Friday, December 22, 2006

Hitnatkut Part I

I'm back from the Negev. And pretty beat up. Sunburned and chapped lips. About 70% of the yeshivah had some bug, so I've got it too. Sore throat, runny nose, the works. Oh, and I've also got the stomach flu so I haven't eaten in like 24 hours. But I had a great time! I'll post some pictures hopefully next week, but meanwhile I want to get started on a post I've been working on about the effects of the Hitnatkut, the disengagement from Gaza, last year.

Pointing over the Shabbat table at the wall mural, Naftali stretches the limits of his Hebrew vocabulary, "Pretty.... picture."
"That's okay," Rabbi Feld, our Shabbat host tells him, "we're American. You can speak English."
Naftali laughs uncomfortably and stares at the floor. Time to intervene.
"Naftali doesn't like to speak English on Shabbat, only Hebrew," I tell our host. "It's a holy day so he only wants to speak the holy language."
"Oh," Rabbi Feld responds, and continues in Hebrew, "I'm glad you like the picture."
Naftali shuffles his feet.
"You should also know," I tell him, "that he's only been in Israel for three months. He can't speak Hebrew either. He's on such a high spiritual level that he can't keep up with himself."
"Well," Rabbi Feld continues, "it's a portrait of the Beit Hamikdash." The holy temple, as described in the Torah. You can find images of the holy temple in every religious home in Israel. Except...
"Is that the Park Hotel in the background?" I ask.
"Yeah, we asked the artist to plant it in modern Jerusalem. And there," he says, pointing to the next wall mural, "is the settlements of Gush Katif rebuilt."
Over a year has passed since the when the Israeli government destroyed the Jewish settlements of Gush Katif, the Jewish community of Gaza, but the trauma seared on the national consciousness is so raw that it still hurts to the touch. The process had a fancy name, "Hitnatkut," meaning disconnection, or disengagement. It's related to the Hebrew word "Lenatek," to hang up (the phone.) After a decade of interminable negotiations with Muhammed abu-This and Muhammed abu-That for worthless treaties which everyone knew they would violate anyway, it seemed so much simpler to just hang up the phone on them all. No more "windows of opportunity" or "carrots and sticks." They could take their carrot and choke on it.
But when it came time to do the deed, the slick "Hitnatkut" political spin crashed headlong into the messy reality of nuts-and-bolts ethnic cleansing. Minds throughout the country are still indelibly etched with the memory of Jewish policemen and soldiers dragging screaming children and weeping mothers from their homes, army bulldozers reducing modest villas and manicured gardens to rubble, and convoys of now homeless Jewish refugees dumped in the desert. These were scenes associated with Jewish life in previous centuries throughout Europe and Araby, not modern Israel.
Despite the tendency of Israel to constantly tear itself apart with stubborn and conflicting ideologies, the country also has a subconscious sense of just how far it can go before coming apart at the seams, and a desire to avoid charging over that cliff. Today, even among the left, there is a desire to slow the process of Hitnatkut which began with Gush Katif. The rhetoric of the need for further settlement destruction and outrage at Jews living beyond the 1949 armistice line is still heard, but since the Lebanon war, it has remained in the realm of words, not serious political pressure. The economy is strong, the north is recovering from the war with Lebanon, and, if you don't live within rocket range of Gaza, life is relatively quiet, so the attitude is, "Let's just recover from Gush Katif before we open up that can of worms again."

Continued in Part II

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