The 65 families are currently located in the Kfar Pines Ulpanah Girls High School near Hadera. "The high school has been exceedingly generous to us," said one resident. "They have given us an office, and even more impressively, the girls - who just arrived this week to begin the new school year - are sleeping outside in tents, while our families are using their dorm rooms."
Every day they remain means more hardship for both themselves and the Ulpanah. An arrangement had been made with the Prime Minister's Office for the families to relocate two hours to the south to Eibim, where students of the nearby Negev College reside. Eibim is close to the Katif children's schools and to many of their parent's jobs, while the Negev students would be housed in Sderot - much closer to their place of study.
The arrangement was abruptly canceled on Sunday, however.
The apartments in Eibim are very small - just 45 square meters (roughly 450 square feet) for each family - but there are enough for each of the Katif families to receive two adjacent units. The double-unit would still be a third of the size of many of the homes the newly displaced residents worked 25 years to build.
The decision to move the Katif people to Eibim - within the purview of the Shaar HaNegev Regional Council - was made in a meeting on Thursday between Jewish Agency officials and those of the Prime Minister's Office.
On Sunday, however, Jewish Agency Treasurer Shai Chermesh - a former head of the Shaar HaNegev Regional Council - made his objections known, and his successor, present Council head Alon Shuster, explained why.
Contacted by Arutz-7, Shuster said he would not lend his hand to "displacing new immigrant students, including from Russia and Ethiopia, so as to house the people of Katif. The Katif people made a political decision not to get organized in advance, and so I'm making a political decision not to allow them to displace these students..."
A-7: "It sounds like you're taking some type of revenge against families whose entire world was turned upside-down, and who have no place to go."
Shuster: "What revenge? We have helped other families... We're taking in 220 [other Gush Katif] students into our schools... I can offer them a solution for a third of the families, 22 of them, to be in Kibbutz Mefalsim."
When asked what the rest of the families are to do, he said, "If every regional council would solve a third of these housing problems, we'd be in good shape."
The point has often been made that the families of Gush Katif were well within their rights in refusing to give up hope and not cooperating with those who wanted to displace them - especially in view of the long-time perception that the plan might not be actualized.
In addition, nearly six months ago, Atty. Yitzchak Meron - representing the residents' interests on a voluntary basis - publicly warned, "The first thing that should have been done, and should be done, is to find places to relocate entire communities. But for almost a year since Sharon first announced this plan, the government did absolutely nothing in this regard. Only this past November, did it begin thinking about it - but what did it offer? [Places] that are totally not appropriate to the agriculture of Gush Katif... We recommended the Nitzanim area between Ashkelon and Ashdod, and the government refused. Only recently has it begun considering this seriously – with no chance that anything will be ready in time, even if it works out... The government must prepare the new sites in advance. Instead, what is happening is that the government is preparing to uproot the people twice – first to the temporary home, and then two years from now, or whenever the new homes are ready, to the new place. All experts agree that the damage to children under such circumstances is much worse...”
Council head Shuster said that the Eibim arrangement he vetoed was only for 75 days in any event, "after which their next quarters [a temporary caravan site in an as-yet unknown location in the south -ed.] are to be ready..."
Katif spokesman Ezra Haidu said, "So he's willing for our families to roll around with no roof over our heads for 75 days." He said that the families of Katif insist on remaining together, as per experts' recommendations, and that Eibim is the only such solution available.
"We have to get out of Kfar Pines almost immediately," he explained, "as our children have to start school, many of us have to get back to work, and - possibly most critically - the girls of the Ulpanah are sleeping in tents because we're here, and they have to start school. So we have no choice... On the other hand, the students in Eibim are three kilometers from their college, while the apartments they will be given in Sderot are just a five-minute walk away."
The residents of Katif have written the following open letter to the Prime Minister:
"We would like to thank you, and especially your bureau director Ilan Cohen, for your attempts to find temporary communal solutions for us in the south... On Sunday, the solution in Eibim - which was agreeable to all - was suddenly canceled! We ask you: Why? Why should our children not be allowed to join their friends who have already started studying? Why should parents with jobs in the south not be able to keep their jobs, without driving four hours each day? Why give up the positive solution proposed for the students to move to Sderot, to a place closer to their college?... Why cancel the only communal solution that will enable us to try to encourage and strengthen each other during the difficult times that we face )and which are getting worse every day, especially for the children)?... We would not like to find ourselves, in a matter of days, without a roof and having to build ourselves a tent encampment..."
Haidu said he expects an answer from the Prime Minister's Office this afternoon. He later found out, however, that the decision has been shuffled off to the Ministerial Committee on Disengagement Matters, which is to convene tomorrow (Wednesday).