This week TIME profiled three American-Israeli families as they faced giving up their homes in the evacuation of the Gaza Strip. Today we follow up with the families to see how they fared during the Israeli pullout:
Although Haim Gross and his family were evacuated, with the rest of Morag's residents on Wednesday noon, he was back in the settlement less than 24 hours later. "I came back with some friends to oversee the houses' demolition work", he explains. Israeli security forces let some of Morag's former residents enter the village again for a few hours so they could inspect the destruction works done by the Israeli contractors.
Gross finds the evacuation too hard to talk about, but he has nothing good to say about the way Israeli authorities treated his family: "We were thrown to the dogs." The family was sent to the southern city of Beer Sheva, where, he says, "They wanted to put us in a hotel which was encircled by barbed wires." Help came from a family from Ofra, a West Bank settlement, that invited the Gross's to stay with them for the time being. "They are good people," Gross says. "Unlike the Israeli state, they treat us like human beings". When night falls, he will go back to his family. After that, the future is unclear.
One Last Look
Bryna and Sammy Hilburg
On Thursday the Hilburg's home settlement of Netzer Hazani was evacuated. The soldiers came to Sammy and Bryna Hilburg's house around 10:00 a.m. Their children were already away, but Sammy and Bryna were not awaiting the eviction on their own. Their house was crowded with friends, neighbors' kids and a few illegal infiltrators. Bryna's slow, detailed description of the event still bears traces of the emotions that it has raised in her: "On the walls of our house we put a sign saying: 'Is it Good to Die for Your Country Again?' and under that sign we had a picture of our son, Yochanan, who was killed in Lebanon." Yochanan had been buried in Gaza, but his remains will eventually leave the area along with his parents, though it's uncertain where he will be reburried.
When the soldiers came in they found the bereaved parents sitting on the floor, under their sons' picture, surrounded by a bunch of guests. "Somebody here brought a guitar and we were singing very slow, emotional songs in Hebrew," says Bryna. "The emotions were very high and most people were crying, including myself."
Bryna did not want the soldiers to come in, "I didn't feel that those soldiers could be part of my life", she explains, "but eventually, somebody said that I should let them in and that we should have some sort of dialogue. I told the soldiers that we had to make sure that we did not break down our country, that I thought it was very important that we learn to be one nation. I told them the importance of having a Jewish state for the Jewish people and told them not to forget where they came from, who they are and where they're going."
After that, the couple had a last walk through the rooms. They then went with the soldiers to the center of the village and asked the troops to let them enter the youth club that was built in the memory of Yochanan. "One of the soldiers, an Air Force pilot, accompanied us," says Bryna. She told him that she hopes that he will be able to live with himself after what he has done that day.
Then, they got on the 20 busses that were awaiting them, and after quite a long wait they started in the slow procession out of Gush Katif. Just out of Gaza Strip, people from the local kibbutzim greeted them with refreshments. The next stop in the journey was, according to the evictees' request, the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. It was almost 1:00 AM when they arrived to the ancient, sacred site, but the place was packed. The Hilburgs have a daughter who lives in the city of Modiin, halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv; they spent the night at her at her apartment.
The next two weeks will find the Hilburgs much further north, in a guest house in the Golan Heights, where most of Netzer Hazanis families have rented rooms. The congregation decided to stick together and keep its community life wherever they will eventually settle. In September they will look for temporary accommodations in the south. But it will take some time to reconstruct their lives. "All the way from Gush Katif," says Bryna, "I kept on thinking: I have 16 years of education, which I got in the USA, I'm married and I have 6 children. I had a house. Today I'm homeless."
Ready to Return
The Bentolila Family
Although the eviction orders became effective four days earlier, the army did not come Thursday to evacuate Gadid. Most of the settlement's residents did not wait for the IDF troops; they went to a hotel in Neveh Illan, a village near Jerusalem. The Bentolilas stayed home. Lynn continued to go to the Neve Dekalim medical clinic, where she works as the administrative manager. Many of Gush Katif's settlers, she explains, refuse to be treated by IDF's and police medical crews. They want to be taken care of only by their fellow settlers.
Trust is a sore point for many residents. The Bentolilas feel they weren't properly informed by Israeli authorities about the evacuation procedures and schedule. "They change their plans every day and the information they give is incorrect," says Lynn. Although the residents of Gadid were promised that they would not be evacuated on a Friday, on a Thursday evening Lynn didn't know if she and her family would indeed be able to spend the Sabbath at home. During the past four days the family had slowly packed most of its stuff, and by Thursday was ready for the unwelcome knocking on the door.
"I already feel disengaged", confessed Lynn on Thursday night. "But I pray that we will rehabilitate ourselves and will come back here stronger, to rebuilt Gush Katif."
The evacuation took place on Friday. Lynn and Gabriel left the house at the request of the soldiers. The kids practiced a "passive resistance" and were carried out by four soldiers each. As the families were leaving Gadid peacefully, dozens of protesters, non-residents drawn to demonstrate against the evacuation, threw stones at the evacuating forces. "They came in to help us in our efforts," says Lynn, "but this contributed nothing to our struggle."