A decade after Gaza disengagement, schools mark ‘expulsion’
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A decade after Gaza disengagement, schools mark ‘expulsion’

Enshrined in law, the Gush Katif Commemoration Center has sent out 800 unauthorized educational kits lamenting withdrawal

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Children mark Gush Katif Day at a school in Elad (photo credit: courtesy/Friends of Gush Katif)
Children mark Gush Katif Day at a school in Elad (photo credit: courtesy/Friends of Gush Katif)

Hundreds of educational kits were sent to public schools across Israel last week to commemorate the disengagement from the Gaza Strip a decade ago, but the Education Ministry told The Times of Israel that the materials contained in the kits were not authorized for distribution.

The school lesson plans were prepared by the Gush Katif and Northern Samaria Commemoration Center, a government corporation subordinate to the Prime Minister’s Office. Located in the newly established town of Nitzan in southwest Israel, the Center oversees national “Gush Katif Day” in the Israeli educational system, scheduled this year for February 11.

Commemoration of Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria in August and September 2005, which entailed the evacuation of some 9,000 settlers, is remembered collectively as a national trauma in Israel and was subsequently enshrined in Knesset legislation in 2008.

The tale of Hassi the lettuce pulled from the ground during the disengagement from Gaza in August 2005 is taught to  first graders on Gush Katif Day photo credit: Katif Center website
The tale of Hassi the lettuce pulled from the ground during the disengagement from Gaza in August 2005 is taught to first graders on Gush Katif Day (photo credit: Katif Center website)

Lesson plans cater to grades 1 through 12, from the animated tale of a humanoid lettuce named Hassi being pulled from the ground to a discussion of the disengagement in the context of Israel’s modern history. But many of the lesson plans, as seen by The Times of Israel, highlight the settlers’ struggle against then-prime minister Ariel Sharon’s move, describing it as “uprooting” and “expulsion.” One lesson plan goes so far as expressing hope that Jews will return to Gush Katif in the future.

‘What makes me cry is not our wretchedness, but the incredible injustice that prevails here’

“When prime minister Ariel Sharon announced the disengagement plan, residents of Gush Katif and their supporters from across the country launched a struggle for their home and the home of the entire nation,” reads a summary of the anti-disengagement activism history in the kit. “Despite great uncertainty, the people of Gush Katif decided to continue to cling to the land and fight for their beliefs until the last moment. This was a struggle full of love and faith, conducted with determination to avert civil war.”

A lesson plan for high school classes titled “Undecided: If I Were You…” deals with the tough choices facing settlers following the disengagement through a graphic image of direction signs: “Do I join the IDF and become an officer? Do I join the IDF and do the bare minimum? Do I avoid joining the IDF or national service?”

Two women hug before one leaves with her children from the settlement of Sa Nur in Samaria, as border police wait to evacuate her, August 23, 2005 photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Two women hug before one leaves with her children from the settlement of Sa Nur in Samaria, as border police wait to evacuate her, August 23, 2005 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

The sense of frustration and disillusionment with Israel’s leadership is conveyed in a lesson plan titled “Gush Katif: My Story” for the sixth grade. Uriah, a fictional teenager who grew up in Gush Katif, expresses his feelings during and after the disengagement in a film intended for screening in class.

‘Although I believe we are our own greatest enemies, we will manage to reclaim the territories of Gush Katif under Jewish sovereignty in a better future’

“What makes me cry is not our wretchedness, but the incredible injustice that prevails here,” Uriah writes in his fictional blog on August 15, 2005, a day before his departure. “The need for revenge exists in you, but you don’t know who to take revenge against. When I bury this Bible I am actually guaranteeing my revenge; if not my personal revenge, then the revenge of my people who will return here in the future. Because this is our Land of Israel, and although I believe we are our own greatest enemies, we will manage to reclaim the territories of Gush Katif under Jewish sovereignty in a better future.”

On Facebook, Uriah is urged by a friend to tell his classmates about his experiences in 2005. “Tell them about the deportation. Let them cry a little, let them understand what we went through.”

A primary school teacher from Jerusalem, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the press, said he was taken aback when he saw the large orange box lying in the teachers’ room last week.

‘This feels very much like propaganda, and it made me feel uncomfortable’

“I think it’s problematic for teachers to promote a certain perspective of history. This feels very much like propaganda, and it made me feel very uncomfortable,” he said. “How would [the Education Ministry] react were someone to come with a different agenda?” he wondered.

Shaul Pe’er, a spokesman for the Education Ministry, said that his ministry was obligated to mark Gush Katif Day in schools, guided by a 2012 Education Ministry director-general bylaw to “deal with the fundamental questions and moral dilemmas that Israeli society grapples with, while addressing their human aspect.”

However, the 2012 bylaw cites just two lesson plans for grades 9 and 10 out of more than a dozen that are available on the Commemoration Center’s website and were delivered to schools.

‘Semantics convey a very particular feeling. We didn’t want to use the term ‘deportation,’ nor did we consider ‘evacuation,’ because it doesn’t properly express what happened’

“By law, Gush Katif Day is marked annually on the 22nd of Shevat, including in the education system,” Pe’er wrote in an email response. “It should be noted that the distribution of kits by the Gush Katif Commemoration Center has not been authorized by the ministry at this time, and the matter is being examined.”

Laurence Beziz, project coordinator at the Gush Katif Commemoration Center, said that the educational packages are sent to religious public schools that request them, as well as schools that her center designates. Demand for the kits has grown exponentially since they began distribution five years ago: from some 50 kits sent in 2010 to 800 in 2015.

“It’s a complex operation that grows every year,” she said. “We felt that materials should be readily available for teachers who want to take this project upon themselves… we work in collaboration with the Education Ministry.”

Settlers cry and pray during the disengagement from Gush Katif on August 18, 2005 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Settlers cry and pray during the disengagement from Gush Katif on August 18, 2005 (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Beziz, who lived in the agricultural community of Gadid in Gush Katif for 19 years, said the main purpose of the lesson plans was to introduce the 35-year Jewish presence in Gush Katif to children who never experienced it. While admitting her discomfort with the term “expulsion” to describe the disengagement from the Gaza Strip, Beziz said that “uprooting” accurately conveys the sentiment of settlers forced to leave their homes.

“Semantics convey a very particular feeling. We didn’t want to use the term ‘expulsion,’ nor did we consider ‘evacuation,’ because it doesn’t properly convey what happened. We usually use the term ‘uprooting,’ which is how we experienced it; as being uprooted from one place to another.”

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