When I came to Israel in 1971, I met a couple called Paul and Roz Schneid. They had also come from the States, a young couple their head filled with the Zionist films shown in Bnei Akiva, the pioneer in short-shorts holding a gun and a hoe.
He had Smicha and a Master’s Degree in Jewish History. She had a degree in Latin from Yale. Paul worked for Keter as one of the editors of the Encyclopedia Judaica. She taught English. They lived in Jerusalem. They felt bored, as if they weren’t contributing enough to the country.
They went to a Moshav Elazar in Gush Etzion, filled with Anglo Saxons trying to make a moshav that would supply computer technology. It failed. They decided they would go to a real moshav, the kind that planted things.
They wanted to go to the Galilee. But the Sochnut (Jewish Agency) said all the settlements there were failing. By chance they visited friends in a brand new moshav in Gush Katif, Netzar Hazani.
To help their friends out, they registered all their kids for school to help convince the government there were enough children. Feeling uncomfortable about their dishonesty, they decided they might as well actually move there.
That was 28 years ago.
Soldiers crying in Nisanit (Photo: Tsafrir Abayov)
The Schneids learned how to grow vegetables in sand. They built up a thriving business, mostly export. They had eight children. They fixed up the basic Sochnut house they’d been given.
Five of their boys are currently high ranking IDF officers. Their only daughter is a doctor in Soroka.
What they liked about Netzar Hazani was that it was the opposite of Moshav Elazer: a diversity of people from different backgrounds, Sephardim and Ashkenazim, academics and workers.
The Intifada hit them hard, with the death of some of their neighbors and close friends. Especially difficult, was the murder of Netzer Hazani’s rabbi, and Paul’s close friend, who was killed by snipers two years ago.
When Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government suddenly decided to wipe Jewish settlement in Gaza off the map, they didn’t believe for a minute he was serious. They decided not to struggle, but also not to give up. They decided to let lawyers do the arguing, and to go on with their lives.
The army unit sent to remove the residents of Netzar Hazani included that of Paul’s son. Because of this, high ranking officers came to Paul’s house before the regular unit ordered to remove them. Paul’s son, the air force officer, opened the door and greeted his friends and fellow officers, who had come to pay a courtesy call on the family before escorting them from their home.
Paul told them, “This must be so hard for all of you. I’m sorry.” They told him how sorry they were. They embraced and walked together out of the house.
No such thing as 'us' and 'them'
This scene was repeated again and again and again during the Disengagement, revealing a simple truth: Only in the world of fanatic Leftists like Amos Oz, is the land of Israel divided between settlers (hate-filled ultra religious fanatics) and the “rest of us Israelis.”
In reality, there is no such division, no such “us” and “them.”
Let me explain why.
I was at a wedding the other day. Sitting side by side on the rustic benches that overlooked the beautiful outdoor wedding canopy, were bearded men and their bewigged wives, and women wearing low-cut sequined dresses sporting shoulder tattoos.
The Rabbi, in a traditional knitted skullcap, performed a traditional Orthodox ceremony. But he did it with panache, a guitar in his hand, singing some of the more boring parts, and in general pleasing the traditionalists and the modern secularists.
It was then that I realized why all the dire predictions of bloody confrontation over the disengagement would not come to pass. Because when the sun goes down, it is inevitable that we Israelis will be sitting next to each other at weddings and bar mitzvahs; during army swearing-in ceremonies at the Western Wall, on buses and in trains, cafes and pizza parlors.
We will continue marrying each other and reading each other’s letters to the editor, and learning about each other through books and plays and movies that explore the lives of the ultra Orthodox and the ultra secular.
There is no way to divide Israelis into us and them. We are all “us.” We are all “them”.