November 18, 2018

Pickles Mark Peaceful Restraint in Gaza

When they write the story of the Jewish people at the turn of the millennium, I hope they won’t forget the pickles.

Much has been written about the Gaza disengagement. Whether you were left, right or center — blue or orange — this was a defining moment. Imagine this: A Jewish army created to protect the Jewish people had a mission to expel 8,000 Jews from their homes.

It’s hard to imagine.

For weeks leading up to the inevitable confrontation, I felt an odd anxiety wherever I went in Israel. But when I probed, there was a pain and reticence I hadn’t seen before. A taxi driver would break off conversation. A friend would change the channel. A hotel clerk would make a face.

After 57 years with a clear enemy, the country was adjusting to the potential horror of the enemy within. The question on everyone’s mind that could barely be spoken: Would we dare kill each other over this?

It’s true that Jew vs. Jew violence is something that seems inconceivable. But so is the idea of Jews expelling other Jews. And if you followed the local media — which stopped just short of predicting a civil war — and heard the Armageddon-like cries of extremists, the likelihood of a violent showdown among Jews did not look that far-fetched. We were in uncharted territory, and whether you were at a rave party on a beach in Tel Aviv, a Torah class in Jerusalem or dipping in the Arizal mikvah in Sefat, everyone knew it.

In my four weeks in Israel, pre- and post-disengagement, there was a lot I wasn’t proud of: the roughness of the police during the demonstrations, the rabbis who promoted the refusal of army orders and the delegitimizing of the state, the irresponsible invocation of a God who “won’t let it happen,” the insufficient government effort to make its case, the indifference toward the settlers among many “blues,” the violent attacks against Arabs and, overall, a win-at-all-cost mindset where extremist language ruled the day.

With emotions and stakes so high, so were the accusations. If you were pro-disengagement and you loved Israel, it was hard to stomach accusations that you were abandoning Zionism. And if you were a settler coddled by the state for decades, it was hard to stomach that you were now no longer needed, that you were suddenly considered an obstacle to the state. So instead of a vigorous effort at mutual understanding, we got an emotional slugfest that divided the country. I wasn’t proud of that.

Yet, when the moment of confrontation arrived, when 6,000 reporters from around the world came to witness the Jew vs. Jew reality show, what did they see? They saw grief instead of guns, tears instead of spears, fraternity instead of fratricide, hugging instead of mugging. Sure, there were a few ugly scenes, but at that moment of truth the aggrieved Jewish settlers didn’t throw grenades. Instead, they threw themselves at their fate, and some of them threw pickles.

Yes, pickles.

Call me an optimist, but there was something poignant in those pickles.

You see, over the years I’ve spent hundreds of hours with settlers from Gaza, Judea and Samaria. I’ve seen firsthand their intense, divine attachment to the land. I knew that many of them, in normal circumstances, were ready to die or kill to defend their land. So the fact that 8,000 settlers were evacuated without an ounce of blood being shed, well, that’s not normal. That’s a little Jewish miracle.

It’s a miracle that might never have occurred without the kind of army that can instruct its soldiers that “you are allowed to shed a tear.” The image of soldier crying with settlers deserves its place in the pantheon of Jewish history, because it captured the redemptive Jewish instinct to hug, and not kill. It’s not na?ve to think that such images have the power to help us move forward.

For now, though, the feelings are still too raw. There is bitterness on the losing side, and wariness on all sides about what will happen next. Each side will want to prove that it was right. The politics, the terror attacks, the recriminations — there will be plenty of noise and news to make us forget the miracle of the pickles.

But let’s not. Let’s remember, with a certain level of pride, that when push came to shove, when devoted settler faced determined soldier, on that day in Jewish history — 19 centuries after Jews were killing other Jews during the destruction of the Second Temple — we did our biblical ancestors one better. We put our weapons down, choosing brotherhood above all.

On that day, while the world was watching and most Jews were crying, in the middle of one of our darker moments and against all odds, we kicked and screamed and hugged our way into God’s heart.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is the founder of OLAM magazine and He can be reached at