Rabbi Lerner, who arrived on the Nefesh B'Nefesh flight this morning, said that his goal in making the trip is to see for himself the plight of the thousands of people recently thrown out of their homes in Gaza and northern Shomron.
He and Mrs. Pollard, together with Shani Simkowitz of the L'maan Achai organization, traveled to several places. They began at the Ir HaEmunah (Faith City) encampment, put up by the former residents of Atzmonah outside Netivot. From there, they continued to Yad Mordechai and the Elei Sinai tent city; then to Nitzan, where assorted families from various Gush Katif communities are living; then to the Shirat HaYam "refugee camp" in Alon Shvut; and were to end up in Ariel in the Shomron, where the people of Netzarim are being housed for the short-term.
"The Israeli government has hired a firm in the U.S.," Rabbi Lerner, the Executive Vice President of the National Council of Young Israel, said today, "to feed us the line that every family has been taken care of, and that they've received $300,000 each - but what I have seen today is that this is far from true. Most of them haven't received any money, and what's being offered is far from enough. I don't think anyone would be willing to sell their house for its market value and then be left with no job, no community, no future, and still have to pay the mortgage on the destroyed home, moving costs, and all the rest."
At present, many of the displaced persons have no income and no money for basic needs such as shoes, shirts, baby formula and the like.
Rabbi Lerner also spoke with IsraelNationalRadio's Yishai Fleisher while visiting with the former residents of Shirat HaYam. Click here to hear the full interview.
Esther Pollard said that many of the people she met remembered the warning of her husband - still imprisoned in the U.S. for 20 years on charges of espionage on behalf of Israel - regarding the government's approach to those who served it. "Jonathan often said that a government that can abandon one of its men," she said, "can easily do the same to thousands of its residents."
Mrs. Pollard found other parallels as well: "The government invests great resources to prove how much they're helping the people it expelled, just as it did with Jonathan - but in both cases, it's simply not true... One woman in Nitzan told me that it's like being in prison: whatever they help you with, they make you pay for at the other end..."
"The people's sense of community is amazingly strong," said Esther Pollard. "Contrary to the way in which the government is portraying them, they are willing to give up many material benefits merely to remain together - but the government does not appear willing to come towards them."
Among the communities who have been unable to find communal solutions are Netzer Hazani, Katif, Elei Sinai, Shirat HaYam, Sa-Nur, and N'vei Dekalim.
Rabbi Lerner summed up: "I'm not against the Israeli government, but the fact is that it's doing a bad job with these people. They were heroes, they were thrown out of their homes and neighborhoods, so at least treat them with dignity. Instead, they get a 90-square meter place [a reference to the caravilot in Nitzan - ed.], if they're lucky, with no place to walk, with no synagogue, no mikveh... In other places, the host communities are paying for their guests' food. The situation is not good, and we have to get the word out."
Rabbi Lerner said that many groups are raising much-needed funds for the expellees for their essential and other needs. "Rabbi Yigal Kaminetzky, the Chief Rabbi of Gush Katif, is trying to make some order out of this," he said. "He has convened a committee that will coordinate all the charitable groups and will prevent duplication. It will have representation from each community, and in fact I believe they're convening right now in Jerusalem. I hope to meet with Rabbi Kaminetzky tomorrow, and then I'll know how to direct the funds that I hope will be forthcoming."