All right, friends, the first order of business is that the paperback edition Disengagement is now available for pre-order from all the usual suspects: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, etc. (I think my publisher is still working on the ebook situation, but hopefully it will be available for pre-order soon.) You will notice that there is still confusion about the release date–that’s due to an error on the part of the distributor. My publisher is fairly confident that US customers will receive their copies in time for the actual release date.
Now, I’d like to share something else with you.
I imagine that when I tell people that my upcoming novel is about the Israeli disengagement from Gaza, many people assume that I chose to write about this topic because of my personal experiences.
That’s true, but not in the way they might think.
There have been many people who have written about their personal experiences of the evacuation–mostly settlers who were forced to leave their homes. Their story has become the dominant narrative, perhaps even the only narrative, since it seems that only the political right still feels that the event is worth discussing and remembering. As a result, virtually all the material I encountered processing the disengagement was from a right-wing perspective, and much of it was told with an air of lament, explicitly connecting the disengagement to the great tragedies of Jewish history. This connection was made fairly easy by the timing: the disengagement commenced right after Tisha B’Av, the traditional day of mourning for the destruction of the Temples and the catastrophes that have befallen the Jewish people ever since.
Disengagement is… different.
While it does portray the aspect of human tragedy and explore the trauma of losing one’s home, it also explores many of the other sides to the story. And it reflects my experience of the disengagement in that I went through it somewhat removed from all the perspectives–sympathizing with all of them, but never fully identifying with one or the other.
I have wondered how much my parents influenced my ability to see this event with nuance. My mom hung an orange ribbon protesting the disengagement on her car; my dad hung a blue-and-white ribbon in support of it. I heard both of them talking about it and expressing their opinions, but I never saw them fight or get upset about it.
My dad recently uncovered an email he sent to friends and family on July 29th, 2005, a couple weeks before the disengagement, and he gave me permission to post it here. I find it fascinating to read the thoughts he was having about it at the time–and to note that many of the thoughts and ideas he mentions here are expressed, sometimes with very similar wording, by some of the characters in the book. This, despite the fact that in theory, I identified more strongly with my mom’s point of view at the time.
Clearly, being exposed to multiple takes and opinions, expressed with nuance and sensitivity, contributed to the formation of Disengagement.
Here’s my dad on July 29th, 2005:
The next several weeks and months promise to be very interesting here in Israel. Writing helps me sort through my feelings and thoughts, and perhaps you may be interested in getting an “inside” view of what is happening here. I plan on making regular updates, hopefully at least once a week.
Although I am not a security expert my instinct tells me that the disengagement from Gaza will not harm Israel, and perhaps may help. We won’t be forced to take the tough security measures on the civilian Palestinian population needed in order to defend a settler population in its midst. These measures are seen as illegitimate (as opposed to defending from the outside). The financial, military and diplomatic costs of the continuation of holding Gaza are high, and we need to cut our losses much as selling off a losing stock. The economy there was never really viable and depended entirely on foreign workers.
The debate here is characterized by extremists making a lot of noise. There is a lot of catastrophizing, with people claiming that this is the end of Zionism, the end of the State, against God’s will, etc. Some of it is just demagoguery, and some is emotional histrionics, and most of it is based on failing ideology of Messianism and Greater Israel. The most common sticker we see now is “yehudi lo megaresh yehudi”, “A Jew does not expel a Jew”. This is particularly false and offensive (the implication being either “only a gentile expels a Jew” or “A Jew doesn’t expel a Jew, but does expel a gentile”). Others are making Holocaust comparisons, and that Sharon is making Gaza yudenrein. I find it so hard to believe that orthodox Jews, who pride themselves in making the finest moral, ethical and ritual distinctions, fail to see that this is not like a Holocaust, that Israelis being moved with compensation from occupied territory that the state is withdrawing from, is not the same as Jews who are deprived of there property, kicked out of there homes and deported to concentration camps. So all the humanitarian arguments against the plan are basically thinly veiled claims, while extremist ideology behind it is the real motivation. Both sides of the argument use hypocritical arguments, but I find the right’s sudden affinity to “democracy” and aversion to Sharon’s “dictatorship” particularly whiny and false.
Next week the settler’s supporters plan another march in the south, and plan on trying to flood Gaza with opponents in order to disrupt the police and the army. They are still telling the settlers that the plan will not be carried out. Most of the people living there have begun to face reality, and starting next week several hundred families are voluntarily moving to a beachside housing development being specifically built for them, near Ashkelon.
I have little doubt that the plan will be carried out, the only question being at what cost in terms of violence. My guess is that in the end there will be low level violent resisters, not among the residents themselves but outside agitators.
My dad never did follow through on his idea to continue to write these updates. What I do recall is that the event itself had a profound effect on him. While I was hiding in my room, unable to bear the pain of watching the footage from the evacuation, my dad sat in front of the TV and watched everything. He told me at the time about a dream he had one night about meeting up with a friend from Pittsburgh–the home we had left 9 years earlier when immigrating to Israel–and feeling a profound sadness about never being able to go home again.
That dream inspired one of the narratives in Disengagement–the one that probably reflects my experiences more than any of the others.
When I told him I was writing a story about that dream, he couldn’t recall having it.
He says he doesn’t remember writing this email, either.