Startling testimony: “With 10 shekels in my pocket, I decided to escape, as my daughters were left behind.”
A moment after the wedding, the man who captured her heart, showed his true face. The mask of suffering she went through, came to a peak when she was trapped in the Gaza Strip. And just when the situation looked irreversible, Galit Popock decided to run away, as her three daughters were left behind”. An especially sad story, with no happy ending.
David Fried | Dialogue, 23 Kislev 5781|9.12.20
The thunderous echos of “Operation Cast Lead” arrived all the way to Galit Popock’s home in the north of the country, arousing anxiety and apprehension in her. Not many are the number of Israeli citizens who fear both the firing of mortars from the Strip and the IDF’s response coming in its wake. But Galit followed with concern for the situation in Israel and for what was taking place in the Strip, out of fear of an IDF hit on her daughters living in Hamas country. During the war, she stayed in her home in Israel, but her eyes were also fixed on the village of Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, the site of the focal point of the fight between Israel and Hamas and the place where her ex-husband, a Muslim Arab born there, lived with her three daughters.
In a talk with us, she returned to one of her previous lives: To the days of her youth, when everything looked shiny; to her initial enthusiasm that ended with a large fracture, from which she’s having difficulty getting up to this day, many years after what happened.
Galit’s painful story took place a little more than 2 decades ago. At that time, the gates of the Strip were not yet hermetically sealed, and Israelis could come to the Strip, even at the risk of endangering their lives.
Galit, a 15.5 y.o. girl at the time, met a young Gazan Arab who resided illegally in Israel. In spite of the horrible stories she had heard about girls falling into relationships with Arabs, the young man with whom she sought to tie her fate was, apparently, different. In contrast to the horror stories told once in awhile about Jewish women who got caught up in problematic relationships with violent Arabs, he seemed different. Or at least, that was what she believed at that stage. “I convinced myself that our situation was different”, she admits. She very quickly discovered that she was deceiving herself. “Until this day I’m paying the price for that mistake I made. This was a challenge that I knew how I got into it, but I couldn’t believe even in my blackest dreams how I would get out of it”, she adds painfully.
The police are following us
“When I was about 15 and a half, I met Mohammed for the first time”, she begins her story. “I lived at that time in the city of Upper Nazareth, a mixed city where Jews live next to Arabs. At that time I had a good friend who had an Arab boyfriend. One day I went with my friend to visit her Arab boyfriend who was living in Or Yehuda, and there I met Mohammed. As soon as we met, we felt chemistry, and I believed he was a man who was most suitable for me. He, from his part, did everything possible so that the connection between us would flourish. During the visit to his home, he took care to spoil me and my friend and did everything in his power to make me happy when he was around.
“While we were walking together – me, my friend and the Arab – in the streets of Or Yehuda, I said that I have a dream to stay one night in a hotel. Mohammed, of course, met my request immediately and rented a hotel room for us. The three of us got there, and the next morning, as I was leaving the place, I understood that I was interested in linking my fate to him. And so it was”, she says. “First there was a phone connection between us, then we started meeting up regularly in his city. The whole time of the preliminary relationship between us, he did everything to keep us together, and for me, he left my friend alone. Looking back, I should have already understood that such a man is not trustworthy.”
How did your family accept the fact that you sought to marry an Arab?
“At first, we carried on our relationship mainly in Or Yehuda – his city, but then I started bringing him to my parents’ home. And that was a difficult moment in our relationship”, says Galit. “My parents and the rest of my family took it hard that I was in a relationship with an Arab, and they got very angry about it. They wanted me to break up with him immediately, and they convinced me to do it, but I was determined to marry him. Maybe because this was a forbidden thing and my parents didn’t want him in any way, this was what caused me to want him. A kind of inexplicable thrill of a girl who still did not see life realistically.”
During that time, Galit felt that she had found the right man for her and believed that with him, she was about to make a home and live her whole life with him. But the difficulties accompanied her right from the beginning. “We planned our wedding at that time, while being forced to deal with something that no other bride is familiar with: the fact that my future husband was residing illegally in the country. The police usually carry out arrests of illegals, and my husband was in their sights many times. More than once, he came back home after a chase by the police, who would arrive at our home and arrest him. I remember how cops broke into our apartment, woke me up and hit me because of him. In most of these incidents, the police managed to catch him.”
How did the neighbors react to the frequent arrests of your husband?
“I had one neighbor who was the cause of a great number of these arrests. That neighbor would see him arriving at the building and she’d call the police to come. Until today I don’t think that this was the right move from her. It didn’t help me disconnect from him, but only made my life more difficult. Instead of her, there was one neighbor who convinced me to leave him and even suggested I call “Yad l’Achim”, which was the right move coming from him, and until today I’m grateful to him for planting the first buds of remorse inside me. Despite being very satisfied with life with Mohammed at that time, and I didn’t listen to his words at all, they did sink into me later on.”
“Suddenly I didn’t know him”
In spite of fantasizing all her life about getting married in a festive ceremony, Popock’s wedding was completely different. “It was impossible to really call it a wedding”, she points out. “We arrived together to the Sharia court, where I converted to Islam and married him, when I was pregnant with my big girl Yasmin. Because I was a minor at the time of the wedding, from the Sharia court’s point of view, my father had to come there to accompany me and sign the required documents. He did sharply oppose the marriage, but saw that he had no other choice and preferred not to lose me, so he cooperated.”
It didn’t take long for Galit to wake up from the dream she had nurtured about her husband. “That same night after the wedding”, she says, “I wanted us to go up together to our home to celebrate our wedding. But he stayed with his friends downstairs and chatted with them. I went down and demanded he come up, and then it happened.” Mohammed grabbed Galit, hit her in her head and pulled her hair hard, in front of his friends and neighbors. When the freshly married woman, dazed and crying, returned home, she began to understand what was about to happen in the future. “At that stage, I considered leaving him right then and there. I felt humiliated, didn’t believe this was happening to me, but he came home afterwards, apologized and promised that this was a one-time thing. He suddenly seemed like a different person from the one who hit me before. I believed him and decided to stay with him.”
His words, as Galit found out very quickly, were just words of flattery. Her life turned into a real hell at that time. He started hitting her once every few days, and she was demanded to do everything he asked, while she suffered humiliation and terrible abuse.
Why didn’t you leave him at that stage?
“After going this far with him and not listening to any of the advice given me by my family to leave him, I wasn’t capable of going back to them. I had one friend whom I told that he hit me, and she warned me to get away from him, like from fire. But because of my connection with him, I was afraid they wouldn’t accept me anymore. I was also concerned about the possible difficulty in finding another mate if I left him. And we already had a daughter, so that’s why it was hard for me to leave, and so I remained beaten and humiliated”, she says.
A short time after their wedding, Mohammed went to her and asked her to join him on a visit to the Gaza Strip. “He asked me to come to Gaza so that our daughter Yasmin, with whom I was pregnant, would be born in Gaza near his parents’ home. When we got to his parents’ home, the bitter truth came clear to me: He had no intention of returning to Israel. I remained there, humiliated and deceived.”
During the first period of time that Galit was living in the Strip, there was a commotion in her family and her mother decided to come and visit her daughter. “Her real goal was to take me out of there, but she was forced to backtrack. My husband and his family refused to hear her pleas. At the same time, my suffering started to be greater. He would beat me a lot, even the night my daughter Yasmin was born, I was beaten. I remember how I cried all night, and in the morning Yasmin was born to such a fate. It was clear that my parents would not get to meet her because he didn’t let me take her out of the Strip.”
The years passed, and Galit settled into life in the Strip, and her family expanded with the birth of five more children besides Yasmin.
What did life in the Strip look like?
“Life there is very different from what we’re familiar with in Israel. Poverty prevails at a high level, and women don’t live like women live in Israel. They are beaten down, don’t work and don’t support themselves. Their lives are similar to life in prison”. Galit also notes that in the Strip, she remained the Jew of the family. “They warned me to stay away from one woman whose husband worked for Hamas, so I wouldn’t be seen as a spy”, she says.
‘Shema Israel’ at the crossing
One day, Galit got up the courage to leave. “He hit me hard that day, and I decided that I’m done with that and that I’m getting out of there. I took my three daughters, and with the excuse that I was going to the Kupat Cholim for my little 9-month-old son, I managed to leave home, as I was imbued with the goal of not coming back ever.”
With 10 shekels in her pocket, Galit called for a cab.”I left for the Erez crossing, having only a photo of my ID card with me. My original ID card, like all the identification documents for my children, remained with him. He kept the documents in a secret place so I wouldn’t be able to escape.
“I traveled to the crossing in a taxi while I prayed they wouldn’t catch me. When I got to the Palestinian crossing, with the help of an Arab MK, I managed to get a permit to leave there. Afterwards, I got to the Israeli crossing, where IDF soldiers were securing the gate. In tears, I faced them and shouted ‘Shema Israel’ so they could understand that I’m Jewish. They were very surprised by the experience, but after a few seconds they understood the story and immediately allowed me to enter Israel. With the mercy of Heaven, I succeeded in escaping without any assistance from one body or another. Just me and the Creator of the Universe.”
With Galit’s arrival in Israel, she was accepted with great joy back into her family, who had no longer believed they would merit to see her again. “I came back from Gaza weighing only 40 kilos, not because of lack of food, but due to the mental hardships I experienced during that whole time.” After she settled back into Israel, Galit started to recover from the difficulties and the attacks she endured. But she still had to face the fact that half of her family were left behind. “I got to Israel with 3 daughters and left 3 daughters in Gaza”, she says.
“I started fighting for my children”, she continues. “I registered my daughters left behind in Gaza into my ID card, so that if they wanted to, they’d be able to come into Israel. The whole way, Benzi Gopstein and the Lehava organization supported me. The fantastic Benzi and his wife Anat did everything to help me along the whole way. Until today, whenever I have some specific difficulty I turn to them and they respond to me quickly and with devotion.”
Benzi Gopstein, who became her daughters’ spiritual father, as Galit testifies, carried out a dramatic operation to bring in the 3 daughters left behind in Gaza. At the time of “Protective Edge”, it looked like an opening developed for bringing the daughters into Israel. Earlier, in Operation “Cast Lead” Mohammed had died in an operation led by the IDF in the Strip. Galit recalls how she got the news about that: “His father called us and asked to speak with my daughter. He told her: ‘Your father died’. Without any kind of extra introductions, without trying to soften the reality. The little boy was very startled and flabbergasted.”
Mohammed’s death and the aging of his father softened the Muslim family members’ attitude, and the girls’ grandfather agreed at that time to allow their rescue to Israel. The way to take out the daughters was going to be quite complicated, and about a million shekels were invested in this saga and given to various intermediaries and smugglers, but at the last minute, the intermediary who was supposed to transfer the money to the smugglers – decided to take the money for himself. Benzi and Anat Gopstein, who were waiting at that time on the border with Gaza, received the news with great disappointment. But more than that, they hurt for Galit, who testifies that this event put her into depression and caused her to become a broken vessel.
This story does not have a happy ending, but a light at the end of the tunnel can already be seen. Over recent years, a connection has been made between Galit and her daughters, and Yasmin, her oldest daughter who married a Gazan, already wants to leave the Strip and move back to live in Israel. “She is not satisfied with the conditions of life in Gaza”, says Galit, and she adds: “The rest of the girls should be coming after her. And so hope still beats in our hearts.”
What message do you have for a girl who is thinking of marrying an Arab?
Galit sighs and says: “In the beginning, it sparkles, but a young girl like that should know that she’s liable to be the next murder victim. I was very close to being this myself, if not for his mother who came into the room while he was strangling me for a long time.
“Other than that”, she continues, “a young woman thinking about this step needs to know that life in such a marriage includes dependence, both financial and literal, where the wife has no right to speak. In my case, the handwriting was on the wall, and it almost happened. Learn from my case, and don’t dare think about an Arab..”
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LEHAVA - Preventing Asimilation
In light of the growing severity of assimilation in the country, several community organizations have focused their energy, for many years, to save Jewish girls. We have established an organization named Lehava which fights assimilation in the Holy Land. Together, the experienced leadership of Lehava has made it their mission to reach these girls, before they reach villages and are gone.