The Knesset held a special session on the ongoing plight of the 9,000 expellees from Gush Katif and the Shomron. Many MKs complained about the government's mis-handling of the entire issue, especially the lack of long-term housing solutions.
MK Uri Ariel (National Union) initiated the session and obtained the necessary 40 MKs' signatures to obligate the Prime Minister to attend and respond. "You, Mr. Prime Minister," Ariel said, "who were among the initiators of the Disengagement, are obligated to be personally involved in this matter." Ariel also noted the painful matter of youths who were arrested during Disengagement protests and who now have a criminal record preventing them from enlisting in elite army units, becoming lawyers, bearing weapons, and more.
Many expellees met beforehand with the Prime Minister, demanding explanations as to the continued mis-handling of their housing needs. The meeting marked one year since the publication of the State Comptroller's report blaming the government for the sorry state of the expellees.
Gush Katif Residents Committee head Lior Kalfa said last night, "Where is the shame? The permanent solutions are not here, to the disgrace of the government, and the princes of civil rights say nary a word." 85% of the former Gush Katif residents are still living in temporary sites, and only 2 out of 26 permanent communities have begun to be built.
Excerpts from MKs' Remarks
MK Ze'ev Elkin (Kadima): "The government has totally failed in this matter. A dramatic revolution is required in everything having to do with the treatment of the expellees, and a precise time table must be set for their move to permanent homes. I call upon the Prime Minister to appoint a special Cabinet minister, while he's making new appointments, for this purpose."
MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud): "We spent millions on a cursed campaign that promised a solution for every resident. Is this considered a solution for every resident?!"
MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) emphasized his support for the Disengagement, but said, "I am now totally ashamed" at the disgraceful treatment they have received. "They were sent there by all Israeli governments, including Labor... We must relate to them not by political orientation, but as people. I will do everything I can for their rehabilitation" - though he did not elaborate. He also called upon the Prime Minister to do everything necessary to this end.
Why No Forgiveness?
All eyes turned to the Knesset podium when it was ascended by Gush Katif expellee MK Tzvi Hendel (National Union), who is now living in Yad Binyamin in a temporary dwelling, together with his neighbors and friends from Ganei Tal. Hendel said, "I am sometimes asked whether a bumper sticker sported on many cars, which reads, 'We won't forget and we won't forgive,' is not too strong and mean-hearted. I explain that in Judaism, forgiveness has rules. We are called upon to ask forgiveness every year on Yom Kippur, and we are forgiven only if certain conditions are fulfilled. For one thing, the person who sinned must ask forgiveness - and this has not been done in this case. Secondly, the one who sinned must admit his error and express regret, and this was not done either. Thirdly, he must commit himself not to do it again, and neither has this been done! Therefore, under these circumstances, there is no place for forgiveness regarding the expulsion."
Finally, Prime Minister Olmert himself took the podium. Appearing to be trying to stall for time, he began by addressing something Arab MK Muhammed Barakeh had said earlier: "I would like to say in principle, following what MK Barakeh said, that [he is right in saying] that the government did not send people to live anywhere [as MK Cabel had said]. No one was sent anywhere. However, none of the people in Gush Katif lived there against the will or policy of the government. The government was able to stop people from living in places when it wanted to. It evacuated people from various places, and helped and encouraged others who lived elsewhere. They are citizens, they lived there according to law, and they were removed from their homes against their will; on this there is no dispute."
Olmert Won't Apologize
"I will not apologize for the Disengagement," Olmert then said, "despite MK Hendel's request, but the fact is that they were evicted against their will. The State did so in accordance with its policies, and it is now responsible to find solutions to all the problems that follow as a result."
"Secondly," Olmert continued, "this session can be held on two planes. One way is for us to argue over every detail - and if I wanted to, I could provide many good answers for many of the points raised here by the MKs who have claims against the government. The picture is certainly not a one-way street, in no way or form. To say that the government has done nothing [for the expellees] is totally wrong. It made hundreds of decisions on this matter, and in a very generous manner. The reparations paid out are much higher than were ever paid out - including the concept of 'communal evacuation,' which is much more expensive than what happened in Sinai."
Upon hearing this, MK Hendel interrupted: "I'll assume you're saying this out of ignorance." Olmert: "No, it is out of knowledge." Hendel: "Then it's an outright lie." MK Benny Elon: "Menachem Begin did not throw them out [from Sinai, in 1982] before their homes were ready - as opposed to here, where they were thrown out with nothing ready."
Olmert soon continued, "So I don't want to get into all the details, because I have many good answers. But I will say, unconnected to the mistakes made by all the sides --" At this point, Hendel yelled out again, and then at another MK, and Knesset Speaker Yitzchak Cohen of Shas threatened to remove him from the session; one MK called out, 'You would remove him even from this session??'
Finally, Olmert continued, "The delays are not caused by the government, but rather by the bureaucracy put in place by the State of Israel for these types of issues - and all the righteous MKs who usually insist on every jot and tittle, yet here they dare to say how cruel it is, etc., I would advise them not to be so hypocritical."
"Thirdly," Olmert said, "I have instructed all the government bodies -and MK Ariel knows this - to look into the problems not according to who is right, but rather how to ease difficulties for these people, because in the end, no matter what, they were removed from their homes and we were the ones who made the decision to do it." MK Ariel was then given permission to interrupt, and said, "Why don't you change the building and construction law, it costs nothing, it would be a one-time act, in order to speed up the construction process of the new communities."
Olmert responded, "I am willing to look into this in a positive light. I am open to a change of approach in order to speed up the process." Olmert also said he would speak with the Attorney General regarding a solution for the Disengagement-protest criminal record of many youngsters. "We don't want to fight with the evacuees, nor do we have to answer their every plea, but our hearts and pockets are open, and we hope to reduce the controversy and pain."
Gush Katif Committee head Lior Kalfa, who was present at the session, told Arutz-7 afterwards, "We have heard enough talk for two years; the time has long come for action... I will wait a week or two to see if something happens - for instance, for the Prime Minister to instruct that a law be prepared to bypass regular procedures in order to help the new communities be built without bureacracy. This was done when one million Russian immigrants came, and it has to be done now."
When reminded that just today, the Knesset voted down a proposal by Likud MK Michael Eitan to create a committee for this purpose, Kalfa said, "So you see? We are not optimistic..."
Netanyahu Notes Three Failures
Olmert was followed by Opposition Leader Binyamin Netanyahu, who emphasized three failures: The first is the government's "treatment of our uprooted brothers. I was in Nitzan, and I saw the peeling walls - and behind them, the broken families. The government first took their houses, and then it took their self-respect... We know the bureaucracy, Mr. Prime Minister, but it's like a jungle - you just have to take the governmental machete and smash a way through. But that has not been done..."
The second failure, Netanyahu said, was one of policy: "When Israel left Sinai [in 1982], it was done effectively, even if not everyone agreed with the plan. There are arrangements and supervisory mechanisms in place, and there is peace, and it worked. But the policy of unilateral withdrawals, which began [under then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak] in Lebanon, has simply not worked, neither in Lebanon nor in Gaza, because whatever area we abandon simply fills up with extremist Moslem elements. I can tell you, unlike what I have heard here from some speakers today, there will not be a third example of this policy [in Judea and Samaria]."
Netanyahu then mentioned the third failure, which he attributed in part to Ehud Olmert himself: "I have asked myself, what caused these withdrawals and running away? I believe that there is a failure of national will, a form of material fatigue. Olmert said in New York, 'We are tired of winning, we are tired of fighting.' ... No one wants wars, but when they're forced upon us, we have no choice - we must win. There can be no more 'we are tired.' I don't know how much longer you'll be in office, Mr. Prime Minister, but in the time you have left, you must change this theme. We are not tired in any sphere, and we must make it clear to our enemies that we will defeat them every arena. All of these three failures must be corrected -- if not by this government, then by the next one."
The government mustered a strong majority in the Knesset, and the Prime Minister's announcement was approved by a 55 - 18 vote, with 10 abstentions.