On a beach near Kibbutz Neve Yam, not too far from Haifa, we sat together - OneVoice activists and a group of former residents of the Gush Katif settlements – at the home of the Farhan Family on October 17.
We went there with some trepidation, but we were mostly curious about the meeting. Before that evening, we barely knew anyone from the Gush Katif settlements, and the motivation to know them and converse with them was very high. As we arrived, the families welcomed us with warmth and kindness, but with a little fear, similar to what we felt. After waiting a few minutes with the rest of the locals, the meeting started.
As a Movement that promotes the two-state solution, we believe that the evacuation of settlements is an inherent part of the process. Because of that, we wanted to better understand the significance of the evacuation for these people, who refer to themselves as being “thrown out” of their houses. The stories of the families varied: there was nostalgia and longing for the lives they used to have, memories of good relationships they had with their Arab neighbors in the southern part of Gaza, and frustration and disappointment due to the lack of support from the government post-evacuation.
As we expected, we found a large variety of opinions and positions about the essential issues surrounding a possible solution among the former residents of Gush Katif. Some of them suggested living under a Palestinian government outside of the borders of Israel, while others strongly disagreed with retreating from any territory and did not believe that any agreement involving compromise is possible. But most of all, we found an eclectic group of people, whose largest concern was the fear of being hurt again by another evacuation.
Although there were obvious disagreements about the “right way” to go about this, it was noticeable that we all care for and are concerned about the future of the country and the well-being of each other. Eventually, we separated not as partners or as rivals, but as equals looking for a way to end the conflict and curious about meeting again and getting to know each other better.
I had three main conclusions from this meeting:
First, an evacuation, while necessary, is a hard and hurtful process, and any additional family that settles in the occupied territories is in danger of facing pain and sorrow. I do not believe that we can simply blame the families who settle there, we must hold the government accountable, as they ultimately are allowing it to happen. Because the future of the settlements is uncertain, we must – because of humanitarian reasons – stop all the construction in the occupied territories.
Second, Israel's unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip has brought years of insecurity, but above all, it damaged our trust and in the belief that the conflict will end. We should aim to have all future moves made through negotiation and only with the agreement and support of the Palestinian people.
Eventually, in any future evacuation, all efforts must be done to ease the process of evacuation and re-habitation. We must learn from past mistakes and understand the difficulties of the evacuated people, and support them in any way we can.
- Tom Bar-Gal, OVI regional officer of the north