Life after death

Life after death

David Hatuel talks about survival after his wife and daughters were murdered and his home in Gush Katif was dismantled

David Hatuel
David Hatuel
David and Tali’s four daughters, murdered by terrorists in 2004.
David and Tali’s four daughters, murdered by terrorists in 2004.

It’s normal and human to imagine yourself into things that happen to other people, so that we can imagine how we’d feel, how we’d react, what we’d do if they happened to us.

And there are some things that stop our imaginations cold. Some situations that are so extraordinarily evil and ugly that we cannot bear to put ourselves into them.

What happened to David Hatuel and his family is in that second category.

Mr. Hatuel will speak about his life this Sunday at Congregation Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck. (See box for more details.)

In 2004, the Hatuels — David, an educator who was the principal of an elementary school in nearby Ashkelon; his wife, Tali, a social worker, who was nine months pregnant with a son; and their four daughters, Hila, 11, Hadar, 9, Roni, 7, and Merav, 2, lived in Gush Katif, an Israeli settlement in Gaza. David and Tali moved there in the early 1990s, he from Ashdod, she from Ashkelon. Their children were born there.

The entire settlement, to which residents first moved in 1970, was slated to be dismantled in 2004; Prime Minister Ariel Sharon planned to move Jews from Gaza and hand it over to the Palestinians. It was a highly controversial move (and Mr. Sharon’s stroke, catatonia, and eventual death altered its fate irrevocably and unknowably). Tali Hatuel, like almost everyone else who lived there, was deeply opposed to the dismantlement.

Recently, Mr. Hatuel, two of his younger children, and other friends look on as the reconstituted community lays a cornerstone for its new synagogue.
Recently, Mr. Hatuel, two of his younger children, and other friends look on as the reconstituted community lays a cornerstone for its new synagogue.

On May 2, 2004, Tali Hatuel drove to her daughters’ school, picked them up, and went to lobby the Likud party that Mr. Sharon headed to vote against the Israeli retreat from Gaza in a referendum slated to follow in a few days. “On her way to speak to a Likud member, a terrorist shot at the car and killed her,” Dror Vanunu, a friend of Mr. Hatuel’s who will accompany him and who often translates for him, said.

“And then the terrorists approached the car, and shot the little girls. Shot at them without mercy. Killed them.”

So Tali, Hila, Hadar, Roni, and Merav Hatuel all were dead, shot in cold blood.

“Their father was at work, and after an hour or so he heard that something had happened on the road to Gush Katif,” Mr. Vanunu said. “And then he got a call from a community rabbi, who told him that Tali had been shot. And so he asked who was injured, and who was killed.

“It took him a few minutes to realize that no one had survived the attack.”

The referendum about disengagement took place as scheduled, “and they announced the results, and it was bittersweet,” Mr. Vanunu said. “Sixty-two percent of the Likud voted against the Sharon plan. But just as they were announcing the results of the election, we had to go bury five people from our community.”

Both of Tali’s parents were still alive, and so were David’s, he added. Support for the family was overwhelming; huge numbers of people came to the funeral and shiva. David kept on working — he loves working with children, his friend Mr. Vanunu said, and instead of seeing the small students at his school through a miasma of bitterness, he was able to draw strength from them. He also kept on living in the house he’d shared with his wife and kids. “He never touched any of the rooms,” Mr. Vanunu said. “He left his daughters’ toys as they had been.”

About 18 months later — “exactly 12 years ago, during Tisha b’Av, the soldiers came and evacuated Gush Katif,” Mr. Vanunu, who had been a spokesman for the settlement then, said. “It was a terrible tragedy for us.”

Mr. Vanunu still is angry about the dismantlement, and about how the government, which, he said, had planned it extremely closely, had not made any plans at all for the people it displaced.

Although the community members easily could have chosen to disperse, they did not, he said. Many of them moved together to form new communities. Some, including Mr. Hatuel, moved to the Lachish region of the Negev. “It’s a beautiful area east of Kiryat Gat, in the Green Line,” Mr. Vanunu said. The Gush Katif refugees lived there in trailers for many years; it’s only in the last few that they’ve moved back into houses.

The difficulties they encountered in rebuilding their community were compounded by the fact that the region they chose is unusually rich in antiquities, many dating back to the First and Second Temple periods. “As soon as any digging started for construction, they kept finding things,” Mr. Vanunu said, and the Israeli Antiquities Authority would take over.

Still, the community persisted, and eventually they were able to come to terms with the antiquities authority and the other relevant agencies. The new town, Bnei Dekalim, has started to come to life. Mr. Hatuel’s new house is nearly done, and he expects to move into it in a few months.

Mr. Hatuel eventually left the school in Ashkelon, although he still is an educator. And he remarried. He and his wife Limor now have five children. The oldest is 9 years old. “Limor also is very special,” Mr. Vanunu, who now manages an Israeli solar company and has taken a few days off to travel with his friend and interpret for him, said.

How did Mr. Hatuel do it? How did he keep going? How did he choose life? “To tell you the truth, I don’t know,” Mr. Vanunu said. “He is an inspiration for all of us.

“He met with a lot of people who survived the Holocaust, people who had families before the Holocaust and lost everything and got married again and had children again after the war,” he said. “They were his inspiration.”

Who: David Hatuel

What: Will talk about his life, including the murders of his pregnant wife, Tali, and their four daughters

Where: At Congregation Rinat Yisrael, 389 West Englewood Avenue, in Teaneck

When: On Sunday, August 6, at 7 p.m.

How: Mr. Hatuel will speak through an interpreter

For more information: Go to www.rinat.orgor call Jay Knopf at (917) 796-7428.

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