The evacuation of New Orleans is principally significant due to its scale and scope, without recent precedent. Hundreds of thousands displaced, at least tens of thousands of whom are living as literal refugees. Most will not return home for many months, many will never return. Large sections of a sprawling, modern city devastated, just one community along a sprawling first-world coastline of towns, ports, and infrastructure wrecked.
An order of magnitude less devastation than the St. Steven's Day tsunami, but strangely more inescapable. Perhaps because NBC doesn't exactly have a Banda Aceh bureau. There, haphazard and mismanaged though the recovery has been, it seems that those rebuilding the province have managed to build a bit of long-awaited peace while they were at it. The rebuilding of the Mississippi Delta will be a fiscal calamity -- let's just take that as a given, considering the administration that will be running the show. But we should still hope for, and look for, the unexpected blessing.
Orders of magnitude, still, beyond August's other evacuation, struting on the world stage out of all proportion to the numbers involved. In the aftermath of the Israeli military's departure a few days ago, the one-time settlements looked exactly like the wreckage of a hurricane. In accordance with court rulings, bulldozers knocked down the houses, but nothing more. So on the day that the last soldier left, Palestinians completed the image: streaming across the no-mans-land from adjacent camps and packed cities they wandered blinking in the sun through the rubble. Some combed the debris for remaining valuables, such as wire or fixtures, while others simply walked on the beach for the first time in 38 years.
Although it's Palestinians who currently fill the refugee camps, Israeli settlers are the ones most recently evacuated. In New Orleans the departure came like a thunderclap -- get out in the next 18 hours or you will probably die, the announcements daintily minced around actually saying. I recently founds myself rereading a bittersweet column in Ha'aretz from just before the evacuation was set to begin. A journalist living for a while in one of the settlements gradually shifts from third to first person, but as an outsider is denied the brief comfort of denial. For weeks he lives there, knowing exactly what is to come.
Here I have once again been thrust between roles: reporter and resident, guest and host, observer from the sidelines and participant. Since last March, when Haaretz rented an apartment here, I have been playing all the roles at once, and I belong to two different communities. I am one of about 3,500 residents of Neveh Dekalim, the largest and most important of the 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. Like the other residents, I am no longer upset by the thunder of the rockets, I carry on a routine conversation with the neighbor hanging up the laundry, and if I have some free time on a hot hamsin day, I hop over to the beach.
The other community comprises about a dozen reporters and photographers who moved to Gush Katif a few months before the evacuation - most of them photographers with the international news agencies - in order to cover the implementation of the disengagement from up close. In spite of the competition, here too a consolidated community has been formed, socially speaking. There is no end to the contradictions between these different groups and their aims: One is suffused with faith and fighting for survival, the other is skeptical and has come to record the last months of Gush Katif.
If you read any of the links I've posted, read that last one.