Museum tells story of evacuation from Gaza

By Nathan Jeffay, September 15, 2011

It has the style, format and even gift-shop selection of a Holocaust museum. But despite the yahrzeit candles on sale, nobody died in the event commemorated here.

At the Gush Katif Museum in Jerusalem, churban, a Hebrew word normally reserved for the greatest disasters of Jewish history, namely the destruction of the Jerusalem Temples and the Holocaust, refers to Gaza disengagement.

The entire museum is about Gaza's Jewish settlements - known collectively as Gush Katif - and their evacuation by the Israeli government, which was completed six years ago.

Commemoration initiatives like this are becoming more and more important to former Gaza settlers, as their story fades from the headlines. For most of the past six years, they were constantly in the news because many were awaiting re-housing and compensation.

But just over a month ago, the government finalised a new £51 million compensation deal which met the former settlers' demands. This represents a victory for them - but also raises the challenge of how to keep their story relevant now that their claim is closed.

Exhibition pulls at the heartstrings of the most secular

No surprise, then, that there has been an extra push with annual commemorative efforts this year. For example Chaim Druckman, chairman of the Bnei Akiva youth movement's nationwide network of schools, wrote to head teachers last month asking them to fast and pray for a day to mourn the evacuation. But these efforts are not going to keep the subject alive in the mainstream population - they reach the natural constituency for commemoration, namely religious-Zionists.

The evacuee-run museum, on the other hand, pulls in a much wider crowd. A glance through the guestbook shows that it is attracting self-declared left-wingers, non-ideological museum buffs, and non-Jews. It has attracted 60,000 visitors in the three years since it opened.

It pulls the heartstrings of even the most secular visitor, with constantly rolling TV images of Gaza residents being carried from their homes, and a huge photograph of a toddler taking biscuits to the evacuating soldiers.

Although set up by one of Israel's most fringe rabbis, the Chabad-Lubavitch messianist Shalom Dov Wolpe, the museum focuses on the human-interest story of Gush Katif - not the religious one.

The echoes of Holocaust museums seems inappropriate to many, but as far as those who run the Gush Katif Museum are concerned, they are driving at the same message. "We want people to come and remember so it can't happen again," said Ms Tashnady.

Last updated: 1:42pm, September 15 2011