Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Friday, April 22, 2005
The compilation is intended to explain the settlers' plight to other Israelis. Passover begins at sundown on Saturday evening,
Twenty-one Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and four isolated Jewish communities in the northern West Bank are scheduled to be evacuated this summer as part of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan.
During pre-Passover interviews with the Israeli media, Sharon, a champion of the settlement movement -- particularly that in Gaza -- said the Gaza Strip settlements were never intended to be there forever.
"Gaza, by the way, is not found in any Israeli plan, and was never a part that was planned to remain [in Israel]," Sharon was quoted as saying in an interview with the Internet-based Ynet news service.
But Rabbi Avraham Yakov Schreiber said the battle to remain in Gush Katif is not over yet. Passover, he said, is an example of how an impossible situation can be overcome.
Schreiber, 36, a father of six, is the rabbi of Kfar Darom, a settlement of about 60 families in Gush Katif. He put together a special Passover Haggadah (a book that tells the Passover story) intended to explain how the roots of the Jewish people are tied to Gush Katif.
"We believe that [disengagement] is not right, it's not good for Israel," said Schreiber in a telephone interview.
While some who live in Gush Katif have engaged in demonstrations, Schreiber said he thought his protest could best be expressed in the book.
"In this Haggadah, we explain to all of the people of Israel that the settlements are not trailers in the desert," he said. The book describes the agriculture business, schools and lives that settlers have made for themselves.
"The Seder reminds us of our roots from thousands of years," said Schreiber. "Passover was a situation [when the Jewish people] were slaves in Egypt. The logic was that there was no chance in the world to leave and to be redeemed, and the opposite happened," Schreiber said.
On the eve of Passover, the Jewish people are commanded in the Bible to remember how God delivered them from the bondage in Egypt with signs and wonders. They do so in an evening-long ceremony called a Seder (Hebrew for order), usually conducted around the dinner table.
During the Seder, Jews read from a prepared service, which recounts the Exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt on their way to the Promised Land, as told in the Bible's book of Exodus.
The Haggadah includes songs, prayers and scripture readings and other actions intended to enhance the telling of the story of deliverance and freedom from bondage and slavery. The evening is topped off with a festive meal.
As prescribed by the Bible, Passover marks the beginning of the weeklong festival of Unleavened Bread, in which the only bread eaten must be unleavened matzah.
In addition to the traditional Passover Seder, the 135-page hardcover Gush Katif Haggadah includes photos of daily life in the settlements there, short articles written by more than a dozen rabbis of Gush Katif about the "festival of freedom" and letters from leading rabbis elsewhere expressing their support for Gush Katif.
The Hebrew-only Haggadah also includes several letters from political and municipal leaders. Among them is a letter from a previous head of the regional council, Reuven Rosenblatt. Rosenblatt wrote that he is still waiting for the completion of the vision for Gush Katif.
Central to that vision, he said, is the establishment of a Jewish neighborhood in Palestinian city of Gaza, where a Jewish community existed prior to the 1939 Arab riots when the Jews were driven out.
In another section of the book, there are more than 40 testimonies from Gush Katif residents who "miraculously" escaped terror attacks over the last few years.
"There are many signs and wonders beyond the understanding that there is a God," said Schreiber when asked about why he included that section in the book. He said it is intended to show "that there is someone who protects from above. If God didn't protect us, nothing would succeed."
There have been more than 5,300 mortar and rocket attacks on a few settlements in Gush Katif over the last four-and-a-half years.
"It's impossible to explain logically how they didn't succeed [in doing more damage]," he said. (One woman was killed and a number of people have been injured, and there has been extensive property damage.)
Schreiber said he heard a terrorist tell a reporter that they had fired many mortars but hadn't succeeded in inflicting much damage in Gush Katif.
"'Their God is protecting them,'" Schreiber quoted the terrorist as saying. "The Jews don't know this, [but] the Arabs know this."
One story in the miracle section tells of an infiltration into the settlement of Netzarim on a Sabbath morning. The men of the community were in the synagogue praying when two terrorists attempted to kill two boys. The boys escaped, fleeing into a nearby home with the terrorists in pursuit.
The unarmed woman in the house threw the Sabbath lunch - a pot of boiling stew -- in the terrorists' faces, causing them to retreat. But a neighbor who saw them running away, mistook them for victims and allowed them to take refuge in his home, with his family.
When soldiers searching for the terrorists called to the family to leave the house, the man understood his error. The terrorists, who could easily have killed the family, fled the house towards the waiting soldiers, who opened fire on them.
Asher Mivtzari is another resident of Kfar Darom. He said that Passover is about true freedom for the people of Israel, and part of that is connecting with their roots.
Mivtzari says one of the problems with the disengagement plan is that it separates the Jewish people from their roots; whereas the Jewish people are called to settle in the Land of Israel, which includes Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and Gaza, the disengagement is removing them from some of those areas..
"We are for disengagement -- but true disengagement," said Mivtzari. "Every year [at the end of the Seder] we say 'Next year in Jerusalem'." Literally that mean the Jewish people are hoping that they won't be living in the Diaspora -- everywhere except Israel -- next year but will have returned to the land of Israel, he said.
"Returning to the land is disengagement from the Diaspora," he said.
Some 150,000 Israelis are expected to visit Gush Katif during the Passover holiday, radio reports said. The army is considering allowing Israelis to visit the area next month, on Independence Day, as well.
The army had indicated that it would make the area a closed military zone after the Passover holiday to prevent people from flooding the area to thwart the disengagement plan.
Israel imposed a general closure on the West Bank for the weeklong holiday in light of security considerations. That means Palestinians will be prohibited from entering Israel except for humanitarian reasons, the army said.