Grains Of Sand: The Fall Of Neve Dekalim by Shifra Shomron © 2007, ISBN 978-965-7344-19-4, soft cover, 185 pages, Mazo Publishers
The month of Shvat sped by. Efrat started worrying about where to do National Service in the coming year. In fact, she didn’t know what she wanted to work in during National Service.
“You should work in a library,” Yair told her, chuckling.
“But I won’t get to read the books,” she objected. “I’ll have to check them out for other people.”
“You are so good in your studies, you should work in a school,” Miri advised her.
But Efrat just shrugged and walked up the hill thinking. As she picked a long and slender dark-green leaf from an acacia tree growing next to the red and gray brick sidewalk, it came to her in a flash – she wanted to remain in the Gush next year! Efrat gazed at the golden sand dunes, at the red-roofed houses, at the blue sea and at the palm fronds waving in the distance by the sea. She heard a spur-winged plover call out sharply. Then she turned to the east and looked at the massive gray sprawl of naked cement buildings that was K’han Yunis. She shuddered and stiffened, her slender form erect and straight like a sword’s blade. She stood there, a proud, pretty figure alone on a hilltop staring at the ugly, Arab city from which deadly mortars and kassam rockets were fired at her and at her community! Their streets were filled with masked and unmasked Arabs shouting slogans, shooting rifles in the air. Their dark, glittering eyes and bold faces telling as much as the burning epithets of the State of Israel and the pile of ashes that was once a bonny blue and white flag of the Jewish state, their desires and ambition of turning the Mediterranean Sea red with Jewish blood and erecting a “Palestine” on the ruins of Israel.
“I’m staying in Gush Katif,” Efrat said out loud to the gray sprawl on the eastern horizon. And the words hung in the air like a threat and a promise.
“Yes,” she said again, quietly, but determined. “I’m staying here.” She sank down onto the cool golden sand as if suddenly drained of all her energy. A fresh breeze from the sea blew her soft, wavy, brown hair back from her pretty face. A troubled look stole into her almond-shaped, brown eyes as she picked up a branch and started breaking it into small twigs.
“Now,” she said to herself, “I’ve decided where I’m doing National Service. All that is left is to decide what I’ll be doing and to get accepted.”
She sat there, lost in thought. As the evening grew cooler, she rose to her feet, brushed the sand from her denim skirt and headed home.
“Ima,” she called as she entered the house, “Ima, I’ve decided to stay in the Gush next year…”
Sunday, 18 Adar Aleph, 5765 (February 27, 2005)
I really like Celtic songs. I’ve been listening to a lot of them lately and they are lovely! The music and melodies are so hauntingly sad and sweet that it stirs the soul.
Mem, I’ve changed. Nowadays, when I get home from the ulpana, I have very little patience to study. All I want to do is to indulge in my hobbies – read, walk in the sand dunes, listen to music… And yet I know that I can’t afford to do so – I have tests coming up!
I spoke of it to Ima, explaining to her that lately I am able to concentrate on my books for hours, but I’m not able to concentrate on my homework. Ima said that I’m probably suffering from “escapism.” I think she’s right.
Today I went to the health clinic again – about National Service there next year. Oh, if only I’ll be accepted! I’d like to work there next year – the people are nice and it would be interesting.
I have a lot to do tomorrow: water my neighbor’s garden, study for a test I have on Tuesday, exercise… and my allergies are terrible! But, Mem, the acacias are blooming! And so are the flowers! The rotems are lovely and the scent is so sweet!
Yes, indeed, Efrat was, for the first time in her twelve years of school, having a difficult time concentrating on her schoolwork, and instead, she was sinking during her spare time into a pleasant world of books, sand dunes, and music.
Why was she behaving so? Well, when a person feels a need to escape, it is because that person is being pursued. And Efrat was being pursued. Relentlessly. She was being pursued by the Disengagement – around every corner, on the 6:00 evening news, during walks and talks with her brother Yair, while helping her mother with the household chores, on strolls in the sand dunes with her father and, hardest of all, during classes. The horrid topic of the Disengagement always came up.
And since Efrat heard so much talk about the Disengagement at her home, she really disliked hearing so much talk of it at school, too. But it was inevitable. Practically every class, sooner or later in the lesson, turned into yet another discussion of the Disengage- ment.
For instance, several days ago, the first class had been Tanach [Bible]. The twelfth grade was learning the Book of Eyov (Job). The small, elderly teacher, with her heels clicking sharply, entered the room. The girls dutifully opened their notebooks, and Efrat opened her notebook, too, and held a pen poised in her right hand. The teacher took out her notes and her book from her brown, leather satchel, put on her reading glasses and started the lesson.
“Good morning girls! Let’s see… I’ll review. Last time we read about Hashem trying Eyov by bringing upon him one misfortune after another, starting with his animals and ending with his children. And he doesn’t even have time to recover between the tragedies. While the first messenger is still telling him the bad things that have happened, the second messenger already appears! And while the second messenger is still talking, the third messenger comes!” The teacher paused and glanced sharply at the girls over her spectacles.
“Yeah,” Ilanit says. “Like us. We are still trying to get used to mortars falling and shooting attacks on the road, when we suddenly learn from the media that Prime Minister Sharon has come up with an expulsion plan!”
Efrat groaned quietly, and closed her notebook and put the cap on her pen.
“And we’re still trying to get used to this expulsion plan,” Ilanit continued, “when we’re told that the Minister of Education won’t make stuff any easier for us on our end-of-year exams!”
“What?!” Roni asked. “How do you know that?”
Ilanit grinned. “Why, yesterday Shosh and I had a meeting with the Minister. We were at the Knesset – that’s why we weren’t at school yesterday.”
“And what did you say to her?” Rivka asked, as curious as all the other girls in the class.
Ilanit ran a hand through her smooth, long brown hair. “We tried to explain to her the difficulties we are going through with the mortars, Arab attacks, the Disengagement – and,” she continued angrily, “the minister didn’t even care!”
“That’s right,” Shosh chimed in. “When the mortars first started falling, girls got ten extra points on their end-of-year exams. Well, the mortars haven’t stopped, and things have gotten much worse, but no chance of us getting ten extra points…”
“How come? Why won’t they give us some extra points? It’s the only fair and decent thing to do,” Rotem said.
“It’s very simple,” the Tanach teacher said. “The government wants all the Gush Katif youth to be busy inside their homes study ing for exams, instead of being out and about fighting the Disengagement. And they’ll do all they can to achieve that – fair and decent, or not.”
“They won’t succeed,” Ilanit scoffed. “Who cares about exams? Saving our homes is much more important!”
There was a loud murmur of assent in the twelfth grade class- room.
The Tanach teacher shook her head. “No, my dear, that is the wrong attitude. When this year is over, whether the Disengagement happens or not (please G-d, may it not happen), you all will need to have passed your exams. Otherwise you won’t be accepted to any university!
“You think the minister cares about your futures? You think
Ariel Sharon is worried about you finding a job? Indeed not! “Each and every one of you girls needs to worry about yourselves as well as worry about the Land.
“I’m not saying that you should only study and forget about our struggle to keep Gush Katif. I am saying that you need to act wisely, maturely. Maybe your grades won’t be as high as they could be. Maybe you’ll do four points English instead of five points, but pass your exams! Don’t let Prime Minister Sharon and his government ruin your futures!” the Tanach teacher spoke earnestly.
Ilanit nodded. “I understand what you’re saying, but for me, my home comes first and my exams come second. My exams are important to me, otherwise I wouldn’t bother coming to classes…” “Me too,” Rachel agreed smiling. “Anti-Disengagement Committee comes first, exams second. At least once a week I go ‘door- to-door.’ And the Anti-Disengagement Committee keeps asking
me to go speak in this kibbutz, that high school…” “This Knesset meeting…” Ilanit chimed in.
“What Knesset meeting?” Rivka asked curiously. “You didn’t tell us!”
“Oh, didn’t I?” Ilanit asked innocently, her eyes twinkling. “What’s this?” the Tanach teacher asked with interest. “You
spoke in the Knesset?”
“Yes, some Knesset committee. You see,” Ilanit launched into an explanation, “I got this phone call…
- Hello, this is Reuvan Tal. Am I speaking with Ilanit?
- Yes, this is Ilanit. And stop kidding! You think I don’t know your voice, David?
- Hello Ilanit. I would like you to please represent Gush Katif in our Knesset committee that is meeting this week. I think it important that my colleagues hear what you have to say, as a resident of Gush Katif.
- Oh, come on! Stop teasing me David. So, David, why did you call?
- Ilanit, I assure you, this is Reuvan Tal speaking.
- Oh my goodness. Oops!!
- Will you attend the meeting?
- Um, yeah. Sure. What time do I need to be there?
So, on Monday when I got to the Knesset (that’s why I got to the ulpana only in the late afternoon that day) the guards didn’t want to let me in at first because I couldn’t find my identity card! I started to really worry because the meeting was about to begin!”
“Oh, my!” the class gasped.
“So what happened?” the Tanach teacher asked sharply. Ilanit laughed. “Reuvan Tal had to send his personal secretary to verify that I was who I claimed to be and that Reuvan Tal would be responsible for me. Finally I was allowed in, but the secretary couldn’t stay with me. I had to walk really fast and even though Tal’s secretary told me where to go, I still had to keep asking people in the halls for directions. It was a real miracle that I got to the room just minutes before I was supposed to start speaking.”
“And what did you say?” Rivka asked.
The whole class was silent, waiting for Ilanit’s answer.
“What did I say?” Ilanit sighed. “I spoke about my love for my community, the wonderful people, the hothouses, the Jews who were killed as the price for settling the land.
“I spoke of my parents – they were among the founders of our community. My father has grown vegetables for years. He hires Arabs and speaks their language, too. We aren’t fanatics or extremists. But now I see my father crying in the kitchen. He keeps asking my mother what we will do if there is the Disengagement.
‘What will happen to our hothouses?’ He’s fifty-three years old –he can’t start over.”
“Ilanit, you really saw your father crying?” Rivka asked gently, surprised.
“My father was also crying the other day,” Hadar admitted reluctantly.
“Really – what will our parents do if the Disengagement hap- pens? They can’t just find new jobs. Where will the hothouses be?” Tamar asked earnestly.
“Quiet!” Roni suddenly demanded. “Stop talking like this! The Disengagement won’t happen,” she said seriously in her sweet voice.
Several girls laughed.
“I hope it won’t – I really, really, really, hope it won’t and I’m doing all I can so that it won’t,” Ilanit said.
“But what if it does?” Tamar asked. Just then the bell rang and her question went unanswered. Yet even if everyone had heard her question, who could have answered it? Even Prime Minister Ariel Sharon couldn’t have answered it.
The Tanach teacher picked up her leather satchel. “Ilanit, do you have your speech written down? I’d like to read it.”
“Sure. I’ll give you a copy of the protocol of the meeting.”
What Ilanit had to say was interesting, Efrat thought to herself. “But I am sick of the Disengagement. Sick of it! Can’t we even learn one lesson without being sidetracked and distracted?”
Efrat’s thoughts were somewhat excusable since that had been the seventh lesson that week and the umpteenth lesson that month in which the class had been interrupted with talk of the Disengagement.
“We have end-of-year exams this year, too!” Efrat thought furiously.