Thursday, April 2, 2009

Recalling the Yammit Expulsion

No trauma erased, no lesson learned

By Lily Galili

"Before you say anything, I want to tell you that in April we're having a protest rally to commemorate 27 years since the evacuation of Yamit," replied Avi Farhan to the as-yet-unasked question: How do the Yamit evacuees see the peace with Egypt after 30 years?.

Three people showed up for a more in-depth discussion: Farhan, who turned the evacuation into a mission, when he was evacuated both from Yamit and later from Elei Sinai during the Gaza disengagement; his friend Yitzhak Gabai, who also went through a dual evacuation; and Mati Gordon, who was evacuated (uprooted, as they put it) only once and then took up residence inside the Green Line.

Farhan is now living temporarily in a rented apartment in Sderot. Gabai has been living since the disengagement in the so-called refugee camp in Kibbutz Carmia. They are both still waiting to reach an agreement with the state to settle in Kibbutz Neveh Yam, south of Haifa.

Since Yamit's evacuation, Gordon has been living in Moshav Dekel on the border of Israel, Egypt and the Gaza Strip. The moshav was established to absorb the evacuees from the Yamit region; the region around the moshav then received the name Shalom in honor of the peace agreements with Egypt. But Gordon believes that the only peace, for now, is the peace he has made with himself and his fate. The term "Shalom District" seems to him somewhat far-fetched when he is asked to keep his front door closed with a large rock, after it became unhinged from the aftershock of a Qassam rocket that fell on his neighbor's house.

Although each of them chose a different path, for all three Yamit is still alive. To every meeting Farhan brings the Israeli flag that flew on the roof of his home in Yamit. The rest of the time he keeps it in a safe. From the same bag he pulls out an aerial photo of Yamit and points to its details with the enthusiasm of someone proudly presenting the blueprints of his new house.

"During one of the meetings in the Elei Sinai clubhouse before the evacuation, someone told me that it's easier for me because I've already been uprooted once," says Gabai, laughing bitterly. "I explained to him that that's like assuming it's easier for a man missing one hand to have the second one amputated, than to amputate the first hand of someone with two hands. Does that sound logical to you?"

Eternal disgrace

Farhan recalls how during the signing of the peace treaty with Egypt he said that "Menachem Begin wants to go down in history, and he will - as someone remembered in eternal disgrace." Thirty years later he does not take back his words. "He will be remembered in eternal disgrace when Egypt begins a war against us," Gabai says. "We are still high, celebrating 30 years of pseudo-peace. But the war will come."

We actually began the conversation from the end, with the question of whether they can imagine a perfect peace that would justify the evacuation. Absolute peace with guarantees and collateral and proof on the ground. The kind in which the leader of the country whose territory Israel must evacuate requests it of us personally, in the name of peace, and promises eternal love. The answer is a definite no.

"In such a peace, Itzik Gabai and I could, for example, live in an Egyptian Yamit," says Farhan, "and Farhan would live there as an Egyptian citizen, the way [Israeli Arab MK] Ahmed Tibi and his ilk live in Israel and serve in its parliament. I would be willing to be a member of the Egyptian parliament. On the eve of the signing of the treaty in Camp David, I traveled to Ashkelon, because in Yamit there was no telegraph office, and I sent telegrams to [prime minister Menachem] Begin, [U.S. president] Jimmy Carter and [Egyptian president] Anwar Sadat, with a request to enable us to remain in Yamit on a humanitarian basis. Yehiel Kadishai [Begin's personal secretary] confirmed receipt of the telegram."

And if the Syrian president were to ask Gabai to evacuate the Golan for 25 years, during which relations would mature and in the end he would be able to live there once again? "That's a nice simulation, but it's impossible," Gabai says. "After all, by doing so they're saying that only 25 years from now will there be a peace in which they'll be able to live with me. In such a case I would tell them they should mature first and come back to me in 25 years."

After examining the question from every angle, Farhan and Gabai did not find a single scenario in which an evacuation is worthwhile. The results of the disengagement only reinforced this feeling and increased suspicion of Egypt. Only Gordon says that when Yamit was evacuated he decided he would not be an obstacle to peace, but peace didn't really come. "The peace that exists is not what I dreamed of," he says.

Being a pioneer

A new trauma, it turns out, does not erase an old one. Nor is there any new thinking about personal responsibility for the choices these men made by risking living in a place that was not really theirs, and which was always under threat of evacuation. "In Yamit we certainly didn't feel for a moment that we were taking a risk," they say. They were young, enthusiastic, infused with a spirit of Zionism. "Be a pioneer, settle in Yamit," says Farhan, quoting from the ads published by the government in the 1970s.

The settlement in Elei Sinai is a somewhat different story; here, for the first time, Farhan surprises by saying "I made a mistake." In what way? "After Yamit, I had planned to build a refugee camp next to the Erez crossing," he explains. "On the eve of Memorial Day in 1982, [then-defense minister] Ariel Sharon sent to me Uri Bar-On, his assistant for settlement affairs. Bar-On then suggested to me, in the name of the defense minister, that I build a settlement instead of a refugee camp. Three days later I was already in the minister's office, and he showed me all kinds of places on the map. That was a Sunday. On Friday I was already in the area with senior army officers.

"And here is where I made a mistake. Senior officials in the settlement department suggested that I build the settlement within the Green Line or right on the seam line, and I insisted on an ideological settlement, and made a mistake. I also made a mistake when I blindly followed Gush Emunim [the settlement movement], who with their criteria for accepting settlers didn't accept my sister."

They plan to commemorate their Camp David on April 26, the day of Yamit's evacuation in 1982, at the foot of the monument that was moved from Yamit to the Shalom District when they evacuated. On a clear day the remains of the Yamit-region settlements are visible from the monument.

Fifty of the 70 families living in Moshav Dekel are among the Yamit evacuees, but Gordon prefers to call the area the "entrance to the Philadelphi route" rather than the Shalom District. The streets have been named after trees, though he's put a street sign that says Yamit at the entrance to his house. The moshav's paving stones were brought from Yamit, something Gordon sees as a continuity and Farhan sees as a kind of insult. In the Israeli reality, no trauma is erased and no lesson is learned.
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