Tzahi Avinoam

(Translated by Yahav Zohar)
My name is Tzahi Avinoam. I was born in Ashkelon to a traditional working class Mizrahi [Jews from muslim countries] family. at the age of six, in 1984 we moved to Nissanit, a settlement in the Gaza Strip. My parents' motives for moving were ideological as well as economic. The settlement was started that same year and we were one of the founding families. for years we lived in a caravan until we moved to the permanent location and built a villa. i remember the first years there as good ones, there was a lot of nature and wild animals there. Across from Nissanit was a Bedouin Palestinian village of tin shacks. The only connection we had with the palestinian children was one of abuse by us. I remember taking their sheep and donkeys and generally provoking them. Nobody told us to stop, nobody interfered, we were only warned not to go outside of the fence or to the village. I remember especially one time my friends and I took a herd of sheep and led them into Nissanit. The herd was just outside the settlement gate. We got the head sheep by the horns and the rest followed. We left them in the tennis court for a few days and milked them. A couple of days later a Palestinian girl showed up at the Nissanit fence. She threw sand on herself and cried. I understood that her father had beat her and said he would kill her if the sheep were not returned. Her pain and suffering made me feel sorry for her and we returned the herd. Also, the soldiers asked us to bring back the sheep. That didn't stop the abuse and we "played" many more such "tricks". The adults didn't interfere.
In the 7th and 8th grade i went to boarding school at kibutz Yad Mordechai, a kibutz that belongs to the [socialist left] Shomer Hatzair movement. I, an observant, Mizrahi, settler kid, in a secular Ashkenazi [Jews of European descent] kibutz. I had many confrontations with the kibutz kids over these issues. After two difficult years I left the school. About that same time we moved to the permanent location.
Later in adolescence I started to have doubts about us being settlers and the place that we lived in. My conflict came into sharper focus after the Rabin assassination [1995]. Only in retrospect did I underdtand the madness of those years and my family's and my neighbors' part in that madness. When it was time for me to join the army I was sure this was not my way, that I do not support the continued existence of the settlements, which are stuck like a bone in the throat of the Palestinian population. I got my medical staus lowered and refused to guard settlers or be a part of what the army does in the Occupied Territories. Only as a soldier did I understand that settlements are at the heart of the conflict between us and the Palestinians. Although I wasn't a combat soldier, I was sent to guard settlements and met settlers of a different kind -- more radical, zealots. It was there that I first experienced the Palestinians' pain. We were riding in a jeep through Jericho and stones were thrown at us. I remember that my shame was stronger than the fear. When I got out of the army I started being active against the occupation with various organizations.
In 2005, about a year before the disengagement [evacuation of Gaza Strip settlements] my arguments with my father got worse. I told him that eventually all the Occupied Territories will be evacuated, both Gaza and the West Bank. For me the disengagement was a release. I broke away from my sense of guilt as a settler. Nearer the disengagement I stopped arguing with my father and helped the family pack and say goodbye to Nissanit. My father's opinions have since softened. He didn't become a supporter of the two state solution, but he accepts that Arab citizens of the state should have the same rights as Jews.

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