When Arik Sharon’s first grandson was born, MK Zvi Hendel, then Sharon’s friend, sent a huge bouquet of flowers from Gush Katif to the new grandfather. Lily was then alive, and the bouquet chosen was one of lilies, precisely the excited grandfather’s favorite. The idea of sending the lilies was that of Becky Winter, who owns a home-based flower arranging business. This week, in her home in Neveh Dekalim, Becky remembers those days, when Arik was still on their side and their only deliberation was over which kind of flowers he would prefer.
Becky remembers this and finds it hard to hold back the tears. She recalls those days with a mixture of sadness. Ten years ago she lost her husband Nehemia. It was just before Yom Kippur. Nehemia went to bathe in the Gush Katif beach and never came back. Later his body was pulled out of the water. Ever since that tragedy, Becky finds consolation in flowers. What began as a hobby in one small bucket, over the years turned into a flourishing, and mainly a satisfying business. Today all the residents of Gush Katif know her as “Becky of the flowers.” In a post-wedding ceremony held last week in Gush Katif for a young man who wed not long ago, the rabbi said in his speech that the first thing he has to teach him is where Becky lives.
When Becky talks about flowers her face lights up. Her eyes shine and a broad smile spreads over her face. When we talk about the possibility of leaving everything behind, the vitality is replaced by powerlessness. “It’s over. I just don’t know. This is something I did with my own two hands and it helped me get through difficult times. In the middle of August I don’t where I’ll rest my head, I certainly don’t know where I’ll put the flowers.”
Becky, 51, moved to Neveh Dekalim with her late husband Nehemia from Kibbutz Lavie 20 years ago. The Winter couple raised their four children in Gush Katif in a religious-Zionist lifestyle. Becky, a civil engineer by profession, worked full time in the local planning committee. Basically, she was the committee. When talk began about disengagement, and all construction plans in Gush Katif were frozen, work shrunk. She was left with the flowers.
Now, this too is about to close. Becky, like the other self employed in Gush Katif, doesn’t know where to seek hope. “The compensation doesn’t give me the option of setting up a new business,” she explains. “The compensation isn’t fair. It doesn’t enable us to continue the lives we had here somewhere else. At my age I cannot start getting into debt and taking loans. I’m about to lose everything. Here I’m almost a queen. Other places I will have to pass an acceptance committee, while here there’s nobody for whom I haven’t made a flower arrangement.” The Bourgeois are Ignored
The farmers in Gush Katif make headlines, and their hothouses appear on television and in newspaper reports, but only about a quarter of the Gush Katif residents are farmers. Half of the residents are salaried, and the other quarter is self employed with small businesses. Perhaps because they have yet to acquire an energetic lobby and receive representation on the council, their voice goes almost unheard.
When Gush Katif was established, the plan was for it to be populated mainly by farmers, and they were indeed given preferential status. In arnona [municipal tax] for example, there is a disparity of hundreds of percent between the tax on a building owned by a business owner and that of a farmer. Farmers pay half a shekel arnona for each square meter of a packing house, whereas arnona on a square meter of an industrial building is NIS 30 shekel, 60 times higher.
Neveh Dekalim, the first settlement in Gush Katif which was not established on a farming basis, is populated mainly by people who work in education, council workers, accountants, lawyers, and there is also a small business area. The commercial center was also established there, and it provides services to residents of all of the Gaza Strip.
If Sharon really wants to know where the Gush Katif residents wish to move, he should ask Sara Kortziya of Neveh Dekalim, the Gush Katif hair dresser. We’ll go wherever you go, her clients tell her. “I’ve put in years of work, and people have gotten used to me,” she says modestly. Kortziya, originally from Moshav Eitan near Kiryat Gat, did not move to Gush Katif for ideological reasons. In her single days she would go to Gush Katif once a week to do women’s hair. Twelve years ago she moved there with her husband Yitzhak, the council’s maintenance man, and they had six children.
Kortziya runs two hair salons today. One is in the commercial center of Neveh Dekalim and the second is in a studio apartment next to her house. The door to the salon, on which a poster saying “together we will win, Gush Katif,” is closed. Now are the days between Passover and Shavuot, and almost nobody in Gush Katif wants a haircut.
Kortziya would prefer to move as part of a group, this way her clients could move with her, but she knows that even if they do, it won’t be the same afterwards. “Because of my strategic location, I had more clients; when they are closer to the city, they will have more options. I won’t be the only one anymore. In the city I will have to jump into the lion’s den.”
She knows that in the city she will have to acquire a new style, more trendy. In Gush Katif, styles are conservative. “Hairdressing in the city means paying attention to style, it’s more complicated than a simple cut,” she explains. “Here you get used to a certain style. Religious people are more modest, less demanding, they want delicate highlights.” Kortziya will also have to get used to prices in the city. The prices in Gush Katif are a joke. A hair cut costs NIS 40; NIS 20 with blow dry; dye and highlights cost NIS 180.
In the four and a half years since the Intifada began, her business has been affected. “We’ve suffered in the last few years. People who are upset are in no hurry to go to the hairdresser once a month,” she says. “The farmers always had someone to look out for their interests, but in the period of all the mortar shell fire, when the electricity and water would stop, nobody thought about the small businesses. If I had a customer with dye on her head, we would have to run to the security room and look for a bottle of water to rinse her hair.”
They Want NIS 250 Million
Last year Becky, Sara and the other small business owners organized to promote their common interests. The future didn’t look rosy. The evacuation-compensation law offers them two tracks for receiving compensation: a property track, in which they are compensated according to the value of the property they own, and a financial track, in which they are compensated according to their business turnover. “The result is that property wise, we will get 50% of what we deserve, and by the financial track, we’ll get nothing,” says the chairman of the association, Yossi Noiman, a resident of Neveh Dekalim who owns a business for prefab structures, “in any case, we are being dispossessed of everything we’ve built here in the last 30 years. Only the farmers are being given attention, and we’ve been neglected. The first question people always ask me is ‘what do you grow,’ as if everyone here is a farmer. And this isn’t true. There are many families who don’t work in farming, and now they’re being buried economically. Business will close and we will not be able to carry on.”
Recently the association hired Atty. Gilad Sher to look out for their interests. No, this doesn’t mean they accept the uprooting, Noiman stresses. “Even a living person buys life insurance,” he says. The association has already appealed to the Prime Minister’s Office and to Prime Minister’s Office Director General Ilan Cohen and enumerated the injustices caused the business owners as a result of the law. The sum that the association is demanding for business to be established elsewhere stands at NIS 250 million.
There are some business owners in Gush Katif who do not accept the steps taken by the association. Meir Weinberg, a Neveh Dekalim resident, has been operating a garage in Gadid for the last six and a half years. Weinberg is one of those who prefer ignoring the evil decree, and is convinced that life will go on as usual. “My business will continue here,” he says. “I haven’t thought about what will happen if there is disengagement. I’m not interested in compensation. I’m not counting on compensation or anything else. I want to continue my business here.”
Weinberg, originally a kibbutznik from Hefetz Haim, moved to Gush Katif 17 years ago, and he and his wife have six children. Another son died at age 20 of an illness and is buried there. “What concerns me most is my son’s grave, that somebody could dare to touch it accidentally,” Weinberg says and is quick to qualify his words: “I have no intention of raising a hand against anyone, everything will be by pleasant means.”
Weinberg is not your usual garage mechanic. He wears blue work clothes, in the best kibbutz tradition, now has a beard because of the days between Passover and Shavuot [in which religious Jews don’t shave] and wears Teva sandals. He was a mechanic at the religious kibbutz Ein Tzurim for eight years, after which he moved to Gadid. Two cars are parked in his garage, located near the hothouses. The workers who come from the Gaza Strip went home at 4:00. Weinberg took them in his car. “There is complete co-existence and peace between us,” he boasts, “and I give them medicine, I look out for them, I call them. I had one worker whose wife had a problem during her pregnancy and I gave him a loan for treatments. If there is disengagement, God forbid, it is clear to my workers that they have no work on the day after. We provide work for 10,000 workers.”
Weinberg’s clients are mainly Gush Katif residents. Sometimes people who come from the outside get stuck in their cars and need Weinberg. In the last demonstration on Passover, a car got stuck on the landing field near the hotel, and Weinberg came to rescue it. A garage in Gush Katif does not operate like any garage. Because of the distance, logistics are different and spare parts must be brought from the outside. [.]
There is another garage in Gush Katif, with whom there is also co-existence. “We send each other business,” Weinberg explains. “We help each other, we’re neighbors in all senses.” Haim Berger, who rents the area to Weinberg, explains that in Gush Katif, it’s not about business, it’s about family. “We don’t keep score, the door is open,” says Berger.
A Ray of Light
The only hope in this story is in fact from the Knesset. Deputy Interior Minister MK Ruhama Avraham, who was a member of the Knesset Finance Committee when the evacuation-compensation law was enacted, recently initiated the establishment of a compensation fund for small business in Gush Katif. Avraham, who is chairwoman of the subcommittee for small businesses, plans to establish, along with the Disengagement Administration and the association, a fund that will compensate the businesses beyond what is stated in the law, making it possible for them to continue on the day after disengagement. The fund, according to the plan being formulated, will include loans, some of which will become grants. “I supported disengagement, but we must not abandon the evacuees,” says Avraham. “The small businesses that will be re established with the help of the fund will make it possible for their owners to continue to earn a dignified living, and will also help the state economy.”
But for Becky of the flowers, opening a new business doesn’t appear practical. “I’m not 16. I have a body of clients, I work on a basis of trust. Everything here works on a personal basis. At the moment, the way things are now, it’s over. I won’t have the same circle of clients. I lose everything. I think I’m losing everything that can be lost. My friends, my house. I’ve gone through tragedies and joy here, and above all, I have a grave here that will have to be moved. When you go through a tragedy, you gather all your mental strength to handle it, for your home to continue to be a home, for everything to continue to function, and now everything is going ten years back.”
Until August, Becky will continue to wreathe stylish bouquets that match tablecloths. A customer told her not long ago: “I’m not budging from here until the soldiers knock on the door. And when they knock on the door, I want there to be flowers on the table, the way there always are.”
This article appeared in the May 6th weekend supplement of Maariv