Agudath Israel of America published last week "A Call to Share the Pain of Acheinu Bais Yisrael," which called on all Jews "to pause and share in the pain of our Jewish brethren in Gaza." The statement went on to describe those about to be evicted from Gaza as "idealistic, dedicated Jews, [who] are being forced by circumstances entirely beyond their control to give up their homes, their yeshivos, their shuls and their cemeteries, to be relocated abruptly to new surroundings."
As one of the great Torah leaders of American Jewry told me recently, even if one were to believe that the Gaza withdrawal is the correct course for the long-range security of the Jews of Israel, those being uprooted from Gaza are still in the role of Yitzchak Avinu on the way to the Akeidah.
The statement of Agudath Israel of America can be seen as a response to those who have complained about what they perceive as the apathy of the chareidi world to the fate of the residents of Gaza. Whether a statement which maintains studied neutrality as to whether the "imminent withdrawal" is "politically or militarily correct" will alleviate that pain remains to be seen. As someone wrote in response to a recent piece of mine on the subject, "There is no greater chutzpa than to support the harm that is being done to a person and to simultaneously express sympathy for that harm."
As a logical matter that is surely untrue. Even the most popular government decisions often have a harsh impact on many innocent individuals, and there is nothing inconsistent about supporting the decision and sympathizing with those individuals who suffer as a consequence of that decision. But we are dealing here in the realm of emotions, and some very raw emotions at that.
Much of the chareidi press has been filled with stories about the disengagement. No Israeli paper, for instance, has devoted as much space to security concerns raised by the disengagement as the English HaModia. And there is widespread sympathy for the plight of those about to be uprooted from their homes in the chareidi community.
But it must also be admitted that there is apathy as well. It is hard to imagine that there would not be more concern if a much smaller number of chareidi families were being evicted from their homes in a similar fashion.
A good friend visiting from the States last week confided to me that he "went ballistic" when one of his daughters complained that she did not know where she would now get bug-free vegetables. He asked her to imagine how she would feel if Lakewood decided to use its power of eminent domain (under the recent Supreme Court decision on the subject) to raze Lakewood Yeshiva and all the houses of yeshivaleit nearby, in order to build a huge shopping mall and upscale apartment buildings. Would her primary concern then be the quality of her lettuce?
Those of us who do not have close friends or relatives in Gush Katif have to combat this apathy and to ponder the tragedy that is taking place, as the statement of Agudath Israel of America urges. The human tragedy of what is likely to befall more than 8,000 residents of Gush Kativ is very great indeed. Rarely has a democratic government willfully inflicted such deep harm on a certain segment of the population.
A leading American Rosh Yeshiva recently spoke to me with great animation of a visit he made to Gush Katif a few years ago. He was overwhelmed by the beauty of the communities built there by Jews who are careful about mitzvos – kala k'chamura.
Indeed, it would be hard to find many other such idyllic communities as those in Gush Katif in Israel, and it is almost impossible to imagine that this verdant landscape and thriving agriculture was wrested over the last three decades from unpromising sand dunes.
Residents will be moving from 400 square meter, two-floor houses, surrounded by large yards and gardens, to metal caravans of about quarter that size. And those are the lucky ones who even know where they will be going in another two weeks. Those being evicted from their homes can only take with them the possessions that will fit in two containers, and those containers will be stored, perhaps for years, on sweltering Negev army bases, where the heat inside the containers will exceed 194 degrees Fahrenheit.
Except for the smallest of the tight-knit Gaza communities, the residents will not be able to move together with their friends, or even their children and grandchildren, who today live in adjacent homes. The thriving Gazan agricultural sector, which produces $100,000,000 in exports a year will be largely destroyed. Even those farmers who reestablish their hothouses in the Negev will lose two growing seasons, and many say that they no longer have the strength to rebuild today what they built twenty or thirty years ago.
The compensation offered by the government will not allow the residents to purchase homes remotely comparable to those in which they currently reside. Nor will the growers be compensated for their losses from the move or provided with compensation adequate to cover the costs of starting anew. Even Ha'aretz admitted this week, "The state is not ready to absorb the disengagement evacuees, despite all the efforts made thus far. . . [S]olutions, if they do exist, are very partial."
THE SUFFERING OF THE GAZA RESIDENTS is only part of the tragedy. Another aspect is the sustained assault on civil liberties resulting from the disengagement. For me, the wakeup call an Email from the father of Chaya Belogorodsky, 13. She is charged with insulting a police officer, after she refused to leave a sidewalk, adjacent to where her friends were blocking the street. Though the maximum penalty for her crime is a monetary fine, she was placed in solitary confinement for a week after her arrest, denied kosher food, her siddur taken away. She is allowed to speak to her parents for only half an hour weekly. She remains in prison pending trial – an order upheld by Supreme Court Justice Ayala Procaccia.
Despite the general solicitude for youthful offenders, this is not the first time a Supreme Court justice has taken a particularly harsh stance towards religious youth. Justice Dalia Dorner once upheld the pre-trial incarceration of a 13-year-old accused of throwing stones during a demonstration on Bar Ilan, though he denied the charge and had no criminal record. At the same time, police did not even request the pre-trial detention of a 17-year-old accused of assaulting a yeshiva student, who had a previous conviction for assault with a deadly weapon.
The law enforcement system is being used as a blunt instrument against a particular religious ideology, and without any of the usual democractic safeguards. The state prosecutor in the Belogorodsky case told the Supreme Court that house arrest was inadequate in her case because she might talk to others and encourage them to participate in illegal demonstrations. Compare the harshness shown towards Chaya Belogorodsky with the general leniency towards other young offenders. The teenage killers of cabdriver Derek Roth, were granted furloughs a few years after their convictions, which they promptly took advantage of to engage in an armed robbery. On their next furlough, they skipped the country.
In this week's Jewish Week, editor Gary Rosenblatt, describes the case of Asher Vodka, a Bat Yam yeshiva student, rousted from his bed at 3:00 a.m. by eight secret service agents, who proceeded to confiscate his and his wife's cell phones and computers before dragging him off to jail. He is charged with "right wing ideology in opposition to the Israeli disengagement from Gaza and suspected of thinking of or planning to obstruct roads, an act which could lead to endangering lives" (emphasis added). He was brought to his initial hearing in leg irons and handcuffs, forbidden from even looking at his wife, and remanded for 7 days of interrogations. That remand order has been renewed twice. Those remand orders can only be described as preventive detention.
The Orthodox Union, which has as a matter of policy refrained from taking any position on the Gaza withdrawal, nevertheless went public last week with a letter to Israel's ambassador to the United States Danny Ayalon, in which the organization accused the security forces of "stopping, questioning, and in some instances detaining persons traveling in both public and private vehicles solely because those persons wore kippot." The letter cited an incident in which a bus traveling from Maaleh Adumim to Jerusalem was stopped and passengers wearing kippot were removed. It went on to complain of house arrest and administrative detention being used against those advocating positions at odds with government policy, the baseless confiscation of drivers' licenses, and threats and coercions against persons exercising their right of lawful travel and free association.
The list of horror stories could be multiplied greatly – e.g. demonstrators already in handcuffs being brutally beaten by police (with the major news outlets expressing no interest in the photographs of the beating), a resident of Gush Katif placed under house arrest in Beersheba and barred from his home – he asked to keep his car air-conditioning on while presenting his I.D. card at a checkpoint, of police blocking a bus of settlers en route to canvass residents of Netanya last March.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, best known for its representation of Palestinians, foreign workers, and the heterodox movements, last week protested to the police commissioner the "use of extreme and unauthorized measures to thwart a demonstration – even an illegal demonstration," which the statement said is "reminiscent of regimes we would not want to resemble." And the head of the Hebrew Univeristy's legal aid clinic wrote to Justice Minister Tzippi Livni about "the fatal blow against the fundamental rights of opponents of disengagement."
BESIDES THE SUFFERING OF THE GAZA RESIDENTS and the trampling of civil liberties, there is one other aspect of the disengagement that should particularly concern us, as we approach Tisha B'Av. "Hashem is taking back the Land," in the words of one of our generation's leading ba'alei hashkafa.
We often see most clearly the Divine Hashgacha in the way Hashem turns the hearts of leaders: "Like streams of water is the heart of a king in the hand of Hashem, wherever He wished, so He directs it" (Mishlei 21:1). If today we witness a prime minister, who is considered the father of the settlement movement, and who less than two years ago proclaimed his commitment to the Gaza settlement of Netzarim to be no less than that to Jerusalem, ramming through the withdrawal from a part of the Land, with the scantest of national debate, there must be a message there for all of us.