For family, Gaza memories linger

Tsvia Ohayon stands among her plants ready to be removed at the southern Gaza settlement of Neveh Dekalim, Aug. 14. (Brian Hendler)

Tsvia Ohayon stands among her plants ready to be removed at the southern Gaza settlement of Neveh Dekalim, Aug. 14. (Brian Hendler)

NEVEH DEKALIM, Gaza Strip, Aug. 22 (JTA) — The movers came and hauled away the uprooted palm and pecan trees and flowering plants — all tucked in bags of soil and plastic pots and neatly lined in rows on the Ohayons’ back patio. Tsvia Ohayon decided that if she really did have to leave her home, she wouldn’t go without the trees and plants that she planted, watered and watched grow during her 20 years in Neveh Dekalim, part of the Gush Katif settlement bloc. “I told my husband that if the plants don’t come with me, I won’t have the energy to do this,” Ohayon said while preparing the family’s final Shabbat meal in their home here. Ohayon, her husband and three children said their goodbyes last week to the two-story white stucco house with a dark-wood balcony and garden dappled with shade from tangerine, lemon and olive trees. Until the movers came, the front porch was a solid wall of leafy green hanging plants and potted small trees and ferns. The last-minute miracle that the Ohayons and other Gaza settlers prayed for never came — and by Sunday the Ohayons were in a guest house in the southern city of Ashkelon, along with dozens of other families from Neveh Dekalim. “We are getting by,” Ohayon said as she watched an orange sun set over the sea. “I can hear the waves lapping and it helps soothe my heart.” The families were meeting in groups and talking about the process of leaving their homes and starting anew. “There are lots of tears, but we are processing this, which is what we need to do,” she said. Ohayon, a teacher, said she’s not sure how she’ll rebuild the feeling of community and connection she felt in Neveh Dekalim. “What is here you don’t find anywhere else,” she said on one of her last days in Neveh Dekalim. Her children were born in the settlement, where she and her husband created a home that extended beyond their plant-draped doorway. The family plans to relocate to Nitzan sometime after the High Holidays, which fall this year in October. Nitzan is a new community along the coast, just north of Ashkelon, set up by the government for former settler families from Gaza. For the first two years, families will live in small trailer homes while permanent houses are built nearby. “I’d rather go somewhere small, so I can stay with my friends. It’s what gives me strength,” said Ohayon, a cheerful woman with dark, sparkling eyes who is quick to smile even during the stress of the withdrawal. As she walked through her garden last week, she lamented that it was no longer the masterpiece it had been. The dark wood pergola was in pieces, lying dissembled in a corner. There were gaping holes in the ground where avocado and almond trees once stood. She gazed up at the towering palm tree she planted soon after arriving in Neveh Dekalim. “It was just this high when I planted it,” she said, raising her hand to the height of her hip. She pointed out the rose bushes and grape vines, a tall ficus tree wrapped with vines. She would not be able to take everything. “What I can take I will take,” she said with a shrug. Her husband, Yamin Ohayon, spent Aug. 16, the last day settlers could legally be in their homes, taking it apart. Power drill and screwdriver in hand, he began dissembling shelves and fixtures. “It’s hard to take apart everything you built in 20 years in two days,” he said. Yamin Ohayon owned a printing business in Neveh Dekalim. In the past few days, he also had dissembled his business equipment and planned to move it to Ashkelon. Inside the house, Tsvia Ohayon wrapped the family seder plate in bubble wrap and checked off her color- coded “to do” list. “So much work, it just does not end,” she said, surrounded by boxes. “I hate this stress.” Shohan, the Ohayons’ 13-year-old on, helped the family pack. “It’s sad that we need to pack up the house,” he said. His parents debated what to take with them and what to put in storage. Details large and small had to be attended to. Yamin Ohayon began taking magnets and notices off the refrigerator just minutes before it was taken away by movers. Yamin and Tsvia Ohayon had decided it was time to get practical and begin packing, even if it was at the last minute. Their eldest son, a soldier home on holiday because of the withdrawal, disagreed. Later that night, a team of soldiers knocked on their door to inform them that they would have to leave before midnight if they were to leave legally. The Ohayons saw little reason to talk at length with the soldiers. After a few terse words, they returned inside and continued packing. “They’re not guilty. I don’t blame them,” Tsvia Ohayon said. I have a son the same age.” Several teenage girls had come to help the family pack their belongings. Time was running short and Tsvia instructed them not to worry about how organized their packing was — just to put as many items into boxes as possible. On Sunday, the family oriented itself to new surroundings at the guest house and tried to grasp that there would be no home to return back to: The bulldozers would be coming soon. With army permission, Yamin Ohayon did make it back to the house to pack up a few last items — among them one of his wife’s beloved plants.

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