The political hijacking of a solemn fast day

The evacuation of settlements in Gaza has no place in Tisha B’Av

By Nathan Jeffay, July 30, 2009

Yesterday, hundreds of thousands of Jews across the world fasted, sat on the floor, and recited dirges to commemorate the destruction of the two ancient Jerusalem temples. Some Jews were also mourning what they consider a modern tragedy — the evacuation of Jewish settlements in Gaza in 2005.

Ahead of the fast day — Tisha B’Av — there was a campaign in Israel’s religious-Zionist community encouraging people to light a memorial candle to commemorate the “expulsion” from Gush Katif, the Gaza settlement bloc. More than 10,000 special candles, tins emblazoned with Gush Katif logo, were distributed.
There is large and growing enthusiasm among Israel’s religious-Zionists for integrating the Gaza disengagement into Tisha B’Av. There are many who oppose it. But the idea is increasingly heard in such respectable forums as Israeli Bnei Akiva and religious-Zionist political parties.

In some communities, the disengagement theme is even being entrenched in Tisha B’Av ritual though liturgy. For centuries, Jews have expressed mourning on the fast by reading traditional poetic dirges, known as kinnot. They talk of the devastation after the destruction of the temples. Now, there are kinnot to Gush Katif.

Proponents of a Gaza-Tisha B’Av connection point out that the fast has absorbed the theme of many a tragedy of Jewish history over the years. Though the main calamities remembered are the fall of the First Temple to Babylonian forces in 586BCE and the destruction of the Second Temple by Roman forces in 70CE, we also mourn for the crusades, various expulsions, pogroms and the Holocaust. British Jews also eulogise those killed in the York Massacre of 1190.

The mourners for Gush Katif also point out that the evacuation began soon after Tisha B’Av. The official deadline for voluntary departure of Gush Katif residents from their homes in August 2005 coincided with the fast, although a two-day extension was granted at the last minute. It was, they say, the Israeli government which is responsible for the connection, not them.

Let’s inject some perspective into all this. The destruction of the temples and all other historical events absorbed into Tisha B’Av have involved the loss of Jewish life and considerable suffering – mothers eating children after the destruction of the first temple; the horrors of the Holocaust. Yes, some Gush Katif evacuees are still without permanent homes and new jobs, but to draw a parallel with past catastrophes insults those who suffered in them. What is more, all other Tisha B’Av tragedies resulted from measures imposed by non-Jewish authorities, while the Gaza evacuation was the initiative of a democratically elected government of the independent Jewish state.

We also have an obligation to keep our sacred days sacred, not to cheapen them by adding political themes, and a coincidence of dates is not enough to change that.

We Jews are forever telling the outside world about drawing important distinctions. The Palestinians are not subject to a new Holocaust. Criticise Israel but don’t cross the line to antisemitism. But if the Gaza evacuation is being mourned alongside real tragedies, haven’t we lost our respect for distinctions?
Next year, Britain’s Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) will fall just after the first anniversary of the end of Operation Cast Lead. But if anybody dares to say that HMD should commemorate that war, a tragedy according to many, we know what our response will be.

Nathan Jeffay is an Israel-based writer

Last updated: 1:30pm, July 30 2009