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Immediate Gush Katif Assistance Advised

An official commission investigating the government’s treatment of the Gush Katif evacuees advises the gov't to take immediate remedial steps.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 9/29/2009, 12:54 PM / Last Update: 9/29/2009, 1:09 PM


"... They fear that we in Gush Katif were able to salvage our spirit and values from the rubble, and that the towns will really be re-established and again be strong, contributing and faithful to the State of Israel. Believe me, their fears are well-founded!"
The State Commission of Inquiry on the Government’s Treatment of the Gush Katif evacuees plans to issue an unscheduled interim report – and all indications are that the government will be asked to take some immediate remedial steps to assist the expellees with housing and employment.

The Commission was appointed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch earlier this year, and is headed by retired Supreme Court Justice Eliyahu Matza. Its interim report is to be released at 3:30 PM; the first copy will go to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Most of the Commission’s expected criticism is expected to be directed at the previous government, headed by Ehud Olmert.

Some 1,800 families living in the 21 communities of Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip, and four more towns in the northern Shomron, were forcibly expelled from their homes in the summer of 2005 by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government. The purpose of the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza was to make a "peace gesture," leaving Gaza under full control of the Palestinian Authority. The plan backfired, however, precisely as many had predicted: Hamas wrested violent control of the area from the Fatah-run arm of the PA, Hamas terrorists proceeded to fire thousands of rockets into Israel, and Israel was faulted for "blockading" Gaza. As the rockets increased, Israel finally responded militarily in late 2008, leading to a period of quiet – which appears to be ending these very days, with the resumption of Hamas rocket attacks into Israel.

Four Years Later: High Rate of Unemployment and Psychological Problems
Meanwhile, most of the expelled families still do not have permanent housing, and 16.2% of them are unemployed, according to a survey carried out by the Ministry of Industry and Trade. A similar survey last year found that 18.8% of the expellees were out of work. Unemployment in the 21 communities of Gush Katif itself, in the years before the Disengagement/expulsion, was close to 0%. Unemployment in Israel in general stands at 7.9%.

The survey also found that the average monthly wage among the expellees stands at 5,201 shekels – nearly 38% less than the average Jewish salary in Israel, 8,308 shekels. In addition, half of the former residents receive psychological or psychiatric treatment; 37% say they can’t sleep because of their worries; 31% said they feel pressure; 24% said they have lost self-confidence; and 19% said they feel depression.

Five Years With No Permanent Home
Expellee Doron Ben-Shlomi says that in his community’s designated new location, in eastern Lachish (between Kiryat Gat and southern Judea), “the tractors started work on the infrastructures only two months ago, and we have heard from the Housing Ministry that that it will take another 6-8 months before we can start building our homes – about five full years after we were thrown out.”

Haaretz Columnist: The Expellees are Extorting Us
Not surprisingly, as national awareness grows of the injustice done to the thousands of people who were thrown out of their homes, some on the other side of the political spectrum upgrade their attacks on the expellees.  Nechemiah Strassler, economic columnist for the Haaretz daily, writes, “The Gush Katif evacuees have succeeded in mocking us yet again… The evacuation of Gush Katif was humanistic, considerate, broad-minded, and generous… They won’t allow the matter to drop off the public agenda. The settlers and the enemies of peace will never allow this sore to heal. They are using the Gush Katif evacuees as a political lever to turn the Disengagement into such a great and expensive trauma that no Prime Minister will ever again be willing to take a chance on doing the same in the West Bank. And if there is no evacuation, there will be no retreat and no peace – and that is, after all, their supreme goal.”

One former resident, Reuven Moshe, now living in what he calls the “refugee camp” of Nitzan, responded, “Our demands are simple: Give back what you took; it’s not my problem how much it costs you. I don’t think the State has a right to take a shekel from me and give me back a half-shekel.” Reuven was unemployed for 3.5 years after the expulsion, and recently found work in the Gush Katif Residents Committee.

"The Spirit of the Communities Will Live!"
Strassler also wrote that it was a mistake for the government to allow the residents to demand that their destroyed community-structures be rebuilt. To this, Anita Tucker, one of the first Jewish residents in Gush Katif and a builder of the town of Netzer Hazani there, said that Strassler and his ilk "fear that the Gush Katif people were able to salvage their spirit and values from the rubble, and that the towns will really be re-established and again be strong and contribute to the State of Israel and be faithful to the State of Israel. Believe me, their fears are well-founded!  The compensation that has been given is totally not reasonable and currently does not allow us to build what we had anew - but our Nation of Israel is getting its act together, and it will be done!"