10 Years On, Gaza Pullout Fighter Finds Peace and Quiet
JNS.org – Eldad Galed doesn’t need to attend any of this summer’s commemoration ceremonies for the Gush Katif bloc of Jewish communities destroyed a decade ago to remember how he was pulled out of both his home and synagogue. He lives with the “expulsion”—as he calls the unilateral Israeli disengagement from Gaza in August 2005—on his body.
At a tattoo parlor in Peru four years ago, he tattooed on his upper back the slogan that is popular among Gush Katif “refugees,” as they often refer to themselves: “We will not forgive, we will not forget.”
Not long after, he gave that ink some company, getting the name of his destroyed religious Zionist community, “Gannei Tal,” tattooed in the shape of Israel on his upper right arm.
His observant Jewish mother had mixed feelings about it.
“On the one hand, I did a tattoo, which is forbidden. On the other hand, I didn’t do a tattoo of a butterfly. It has a lot of meaning,” Galed said in an interview with JNS.org on the sofa of his apartment in Yesod HaMa’aleh, a religiously mixed village north of the Sea of Galilee.
His mother is less forgiving of the tattoo on his forearm, a quote from Don McLean’s “Starry Night” that could apply to Gush Katif, but which probably refers to a girl: “This world was never meant for someone as beautiful as you.”
Galed became somewhat of a poster boy—or rather, pin-up boy—for the evacuated Gush Katif communities after he reached second place in last year’s Israeli adaptation of the popular reality show “Big Brother,” which had 12 Israelis from all walks of life vie for the public’s favor as they lived secluded in a house, their every move captured on camera.
During Israeli election season earlier this year, Galed appeared in a humorous video campaign for Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party that had two attractive women recount Bennett’s achievements as a Knesset member, only to lament with the punchline, “But he’s right-wing.” Galed then seductively approached these same women at a bar, with one gushing, “What a chatich [hunk],” while the other reminded her, “But he’s right-wing!”
Galed voted for Jewish Home this year, but during the previous Israeli election, he proudly hung a banner for both Jewish Home and the left-wing Meretz party on his Tel Aviv balcony. With his unabashed secularism and love for Gush Katif, he has been a unique spokesman for the so-called “settlement” movement, serving to make the cause relatable, acceptable, and even “cool.”
“I felt a sense of mission,” Galed said, with his tall, lean build and a signature beard that could make him pass for a rabbi if not for his loose, hippie-like colorful shorts and tank. The handsome Zionist broke many hearts when he met his girlfriend on the show, but their break-up a month ago prompted him to leave his life as a Tel Aviv socialite and move up north to run a rafting and mountain biking tourism operation with his actual big brother.
Galed said he auditioned for “Big Brother” for two reasons: “One was for me, and also to show that the ‘settlers’ are not how they’re represented in the media. And that’s how it was in Tel Aviv. They’d ask, ‘Where are you from, and I’d say, ‘Gush Katif,’ and they’d say, ‘Woah.’ I spoke the language of Tel Aviv.”
That language, in large part, was going out and girls. This former “club kid” said he had a religious Zionist heart before he was expelled from his home, but never a fan of structure, he didn’t observe Jewish law the Orthodox way. He admits to being a bit of a bad boy growing up in Gannei Tal in one of the few divorced families among a community of 70 families.
Galed, however, is speaking less “Tel Aviv-ese” these days. He’s come back to his roots: the soil of Israel and a sense of community.
“The north for me is not Gush Katif but it’s a small place where everyone knows everyone,” he said. “It’s quiet. A good friend told me it’s a lot easier to find a mess when you want it than to find quiet when you need it.”
The last 10 years since the Gaza pullout have indeed been messy and loud.
“It broke my faith, my faith in God,” Galed said.
Someone who once pledged never to tour abroad until first touring the entire land of Israel flew to the United States months after he lost a 1,000-shekel bet that the “expulsion” wouldn’t happen.
“What did I have to look for here?” he said. “It was very hard for me to be in Israel. It was all so fresh. Everything reminded you of it.”
Like many an Israeli who completed army service, he worked merchandise carts at an American mall, selling imitation pets while wearing a “I Love Hot Moms” t-shirt. His displaced heart took him back to Israel, then to the U.S., England, and South America, until he finally settled in Tel Aviv for the last eight years.
One thing remained constant: his belief in the cause of Gush Katif, for which he never apologized, especially while a radical left-winger he outlasted on the “Big Brother” show tried to paint him—unsuccessfully, he said—as a racist chauvinist simply for his origins as a “settler.”
The show earned him more than 26,000 followers on Instagram and his share of groupies, with one woman even filing a police complaint that “Big Brother” was rigged when he didn’t emerge as the winner. Ambling around the “Big Brother” house in his orange tank top—a ripped variation of the “uniform” of those who battled for Gush Katif—he brought the cause of the “expellees” to the public spotlight, becoming a source of pride for his community, which has since re-established a new “Gannei Tal” in southern Israel.
“They’re happy I represented them honorably,” he said. “I can honestly say I didn’t screw up much.”
As for the pledge emblazoned on his back, Galed said he won’t ever forgive the politicians involved in the Gaza pullout, but that he has softened his view on the soldiers who participated.
“They were kids,” he said. “They didn’t know. They didn’t having an understanding. I can’t be mad at them. I should be mad at them, but not anymore.”
At the same time, he’ll never forget.
“I move on with my life,” Galed said, “but as Metallica said, ‘the memory remains.’”