By Larry Gordon

By Larry Gordon

Seventeen years ago this week, the order was issued to forcibly evacuate residents of Gush Katif, about 10,000 people who courageously built communities and made their homes in Gaza. The photo and videos of those days are still chilling and shocking. The world seemed to watch with glee as Jewish soldiers pried fellow Jews out of their homes in which they were living peacefully and productively for decades.

What a difference 17 years make.

In case it escaped your attention, last week’s Operation Breaking Dawn saw Islamic Jihad terrorists lofting missiles into Israel. In no time, they lost their bungling leadership and were bombed back into submission, as well as set back about 20 years.

If you are acquainted with these occasional battles then you are aware that the other terror faction in Gaza—Hamas—sat on the sidelines, choosing not to get involved, lest they be set back a few decades as well.

The abbreviated wars that break out every now and then between Israel and the terrorists could have been history if not for the major diplomatic error of then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who led the way on withdrawing all Jewish residents from Gush Katif.

As with the Oslo Accords that preceded it, the Gaza withdrawal of Jewish residents was Israel’s acknowledgement that they are willing to back down and even rob their own citizens of a legal life they had built, if such a concession would conceivably move Israel even an inch in the direction of ending the conflict with the Palestinians and closer to peace.

But Israel now knows that the precise opposite of what was intended evolved following the Gush Katif evacuation. To Palestinian leadership it was a demonstration of weakness that initiated a campaign of firing deadly missiles into Israel’s population centers.

Anita and Stuart Tucker were farmers in Netzer Hazani in Gush Katif. They were among the 10,000 Jews who were forced to leave their homes and relocate in 2005. The Tuckers moved to Israel from New York in 1969 and raised their families in Israel.

Additionally devastating is that the State of Israel was unprepared for this type of population shift and many of the evacuees who had beautiful lives and successful businesses in Gush Katif were virtually homeless and their businesses gone. Many moved in with family or into hotels or other temporary dwellings where they lived for years.

The Tuckers grew vegetables in Gush Katif on their multiple-acre farm. Anita explains that while they grew an assortment of vegetables, they eventually built a formidable business growing celery. I spoke with Anita on Monday night from their new home in a community of the same name—Netzer Hazani—now located in central Israel. The new community was established in 2010, a full five years after the Tuckers and others were forced out of Gaza. The population is about 500 people.

The Tuckers are still growing vegetables, but not on the scale that they were previously able to accomplish in Gush Katif. This being a Shemittah year, their land lies fallow, but Anita recalls that when Shlomo Goren was chief rabbi of Israel around the time that the Tuckers lived in Gaza, he ruled that halachically Gaza was not considered part of Eretz Yisrael and therefore not subject to Shemittah laws.

She adds that everyone bought celery from them back then—even the most scrupulously observant sectors of Israel society. She says, though, that after Rabbi Goren, subsequent chief rabbis ruled that Gaza was part of Israel and therefore Shemittah had to be observed there.

Anita says that the mini wars against Islamic Jihad in Gaza always raise the hopes of former residents that this will be the operation that leads to Israel taking back Gaza from Hamas and Islamic Jihad rule, paving the way for thousands of evacuees to return to their homes. Short of the coming of Mashiach and the redemption of the Jewish people, the former residents pray to be returned to their old homes and lifestyle of days gone by in Gush Katif.

All these years later, there are a number of problems and medical issues plaguing those who once lived in Gush Katif. She says there are unusual numbers of former residents dying young as well as a large amount of people who have not yet adjusted to their new life after being kicked out of their homes by their own people.

It is important, particularly at this time of year, to remember what happened, if for no other reason than to prevent events of this type from being replayed, G-d forbid, despite international pressure. I think we would all like to believe that something like that is not possible.

Trump, Greenblatt, And Peace

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There are many high points to the spellbinding story told by Jason Greenblatt, an Orthodox Jewish family man from Teaneck and longtime lawyer for the Trump organization eventually appointed as a special assistant to the president and special representative for international negotiations.

Greenblatt, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman were the triumvirate players who, at the president’s direction, orchestrated the Abraham Accords that led to peace agreements between Israel and Gulf States like United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco. Other Gulf States like Saudi Arabia are on board but have so far not officially made the move.

The new book, In the Path of Abraham, takes the reader on the exciting odyssey of a Yeshiva University graduate who spent his gap year in yeshiva in Gush Etzion—an area arguably at the center of the matter that divides Israel, Palestinians, and other Arab countries—to the Trump company and then, somewhat unexpectedly, to the White House.

Jason Greenblatt was a lead contract attorney with the Trump organization for almost two decades. Donald Trump had a number of Orthodox Jewish employees and was always sensitive to their sometimes-unusual work schedule that meant leaving early on Friday during the winter months in New York and the yomim tovim that can make it seem like your frum employees have disappeared for parts of September, October, and April.

After Trump won the presidency, it did not take long for him to ask Jason to join his White House team. Greenblatt writes that he told the president that he needed to think about the offer and talk it over with his wife, Naomi, and some of his children, but he knew as soon as Trump asked that the answer was yes—he would be pleased to serve the president and the country in the White House.

As depicted in the book, Mr. Greenblatt was a key player in deconstructing the long-held belief and U.S. policy that the matter of the two-state solution and the creation of a Palestinian state had to be addressed prior to any other Middle East issues. That question was turned on its head as the efforts by Jason, Jared, and others led to several Gulf countries signing peace deals with Israel, placing the needs of their people and their economy ahead of the long-drawn-out Palestinian issue that had been stalled for many years.

As he writes, having lived and breathed these issues all his adult life, one of Greenblatt’s objectives was to give peace brokerage in the region a chance to succeed. It was former Secretary of State John Kerry who was committed to the idea that no peace with the Gulf States was possible if the Israeli–Palestinian issues were not solved first. Jason Greenblatt proved John Kerry wrong.

The unique aspect of these breakthrough efforts—as has been written here in the past—was that the strategy on how to proceed was designed to a great extent by young men with solid Jewish educational backgrounds, namely Mr. Greenblatt, Ambassador Friedman, Jared Kushner, and Avi Berkowitz. I mentioned in our conversation with Jason that this might have been a part of Mahmoud Abbas’s worst nightmare.

In the Path of Abraham is a quick, captivating read. We talked about the common Muslim and Jewish knowledge of Abraham, or, as the Arab world refers to him, Ibrahim, and how that common fundamental belief was a reality that helped to facilitate the negotiations between the U.S. and these other countries.

About the book Trump said: “Jason Greenblatt served the United States with distinction during his time at the White House. He played a significant role in helping establish my historic policies and achievements regarding our Middle East allies, including those relating to Jerusalem and the Abraham Accords.”

Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “The Abraham Accords will stand the test of time. Read Jason Greenblatt’s book to learn about the work that led to these historic peace deals and how standing with our allies and friends is an essential complement to diplomacy. Jason writes with the same power and clarity he showed working for America and its relationship with Israel.”

Some other topics we covered in our conversation included how Greenblatt spent his first Shabbos in Saudi Arabia mostly in his hotel room eating rice cakes and some fruit. It took a little time, but he eventually grew comfortable wearing his yarmulke in the United Arab Emirates, and he is particularly proud that even though some involved in the process received a heter (rabbinical permission) to travel on Shabbos, despite the whirlwind globetrotting he was never in that position.

This great book takes us on a historical odyssey that accomplished so much and may someday be the basis to achieving so much more.

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