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Walks of Life: Miriam, age 18, protester in Gush Katif (Mishpacha Issue 73)
by Esther Heller

"I spent my high school years studying for tests, being with friends and choosing a program for my national service (the alternative to army service for dati girls). For the past year I've been going to demonstrations to protest the disengagement. All of our chinuch is Eretz Yisroel, Torah Yisroel. I grew up with it.

"It was hard for me to study for my bagriot (college entrance exams) because all the time I was thinking about what was happening in Gush Katif. This is our country and we need to fight for it. We can't let it be taken away.

"About thirty girls from our school slipped into Gush Katif after it was closed off. I went with a friend. We are willing to go to the end for what we believe.

What did your parent think? "They were a bit afraid and worried, but they knew I would do it, that I must do it.

How did you get into Gush Katif if it was already blocked off? "My friend and I were stopped by the border police at the Reim junction. We managed to go the rest of the way with rides and by foot until we reached the settlement of Gan Or.

What did you do there? "Gan Or is a settlement of about seventy families. We stayed there for a month, up until the pullout. In the mornings I worked in a day camp in the neighboring settlement of Atzmona, a ten minute drive away. In the afternoons we cooked meals for the volunteers. We set up a big kitchen in the bomb shelter with three refrigerators. We cooked a lot of spaghetti and whatever you can do with potatoes.

"At the day camp I worked with children aged three to five. They play-acted their own version of the checkpoint routine their families had to undergo to enter into Gush Katif. 'Give me your number or you can't leave the gan' one said to the other. Then one child threw a piece of paper on the floor. 'That's not good,' a counselor said, 'do you want Atzmona to be dirty?' The child answered, 'but if it's dirty, maybe the Arabs won't want it.' Some children pretended to be the police and started hitting the other children. We had to stop them. At Atzmona the families believed until the last moment that they would be able to remain. They didn't even pack.

What happened on the day Gan Or was evacuated? "The people went to shul and dovened mincha. Then some left on their own and the others remained and locked the doors of the shul. My friend and I didn't know what to do. If we stayed, we would be evacuated. We wanted to remain in Gush Katif as long as we could.

"We decided to go over to the nearby settlement of Gadid. As we were leaving, a soldier came over. 'You forgot your rabbit,' he said. A family that had left two days ago had forgotten their rabbit and the soldier thought we were part of that family. We didn't want the soldiers to know that we were protesters, so I had to take the rabbit. They thought we were going to the moving van, but we kept on walking. Someone directed us toward Gadid and walked us halfway there. It was about a half hour's walk.

"The next morning, Friday, the police arrived. We were in the home of a couple there along with four other girls. We all climbed a ladder up to a platform below their ceiling. From there we climbed through a door onto the roof. We talked to the soldiers below and told them how terrible it was what they were doing and that it wasn't too late for them to stop. 'You're not robots, you can think for yourselves,' we said. The soldiers listened, but they didn't answer us.

"They used a long ladder to reach the roof. We crawled back down onto the platform inside. While I was climbing down, the other friend of ours fell off the roof! She didn't scream so I didn't even know what had happened. The media reported that she had spilled oil on the roof and slipped, but that wasn't true. An ambulance took her to Soroka hospital.

"Meanwhile the soldiers reached us. One took the rabbit and four border policewomen carried me down the ladder and onto a waiting bus. They gave me the rabbit. We drove to the Kissufim checkpoint and sat there for an hour and a half. We were supposed to go to Jerusalem. My abba was waiting for me there. The officer finally got the permission to go and he announced we were going to Ashkelon. I called my abba and told him to go home. There was no way I would make it to Jerusalem before Shabbat. I had no idea where to spend Shabbat. We got off the bus at the Ashkelon junction. As we were crossing the street there, a car slowed down and the woman inside asked me: "Are you from Gan Or? That's our rabbit! We've been trying to find it!' I handed her the rabbit through the window, they thanked me, the light turned green and they drove off.

"My friend who fell off the roof was okay and ready to be released from the hospital. She arranged for the neighbor who was picking her up to swing by Ashkelon and pick us up too and take us to her home in Kiriyat Arba.

"There are still people in Gush Katif. At one settlement the soldiers forgot to go to one house. And there are people hiding in the greenhouses. They want to remain as long as they can.

What's next? "In the fall I will be doing my national service in Kiriyat Arba . It will be a big change. How can I go back to everyday life? It's so strange. Yet I will still be doing work for Eretz Yisroel.

"I didn't believe that the disengagement would really take place. That the soldiers would actually take people out of their homes! I really thought Mashiach would come or a big miracle. But we can't understand Hashem's ways. I believe the geula is close.

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