I was voicing myself and at the same time telling a tale of Gush Katif. The two are intertwined. I was in Gush Katif and Gush Katif was in me.
I started writing my book, Grains of Sand:The Fall of Neve Dekalim, in Nissan 5765 (April 2005) and finished a year later in Nissan 5766 (April 2006). The tragic events regarding Gush Katif and their bitter aftermath burned in me, forcing me to take pen in hand and spill the burning lava of my thoughts and emotions onto white paper. And as I wrote, my thoughts took form and shape; and the book became richer and the plot clearer.
Grains Of Sand: The Fall Of Neve Dekalim is about an observant Jewish family living in Neve Dekalim, Israel. The reader follows the family and shares their worries and their joys. My book is divided into three parts. The first part shows Neve Dekalim in its ‘Golden Era’ – before Arab terror and before Disengagement (i.e. Israeli unilateral withdrawal from its land). The second part shows the family dealing with Arab terror and the third part of the book leads up to The Disengagement.
I grew up in Neve Dekalim, Gush Katif – the regional center of Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip. Neve Dekalim was a beautiful community of about 500 families, surrounded by some twenty smaller agricultural communities. Gush Katif was located on Israel’s southern border, and was influenced by being both adjacent to the desert Negev and yet also snug upon the Mediterranean Sea. Therefore, we were enclosed in an area of arid sand dunes, summers were very hot and winters were mild. Yet, on the other hand, the nights were cool, sea breezes were plentiful and sunsets were breathtaking; a glowing orb sinking behind swaying palm trees into the blue sea.
Gush Katif was populated by mostly observant (orthodox) Jews with varied backgrounds: Jews from Yemen, France, Morocco, USA, India, etc. which explains the numerous synagogues in Neve Dekalim. Crime was practically non-existent – people did not bother to close their windows at night, lock their doors, have burglar alarms etc. In fact, it took my parents (who’d grown up in the USA) some time to get used to this. In a way, we were all one big family; when you live in a community of five hundred families you know everyone by sight if not by name.
We were an hour drive from the nearest city (Ashkelon), so we were by necessity pretty self-sufficient with a local bank, grocery store, vegetable store, pizza parlors, post office, libraries, health clinics, etc. For entertainment, we had our friends, our youth movements (B’nai Akiva and Ariel), the beach, we could all get together and have a pizza, or drive into town and go to a mall.
However, the serenity of life in Gush Katif was shattered with the outbreak of the Second Arab Intifada. On a personal note, my wonderful geography and history teacher, Miriam Amitai, was killed in the infamous K’far Darom school bus bombing. A few days later the brother of a classmate of mine was killed. We were forced to adjust to life under Arab terror: shooting on the roads, mortars, Kassams and anti-tank missiles launched at our communities, attempted Arab infiltrations. People we knew were injured, some even killed. We lived in the knowledge that we were on the front lines, and in the belief that our government wasn’t doing enough to protect us.
Things took a turn for the worse when the government headed by Ariel Sharon announced its intention of carrying out a Disengagement Plan. The Disengagement Plan was the process in which Gush Katif was given to the Arabs. This was to be a unilateral process on Israel’s part. Initially, PM Ariel Sharon brought this to his party to vote on in a Likud referendum. However, after his party voted against the Disengagement plan, Sharon ignored them and proceeded full-steam ahead. During two years the people of Gush Katif struggled to prevent it: demonstrations, a human chain, prayer vigils, going door-to-door before the Likud referendum, blocking streets, etc. But Sharon managed to pull it through. In one week 8,000 Jews were banished from their homes. Gush Katif was razed to the ground except for the public buildings which were left for the Arabs’ benefit. The Arabs proceeded to set fire to the synagogues, and shoot missiles from the Gush Katif ruins towards the Israeli towns of S’derot, Ashkelon, etc.
I chose to write my book Grains Of Sand: The Fall Of Neve Dekalim for several reasons. Firstly, as a way to have an accurate account of what was happening in that extremely difficult time – for myself; the entire situation was so absurd. I was afraid I wouldn’t trust my memory later on. Secondly, after the destruction of Gush Katif, it was very important to me to try and eternalize the Gush; and the written word lasts forever. Lastly, I wanted to share my memories and experiences with the vast public – so that anyone would be able to pick up my book, and travel beyond time and beyond location into my Gush Katif.
Grains Of Sand: The Fall Of Neve Dekalim by Shifra Shomron © 2007, ISBN 978-965-7344-19-4, soft cover, 185 pages, Mazo Publishers