling me to find out what was going on. As soon as he knew where I was, he came to get us. He took a week off work to chauffer us to anywhere we needed, and Leba, who had recently given birth, watched the kids and even took them to the pool a few times. We really didn’t know where to stqart getting ourselves together. Yossi was very helpful. He suggested we shut the phone and electric line — which we hadn’t thought of, and he started helping us work on getting permission to go into Gush Katif, and pack up the house — which we had left untouched. All the while we continued to hope and pray that the nightmare would soon be over and that we would be able to go back home, but we started to understand that this would probably not be the case?

A few days later, Chananel was allowed to join a group that went into Gush Katif to pack. I was not allowed on the bus as the strict orders prescribed that only one member per household could enter. After a long and dragged out journey, Chananel arrived in Neve Dekalim, and was given 30 boxes. He was let off in the Neve Dekalim industrial zone with no car. He was informed that the truck was to arrive in about 2 hours. How can anyone pack an entire house in 30 boxes and in 2 hours?!?!?

Chananel walked home and cried. He called me on our phone (which hadn’t been shut off). The whole house was standing and intact. The whole predicament was surreal. He was unable to pack. Yossi and I tried to find out how we could get some soldiers to go help. I spoke to MK Benny Elon and pleaded with him to find some way for the order to be given! There were tens of thousands of soldiers there! Why hadn’t they been going from house to house to help pack?? Benny Elon explained that this was no mistake. He told me that they want to thoroughly break us. They want us to scramble around like Jews in Europe who were told to "quickly pack one bag". Then they could have some reporters come and photograph a few soldiers "helping the settlers pack" as if this were the norm.

Brimo — Yossi spoke to the moving company. We asked them to postpone the move until the following day. He explained that we needed to bring in some people to pack. The mover told us we would have to get the OK from Brimo and accidentally gave us Brimo’s number — something he apparently was not supposed to give out. We had no idea who Brimo was but we later would find out that Brimo was working for misrad habitachon and in charge of allowing or not allowing certain moving companies to enter Gush Katif. We surmised that only those companies who gave him a nice "cut" were allowed in which explained the outrageous price that was being asked for us to pay. Brimo is probably a good friend of the Sharon mafia?

Yossi has a way with words — even with Brimo! I don’t know how, but he managed to get Brimo to agree to us going into Gush Katif the following day to pack. We were instructed as to where to go to get the permission slip. It seemed too good to be true? Where was the catch? Brimo screamed at Yossi and made it amply clear that if he dared have any orange ribbons or stickers on his car or on his body he would have him arrested as he had done to someone in orange the previous day. He specified that he would not tolerate a sticker that said "Am Yisrael Chai?!" As appalling as this all was, Yossi kept his cool and kept sweet-talking. Yossi arranged for us to go early the following morning, and Leba would baby-sit for my kids all day. Chananel decided to stay home in Neve Dekalim — this was illegal — until the next day when he would pack with us. Yossi’s boys went all over to find as many boxes as they could. My parents did so as well. Yossi arranged to go in 2 cars — his and Steve Leavitt’s. We first had to go see Brimo…

We arrived at the "Brimo headquarters" a few minutes before 8 AM — a few minutes before they had their act together — a few minutes before they closed the gate – a few minutes before they had the chance to not let us in — We has tons of siata dishmaya all along the way. They had no intention of us arriving to get permission to enter after all. We were yelled at by everyone who saw us including Brimo himself: "WHO LET YOU IN HERE?!?!?" Since we were there already, and since no busses were being allowed into Gush Katif that day — Brimo did an "act of kindness" so he could feel good about himself for the next year and he kept his word and allowed us in. He gave us a slip of paper and entered us into the computer that showed we had permission to go in.

We were told to stay in a convoy from misrad habitachon that was going into Gush Katif, which we did, even though they were driving so slowly that we could have probably walked faster. Just as we arrived at the Kissufim checkpoint, a particularly hot-headed (and blood thirsty) police officer violently stopped us and forced us to leave the convoy. He would not listen to what we had to say, and refused to look at our permission slip. He also refused to ask the army officer in the car ahead of us as I pleaded that he do about our being part of the convoy. He was gonna have some FUN!!! Just as he was about to beat the living daylights out of Yossi, the army officer from the car ahead of us miraculously came to our rescue and said we were with them — leaving the poor policeman to having to wait for a different Jew boy to have his fun with.

Packing When we arrived at the gate of Neve Dekalim we had to wait almost a half hour until we were allowed in. Shortly afterwards, I was back home. I went into the boy’s room and burst out into tears. Everyone started working immediately. I bothered them, and was of no help whatsoever. Yossi, who had never done anything like this in his life, took apart all my closets with Steve and his friend. (I forgot his name). Shabie from Ginot Shomron worked like a stick of energy almost non-stop. They packed everything in about 11 hours? Everything — and I really mean everything! Even the windows, doors, and light bulbs! I was soon to find out that I would be ripped off by the moving company big time — about 23,000 shekels worth of rip off. I would also learn later that others who used this company had found their belongings ruined, stolen or vandalized. I still have no idea what condition my things are in — wherever they may be?

Back to Yossi’s House — Yossi and Leba continued to take us wherever we needed to go — to the lawyer in Tel Aviv, to buying sandals for the boys, shirts for Chananel, developing our photographs of what we managed to take during the eviction? Yossi even took us to visit Chananel’s great aunt in Ramat Hasharon. We really had no idea where we were headed, though.

I got in touch with Rabbi Yom Tov Zilberman — who runs the main branch of the schools that the boys were going to which we had been so pleased with, and asked him to tell me which places would be appropriate for the boys to continue in. He asked me which area we were interested in. I knew that at this time I could only see myself continuing the battle over the land of Israel. I would not let some wicked fat man dictate to me where I can go in my own land. We are the antithesis of this despicable anti-Jewish government. They will do anything for a buck. These whores will sell their souls and everything that is holy for money. We, on the other hand are willing to lose everything for what we believe in. After we spoke with Rabbi Zilberman, I began arranging visits to our new prospective homes — Hebron, Beit El, and Gush Dolev-Talmonim. Yossi was very helpful with this too, as he knows people everywhere, and was very instrumental in getting me in touch with the right people.

The Schlep — We began schlepping the kids on a long journey and we didn’t know when it would end. We used my parent’s house in Beit Shemesh as our base and went from there to Hebron, Yerushalayim, Beit El and Gush Talmonim. We slept in many different places and wasted a ton of money on transportation. At one point, my cousin Atara from Beit Shemesh came and insisted we borrow her car. I was very uneasy about the whole thing, but she was persistent. Without this great help I can’t imagine how we ever would have been able to get ourselves together so quickly.

Haresha — After having seen the different schools (the kids participated in classes in Hebron and in Beit El) we decided that the school in Neriya would be most appropriate for the boys. We also found a good school for Simcha in Dolev (these places are in Gush Dolev — Talmonim) we had made up our minds about the general area we wanted to be in based on the childrens’ education, but we still had nowhere to live and no job.

After having seen the area, our hearts pulled us in the direction of Haresha – a small community of 30 families on a hilltop near the boy’s school (5 minutes). Unfortunately, the Israeli government does not recognize the existence of this place — although the army does. It is the most vital strategic asset the army has in the area, as it is 900 meters high and overlooks the entire area, including Ramallah. I wouldn’t want to know what catastrophe could happen, G-d forbid if Haresha got into the wrong hands.

Most of the homes in Haresha are trailers (caravans). They range from 45 to 90 sq. meters. It is not very easy to live in such conditions, but the people in Haresha are worth sacrificing some earthly comforts. We decided that we would like to live in Haresha and we requested a caravan. We had no time for bureaucracy. I explained to the vaadat klita that I wanted my kids in school the next day on time like every other normal kid in the country. I also explained that if they could not arrange a caravan yet, that I had been planning on sleeping on the grass. After this meeting I took the kids to the neighboring town (Kiriyat Sefer — about 20 minutes away) to get dinner. There, we received a call from the vaadat klita of Haresha announcing that they had a meeting and that we were accepted to the yeshuv. They also said that there was an empty 60-meter caravan available for us. We were happy. I asked if they could arrange to have some mattresses in it for us and they said they would. When we arrived, we found that they not only had cleaned the place from top to bottom, but that they had set up beds for all of us with sheets, pillows, towels, and blankets, as well as a table and chairs, shelves, a stovetop, a microwave, a toaster oven, some food, and even a refrigerator (that was borrowed from the kindergarten, the rest was from our neighboring families). They got us a new set of dishes and toveled them! They set up books and toys for the kids and a tape recorder with some tapes. They even put toothpaste, soap and shampoo in the bathroom!

For 2 days meals were prepared by our neighbors and sent to us. Our neighbors continue to take care of our laundry until now. Haresha has a very nice kindergarten and beautifully run day care facility for the little ones, and there is a very nice kollel for Chananel at the foot of the mountain (less than 5 minute drive).

We don’t have anywhere to bring our stuff to yet (if it still exists) but we are still working on it. We might be able to rent another caravan to put the stuff into. In the meantime, we are being charged 2,000 shekels a month for what they call storage.

I haven’t found a job yet, but I am hopeful about next year. Schools don’t leave themselves "high and dry" for an English teacher waiting for a cruel dictator to evict Jews from their homes thus creating a deportee who is an English teacher who will come live in their area and want to start working.

I am trying to collect unemployment, although the bureaucracy I have to go through is endless, and I recently found out that the amount of money that is paid is barely enough to starve on. Chananel also cannot find a job before next September, which puts us in a very difficult situation. We have no source of income, and therefore we have not paid the kids’ tuition, nor our rent, utilities, or anything else. We have not seen one dime from the government even though we have filled out all the forms they asked us to via a lawyer. If the government had spent a fraction of the money they spent lying and claiming that we were all compensated on actually compensating us, we would all be millionaires. Their cruelty and wickedness truly has no bounds.

Moetzet Yesha and other organizations say they are collecting money to help us but I haven’t seen a dime from them. My friend and neighbor from Gush Katif, Rachel Saperstein, has set out to collect. She is not taking off any of the money for herself as opposed to others who are taking a nice percentage from donations. No one has seen ANYTHING OR ANY MONEY except the two times Rachel gave out envelopes. (The first envelope was 500 shekels per family, and the second one was 1,000 shekels per family).

The money from Rachel came in handy to pay for food, although we don’t have enough blankets.

One turns to friends for help and support in times of emergency. Frankly, I am shocked that we haven’t been offered help from close friends and family. We were soldiers on the frontlines of a battlefield for years — representing all the others. Is it proper to discard your wounded veteran in such a fashion? What is really most inconceivable is that MY government created this whole situation!!!

The families from Gush Katif are going through very difficult times now. We have chosen the way of the Torah. It is the way of truth. With strength and determination we will continue moving forward, regardless of Ariel Sharon and his friends, who find it necessary to destroy so many Jewish lives.

We need your help and support now. I need your help and support now.