Looking Back to Egypt's Sinai Pullout

More than two decades ago, Israeli settlers living in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula were forced to leave their homes in accordance with the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. As the world watches the current withdrawal from Gaza, Jennifer Ludden talks with former Sinai settler Hadas Ragolsky about her memories of the withdrawal.

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JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jennifer Ludden.

This weekend, as we look ahead to the Israeli evacuation of Gaza, we also look back to 1982. That's when Ariel Sharon, then defense minister, organized the eviction of thousands of Israeli settlers from the Sinai Peninsula. That pullout was part of a historic peace treaty with Egypt. Still, a number of settlers staged a violent resistance. The images of Israeli soldiers dragging them from their homes haunted the Jewish state for years. Hadas Ragolsky was nine years old when her family was forced to leave the Sinai. She's now a senior producer with Israel's Channel 10 television and part of their team covering the Gaza pullout.

Hello.

Ms. HADAS RAGOLSKY (Senior Producer, Israel's Channel 10 Television): Hi. Good day, everybody.

LUDDEN: The Sinai Peninsula was captured by Israel from Egypt in 1967 during the Six Day War. I guess you had most of your childhood there. Why did your family choose to settle there in that desert?

Ms. RAGOLSKY: They were pioneers. They were called to do so. The government had said, `Who will be the youngster who will come to bloom the desert, to build villages in the desert?' And this is what they did.

LUDDEN: Now in 1979, Egypt and Israel sign a peace deal, and part of that includes the return of the Sinai. Can you take us through your family's evacuation?

Ms. RAGOLSKY: It was really painful process, I should say. My parents were part of the group that resented this idea and that had decided to fight against it. But we tried to keep from leaving and having normal life kind of. We kept on going to school and kept on working the fields. The end was pretty messy, I should say. I mean...

LUDDEN: Well, there are, some may remember, television images of really, you know, fisticuffs on rooftops with the army against the settlers there. Did you see that? Did you experience that?

Ms. RAGOLSKY: Unfortunately, I did. What happened was that the settlers tried to protest in every legitimate way they could. And in the end, we left, whereas with some extreme right-wing people, who came over and took over some of the houses--and most of those specific fights that people remember took place between those extremist people who came from Gaza and Judea and Samaria.

LUDDEN: So the day that your family left, describe to me what happened.

Ms. RAGOLSKY: What the army did back then was that they entered each one of the villages, and they tried to take over each one of the neighborhoods. So they took over our neighborhood, and we moved to a different house that was already emptied by its owner. And so in the last 10 or 15 days, we actually didn't live in our own place. And there was no electricity. I don't remember if we had water or not; I don't think so. For sure we didn't have telephone. And then, in the end, all those who were left in the village realized there was nothing to fight against anymore, and we all drove away from the village with black flags over our cars. It was a march; it was kind of a funeral in a way.

LUDDEN: Your evacuation from the Sinai was more than 20 years ago now. Is it something that still affects you, though, today?

Ms. RAGOLSKY: Badly, I would say. I think what people tend not to understand is that we were victims in a way, and we were forced to leave. And when you are forced to leave, it's an act of violence. And when you are a victim of acts of violence, it takes a lot of time to recover.

LUDDEN: And why do you think that is? I mean, what--why does it continue to affect you?

Ms. RAGOLSKY: Well, for me, it was the end of my childhood in a way. I lost my innocence then. I lost my friends because we were all friends. I lost my trust and faith, especially in the government, because suddenly they are against you. And then I was a small child trying to grasp what much bigger people didn't succeed to understand. So the...

LUDDEN: Well, I'm curious, looking back now today, in retrospect, do you think it was a good thing that your family was actually forced to leave the Sinai or not?

Ms. RAGOLSKY: Look, I don't think that it's good that my family was forced to do anything. I do think that it was a good idea to leave Sinai, and I do think that pulling out of Gaza is the right idea.

LUDDEN: You actually, I understand, have spoken with some of the soldiers who are to go in and carry out this evacuation.

Ms. RAGOLSKY: Yeah, I did.

LUDDEN: With your experience in mind, what are you telling them?

Ms. RAGOLSKY: Well, the first thing I told them was, `Keep in mind these people are not your enemies.' These people are Israeli families who pay taxes, who served in the army, who did everything they could to contribute to Israeli society. And the fact that right now they're in the corner in a situation that they didn't dream of and they didn't plan should be beared in mind. You can monsterize those people; you can make them monsters. It's easier to deal with monsters, whereas it's much harder to deal with people who look just like you.

LUDDEN: Hadas Ragolsky. Her family was evacuated from the Sinai in 1982. She's now a senior producer with Israel's Channel 10 television.

Thanks so much for speaking with us.

Ms. RAGOLSKY: Thank you, Jennifer.

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