As the seventh anniversary of the destruction of Gush Katif and expulsion of its families is upon us, as well as the 1933rd year since the destruction of the Holy Temple and exile of our people from their homes and their land, the State of Israel has given a tiny reminder that letzareinu (to our sorrow) expulsion and exile still exist, even in our Jewish homeland.
It was a week after the families of the Ulpana neighborhood were expelled from their homes. After so many months of valiant and varied efforts to prove that the Ulpana land was legally and rightly owned by the Beit El Yeshiva, unfortunately 33 families were forced to leave their homes and move into caravillas. And not just any caravillas, but caravillas that had been intended for Gush Katif families to begin their new lives at the construction site near their future homes.
I drove to Beit El and walked around Givat HaUlpana. It was weirdly empty – like a ghost town frozen in time. Thirty four parking spots were vacant. No children ran on the path, but bikes were tied up to the fences, seemingly waiting for their owners to finish their homework and come out to play. Flowers daintily swayed and lawns of grass were still green. It seemed like everyone had just disappeared or taken off for Shabbat.
I grabbed my camera, and left my car for a closer look. Signs still hung on the fences – signs of both hope and of naïve wishful thinking. “It’s in our hands to change things.” “Jew doesn’t expel Jew.” “Bibi, we don’t want another Amona.” “I built a house in Eretz Yisrael.” “The nation is with the Ulpana Neighborhood.”
Others got their say as well, “Caravillas again?” “Justice, it’s not.”
Then on the doors of the buildings were notices, “To the Ulpan residents, the youth of Beit El want to help you in any way – packing, cleaning, babysitting….just call us.” Beit El was clearly supportive of the Ulpana families. Even the falafel store offered a discount to Ulpana residents.
Suddenly I noticed a car at the end of the path. A man was loading bricks into his car. His son was in the garden below. “Shalom, what are you doing?” I asked. He said, “We love our garden. I don’t want it to be plowed away. I am going to try to rebuild it in the new neighborhood.” His son passed him brick after brick of his garden path, and he loaded them into his car. The trees and flowers stayed behind, but at least he would have his lovely path.
“How are you doing?” I always hated reporters who asked those kinds of questions. But I meant it like a friend, not like a reporter. “B”H.” “Are you traumatized?” “We are trying to get over the trauma,” he said.
A moment later three border policemen came marching by. “What are you doing here?” They wanted to make sure that no one tried to reenter the buildings. But the buildings were shut tight, and even the windows were closed up sealed. Chances of reentry was very slim.
The New Neighborhood
I drove to the other side of Beit El, to the new neighborhood. That’s what everyone calls it – Not Ulpana 2 or as was popularly thought Bnei Ulpana. Everyone simply refers to it as the New Neighborhood. A huge sign hangs on the fence across from the caravillas. It is a quote from Isaiah the prophet. "Bricks have fallen, and hewn stones we will build; sycamores have been cut down, and we will replace them with cedars." It’s a message of hope – IY”H, the new community of Ulpana’s expellees will be larger and stronger than their old neighborhood. Let us hope.
The Old Dream, The New Dream
Baruch and Michal Kitay are residents of the New Neighborhood. Born and raised in Austalia, Baruch made Aliya nine years ago, and his wife three-and-a-half years ago. Baruch told Voices, “I was raised singing Hatikva, feeling pride when I saw an Israeli flag, doing Israeli dances, believing shlichim who idealized life in Israel. I was always envious of the early pioneers of this country who had mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice) and lived in harsh conditions to build Israel.”
“When they started the Ulpana,” Baruch said, “That dream of mine became a reality too.”
Then when the Prime Minister decided to take Baruch’s and 32 other families out of their homes, he was bitterly “disappointed.” “It was very difficult for me,” he said. In a press conference before the international media (a youtube clip by YWende captures the moment), Baruch said, “Mr. Prime Minister, where is your Zionism? Is building not Zionism, especially in the place of Yaakov Avinu?”
In addition, they are gratified that Beit El is finally receiving permission to build in the area of new neighborhood, after having tried to get the land for man years. “We are excited to be part of this enterprise in Eretz Yisrael,” he said.
First the Children
Baruch and all his neighbors are first and foremost worried about how the move to the caravillas will affect the children. The entire street is a building site with nails and building equipment and Arab workers everywhere. Baruch commented that he doesn’t understand why the entire move couldn’t have waited a few weeks until the street was completed.
The Kitays have moved from a 110 meter home on Givat HaUlpana to a 63 meter structure. Some of the other apartments were 130 meters with huge gardens. The families have been promised an additional room on each caravilla. Meanwhile, they’re making due, even though the children must play inside, and the road work outside their windows makes their entire caravillas shake. But still and all, he and his neighbors are working to get their homes in order, make the block more livable. He’s even organizing an ice cream party for the neighborhood children, sponsored by a Young Israel group from America. “We want to lighten the atmosphere of a place that could be heavy,” he said.
A Last Look at Givat HaUlpana
“It is very eerie up at the Ulpana now,” Baruch said. “It’s strange and not Eretz Yisrael-y to see four beautifully-kept buildings and beautiful gardens abandoned.”
“I was one of the last people to leave, and I saw many Arabs come. The Arabs were the last people in the buildings, locking them up so no one could come in. I left my home spotless. We cleaned the floors before we left. Then I saw the Arabs enter, make a mess of the houses, and block them up. To see these beautiful buildings and know they look horrible inside….”
Eighteen families are still left on the hill in buildings deemed “legal.” The experiences of the past year have cemented the bond between all the Ulpana families. “For now, we’re trying to keep a long distance relationship with the two sides of Beit El.”
The Blessing from the Bad
Baruch said that this trial has brought out the best in his family and the nation. He and his wife felt the support of Am Yisrael over the past many months. Foremost, “the people from Beit El have been outstanding in every possible way from food to babysitting to social services, psychological help, hot lunch and hot food. A group from Gush Etzion brought soccer balls and things for the kids. People from virtually all over Israel - from Eilat to Kiryat Shmona – have come all the way here to see how they can help us. It’s been very touching to really feel that achdut. We don’t feel that this is just about us, but that we are shlichim of Am Yisrael.”
“I am happy that at least we moved into a house,” Baruch said, “Because the people from Gush Katif didn’t have even that. We’re not dwelling on the bad and the injustice, because that doesn’t help. We’re building our new neighborhood. I’m planning to put down grass here, shade outside, because I don’t see anyone building us any houses in the near future.”
The government promised Beit El 300 homes if the Ulpana families would agree to move. “Until I see at least the 33 houses replaced, it’s science fiction for me. ‘Whatever you reckon’, as they say in Australia.”
Baruch and Michal were interviewed by international media before their expulsion from their home. Michal said, “Am Yisrael Chai. Our nation is incredible and beautiful. At difficult times you just become stronger. I am deeply passionately in love with this land. When someone tries to take away from you something that you love, you go crazy. And I am going crazy for this land, and I thank G-d, I’m going to continue living here for the rest of my life.”