GAZA STRIP, Pre-2005 Expulsion

The dry dusty road throws up clouds of brown haze. The armored bus hurtles forward as if chased by an invisible ghost of fear. On both sides the road is cleared of life, only tank treads are imprinted in the shifting sands. A looming tower stands gray and dull, but alive with the sound of a wind-tossed flag. A child with carroty hair turns, "Mother, are we there yet?" Stroking his freckled cheeks she replies, "Soon, darling, soon."

Netzarim's large and ominous gates open slowly as if to swallow us into an abyss. Barbed wire, layer upon layer, the old and new, sit—as if to notify us of the current danger.

Netzarim is a place where your parents specifically tell you not to goTwo-inch bulletproof glass reflects the rays from the blazing sun as we step off the bus. A jeep roars. Sweet air from the Mediterranean Sea blows over in a dry breeze. An octagon-shaped swing set throws children towards each other in delight. Sand slows my step; I hear from afar a basketball repeatedly slapping the asphalt.

"Welcome," says a young man, his beard neatly trimmed. "Has everyone arrived?"

"Most," answers a friend, "Half are still at Tzomet Karni," the border crossing into Gaza.

We, twenty Talmudic students, have come to spend Shabbat in Netzarim. Netzarim is a place where mortars fall with great frequency; a place where your parents specifically tell you not to go. I look around, flower bushes abound and palm trees rustle. Colors here are so vivid. Life here is so extremely fragile.

A tremendous gray-green armored truck circles and stops. "Zeh hasafari (this is the 'Safari')" a soldier says; no doubt a proper name, it looks like a maddened rhino. Standing between the disembarking soldiers, we, the black and white yeshiva boys, look out of place.

Yaakov, our guide, takes us to a house.

We weave through Netzarim; kids with sun bleached hair and freckled noses eye us with suspicion. Attached to our hip is a cute child. He follows us everywhere. Concrete protrusions from a bunker are painted with biblical murals. Joseph's dreams and Jacob's blessing are artfully painted on a bunker wall.

At the communal dining hall, Yaakov tells us history. Netzarim started as a kibbutz founded by the Labor party, under the leadership of Prime Minister Golda Meir. It was a failure. In its place remained an army post. Under the guidance of Ariel Sharon it slowly morphed into a settlement. The stated objective was to reach into Gaza at five separate points in order to cut the line of continuity which was helping terrorists perpetrate terrorism. Netzarim was one of those points.

It was different. Raw reality, true emotion could be found everywhere. No fake smiles, no mumbled prayers"To the north is Gaza City. The smoke stacks you see rising are from Ashkelon. To the south are the refugee camps, Nusayrat, Dar al Balah, Khan Yunis and Rafah. Don't approach the fence and no sudden movements at night," he says with a waning smile.

Night approaches. A brilliant sunset shoots colors as we say the afternoon prayers. The Jerusalem stone set in an arch over the Ark turns a golden hue. A man in a wheelchair, surrounded by children, glides into a cutout amongst the wooden seating.

Shabbat prayers. A young man moves powerfully, his eyes shut tight as he exclaims loudly, "Welcome my queen, welcome my queen." The round dome of the ceiling reverberates with prayer. Everyone carries a gun; it is a symptom of the disease of terror that surrounds this island of peace.

Living and breathing in Gaza, I realized that, as people, we are affected mostly by other people. Rarely are we affected by a place, by a plot of land. But walking to the Shabbat meal I felt a longing for this place called Netzarim. I hadn't yet left Netzarim, but oddly it felt like it.

We ate and sang. It was different. Raw reality, true emotion could be found everywhere. No fake smiles, no mumbled prayers. On Shabbat day, a child was entered into the Covenant of Abraham in the air that tasted so much faith and longing.

What I saw is now but fleeting memories. Jews no longer live in Netzarim or Gaza.

There are decisions that are damned. Then there are decisions that are damning. They damn the ones who make them, the ones who carry them out, and especially damn the poor souls who are made to languish under them. But undoubtedly they are eventually recognized for what they are—damned and foolish.

There are decisions that are damned. Then there are decisions that are damningBefore the "disengagement," a popular rejoinder thrown by the emboldened "Peace Camp" was, "We must move forward to a possibility of peace." Unperturbed by claims that a pullback will lead to an unmitigated disaster, the mission of expelling was firmly carried out.

With the engine of time leaping to tomorrow, yesterday quickly becomes an afterthought. Piles of concrete and wilted bushes stand were houses and gardens once stood. Helping Hamas to train its nascent army for Israel's eventual and costly return. Greenhouses sit in quiet desolation never to grow a ripened fruit again, all for nothing.