A Tree Grows in Gaza

Illustration: Hothouses and Homes in Gush Katif by Yakob Ben-Avraham [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia

Illustration: Hothouses and Homes in Gush Katif by Yakob Ben-Avraham [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia

Gush Katif (Harvest Bloc) was a bloc of 17 Israeli settlements in the southern Gaza strip. During the days of Tisha b’Av (August 13-15, 2005), the Israeli army forcibly removed the 8,600 Jewish residents of Gush Katif from their homes. Their communities were demolished as part of Israel's unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip. The remains of the settlements have been used as military bases by Palestinian terror groups to fire rockets at Israeli cities and train for attacks against the Jewish state.

I am a Jew; I am raising a Jewish family in a Jewish house on Jewish land in the Jewish community of Gush Katif about a mile from the Mediterranean Sea in what many call the Gaza Strip. I have been living with the same wife in the same house for the past twenty-one years.

I really love my house. When we moved in, there was nothing around it, but barren sand dunes. I pretty much designed my house by myself with over sized windows to afford a beautiful view of my not yet planted garden. I put a lot of time and effort into my garden. It’s not just because it’s the Israeli thing to do, making the desert bloom and all that, it’s much more personal, it’s me!

My garden is really special to me. I’ve been collecting rocks and stones erecting them and laying them out like a mosaic each time to get it ‘just right’. It’s been a twenty-year labor of love, stopping at roadsides hauling these rocks into the back of my station wagon and sometimes getting strange looks from passers-by, but such is love.

I have some trees in my garden. A few of them, I planted back in 1985. Nineteen years later, I immodesty admit that I planned well and that these trees give shade exactly where they’re supposed to. During an Israeli summer you really appreciate something like that. My sons grew up in those trees, sometimes having fun and sometimes hiding from angry parents.

I’ve got another tree. It's only eight years old. While the older trees may be sentimental this tree is hard to describe. If I tell you about it, maybe you can help me out with the right word.

When my sister’s son was killed in a car accident eight years ago she wanted me to plant a tree in Israel. What better place could there be than in her brother’s own backyard. I’m our only family member who lives in Israel and therefore the only one with a backyard here. My sister and I speak every so often and she sometimes asks me about ‘her’ tree. I guess I’m the tree’s guardian as well as its planter, but that’s OK, I kind of like special tasks. By the way it’s doing fine. Well, as far as I can tell it is.

I once read that plants (and I presume also trees) have feelings. It hurts them when they’re cut or abused and that they even respond to music. I wonder if my trees have heard the news. No! No, no, no one is planning to do anything bad to them.

The problem you see is that the prime minister of my country wants to evict me from my house (it’s because I’m a Jew); it’s on the news day and night. The radio is in the kitchen and the tree is just outside the kitchen window. My sister has already bought her ticket to come to one of my son’s bar-mitzvah in the fall. Of course, she’ll want to see her son’s tree. What do I tell her, what do I tell her tree? To tell you the truth, I’ve never spoken with a tree. I love gardening, but I’m not eccentric.

I’ve never come across any information about plants or trees being able to communicate with one another. I really hope they can’t. This is because I even have another tree that I don’t know how to describe — let alone deal with. If it has gotten wind of our prime minister’s plan, I’ll really be at a loss.

You see, when my friend and next-door neighbor was murdered by Arabs — he had his throat slit back in the days before another prime minister handed out guns to the Arabs, but that’s another story — I planted a tree in his memory.

Like I said, I’m not eccentric but I love my house, I love my garden and I especially love my trees, and I can’t leave them.

Illustration: Hothouses and Homes in Gush Katif by Yakob Ben-Avraham [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Wikimedia

The author moved to Israel in the 70’s, making aliyah from New York. After serving in an armed infantry unit in the IDF, he lived in Gush Katif for 23 years until its destruction. Married with four children and 11 grandchildren, he works as an ESL teacher and is writing a memoir of his life. ​This article appeared previously on the author’s blog. Click here to read more of this writer’s work in The Jerusalem Herald.

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