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And Now....
At the Kotel hours after being evicted from their Gush Katif home
by Judy Lash Balint
Jerusalem Post
August 18, 2005

Rachel Saperstein is lying on a bed in a cramped hotel room in Jerusalem. It's a far cry from the beautiful and immaculate home in Neve Dekalim she was thrown out from yesterday. As her husband Moshe goes out for a smoke (to escape all the female company, no doubt) the words tumble out of Rachel.

"I didn't do enough," she sighs. The constant media interviews and explaining the importance of Gush Katif ultimately didn't succeed in preventing the expulsions, she says. With great emotion, Rachel recounts the events of the past few days leading up to the eviction.

With Moshe out of the room, she tells us how he finally broke down as he came to the realization that he had to pack up his beloved CD collection.

Instead of spending another day watching the destruction of even more thriving Jewish communities, I decided to visit some of the evictees who have been unceremoniusly dumped in my own city. The Sapersteins and their neighbors, the entire community of Neve Dekalim in fact, is now being housed in two and three star hotels scattered all over the city. At three hotels near the central bus station shell-shocked evacuees sit in hotel lobbies, recounting their stories to anyone willing to listen. Lists of activities for children and teenagers and prayer times are posted on the walls, as those who have lost their homes ponder their next move.

The government is footing the bill for 10 days of hotel stays for the displaced Gush Katif residents, and efforts are underway to dole out the first portion of the compensation checks so that people will have money to rent apartments--but how will they know where to rent if they don't where or if they'll be working?

There's tremendous bitterness among the Gush Katif evictees over the way they are being treated. Rachel promises to explain in a letter she's writing tomorrow.

Finally today, the first day after losing her home, Rachel has had time to go to the doctor to fond out why her foot is swollen. A hairline fracture is responsible for her discomfort--she just didn't have time to deal with it before the evictions. Rachel explains that since they arrived last night, several Neve Dekalim people have been treated for any manner of ailments--clearly stress-related, acording to doctors.

Rachel relates how she prepared a complete chicken lunch that was eaten just half an hour before they were forced to leave their home. It was the Saperstein way of taking their leave with dignity in their own time.

A few well meaning visitors tried making small talk with Rachel--one of them made a comment about how everyone in her building sympathized with the plight of the Gush Katif residents. "All I could think of," says Rachel, "is that she has a building and I don't have a home..."

As I leave the hotel and wait at the bus stop, a young man walks by alone with a megaphone. He's walking up and down the street at 11 p.m. telling the world: "I'm a resident of Neve Dekalim. I was thrown out of my home today in the name of democracy.."

All evening we'd been waiting for details about the arrival in Jerusalem of the entire community of Netzer Hazani. Phone calls to people in the community kept us up to date about their projected arrival time at the Western Wall where they've chosen to spend the first night after eviction.

At 12:30 a.m I drive to the Kotel thinking I'll be one of a few people there to greet the buses...I end up in a massive traffic jam as all the roads into the Old City are packed with cars and buses. Finally at around 12:50a.m. the first exhausted Netzer Hazani people emerge off the dirty buses.

They're greeted by lines of singing men--almost everyone is either in tears or has red-rimmed eyes from a day of tears.

A Torah scroll from Netzer Hazani is lovingly carried to the Kotel plaza by a dozen young men and teenagers with tears running down their faces.

It's 2 a.m. and no one is moving from the Kotel--the women's section is filled with a huge circle of orange-clad women and girls who hold on to each other for support. Mournful songs rise up from the men's section as the shofar is sounded. Several thousand people cling to each other for moral and physical support.

People are plainly shell-shocked and traumatized by the events of the past few days. The realization is sinking in that months of intense campaigning, dedication and commitment have failed to achieve the desired result of holding on to Gush Katif and that twenty two thriving, productive communities have simply vanished overnight.

How appropriate that this coming Shabbat is Shabbat Nachamu--the shabbat of comfort that follows the mourning of Tisha B'Av. But it will take more than one Shabbat to comfort many Israelis in the aftermath of this week's upheaval.

See pictures from the Kotel tonight at http://flickr.com/photos/jerusalemdiaries/

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