Dr. Miriam Billing and Professor Yossi Katz, of the Florsheimer Center for Policy Studies, anticipated the government disregard for the wellbeing of those being removed from their homes because of the “disengagement.” They did everything in their power to improve on the situation, to no avail.
Katz and Billing, professional sociologists, described their perceptions during a press conference in Jerusalem held at the Israel Resource News Agency at the Beit Agron Press Center on August 15th.
All of their prior studies and experience told them that those being moved would do far better if they were relocated with their communities in tact. These are not city people, accustomed to the anonymity of apartment dwelling, who are being moved; these are people in small settlements who have established strong bonds with their neighbors over a period of many years. Separating communities would greatly increase the trauma of what is already a painful move.
Before Pesach, Katz and Billing began to publish position papers on this issue. They recommended a delay of at least six months in order for the government to have time to replicate the communities for the people, in tact, in a new location (presumably Nitzan). They made it clear that the issue for them was not the disengagement, but how that disengagement would be handled. They held a conference and added to their ranks two professionals, one with Shalom Achshav (Israeli Peace Now).
At least three times they met with personnel from Prime Minister Sharon’s office, including Ilan Cohen, who is in charge of coordinating actions among the various government ministries. Do scatter these people and re-settle them simply as individuals, they were advised. It all fell on deaf ears, as it appeared the government had no interest in listening to the professional suggestions.
Additionally, a group of rabbis went to Sharon and begged for a delay, to allow planning to take place, in the interest of chesed (kindness/caring). Sharon refused.
As this is written and the “disengagement” process is about to begin, the situation for those being expelled from their homes is horrendous:
The local settlement councils have now been officially closed down. Leaders have no authority to lead: no one is officially in charge and there are no social services available.
Many still do not know where they are going. The government made an announcement that there is a place for everyone. Not only is this not so, in many instances what has been offered is severely inadequate:
Some families with 6, 8 or more children are being offered one or two bedroom apartments. Secular and religious families are being mixed, with lack of regard for sensibilities. In some instances there is an attempt to place people in undesirable apartments that contractors could not sell. In other instances there are attempts to place people in rural communities – kibbutzim and moshavim — that are failing, in order to bolster them with new blood. This is without regard for whether these communities are appropriate for those being places there. Schooling has been assured, but in some instances the schools are a long distance away; in other instances there is disregard for the type of schooling that will be available.
The people of Gush Katif and Northern Samaria are thus severely depressed. The depression extends beyond the fact that they must move from places that many believe ideologically they should be allowed to remain in. It involves the fact that they feel no one understands them, cares about them, or wishes to attend to their needs.
Say Billing and Katz, the government had the tools to build another gush (bloc of communities). The people in the Sinai were moved out with such planning. It can be done. The government bears responsibility here.
The government, for its part, claims that the settlers did not cooperate. Billing and Katz maintain that this is not an excuse. Ideologically, there were people who simply could not cooperate. The government, they say, had the responsibility to proceed unilaterally anyway, and then have the communities in place when the time for “disengagement” came.
There is still time now, say Professor Katz, for the government to do proper planning. If it refuses, it seems as if there is stupidity at work, or a policy based purely on economic considerations (do it cheaply, not humanely), or – not beyond the realm of possibility — a covert policy to break the settler communities.
What is clear is that this current situation can not stand.
In some instances, the local communities themselves are taking the situation in hand. Some will move to tent cities, in tact, rather than to undesirable housing arranged by the government. The ability of communities to plan now depends in large part on the leadership of each. In Neve Dekalim, the largest of the communities, people do not know where they are going, because they were advised by their rabbi that this would never happen. The people of Ganei Tal, on the other hand, are moving in tact to Hofetz Haim, on their own initiative.
Mental health professionals are currently organizing on a volunteer basis to give advice and comfort to the people of Gush Katif and Northern Samaria. There is hope that organization can be sufficient to provide a variety of services. Of importance is assistance in helping individuals stay in contact with friends and neighbors from their communities who have been dispersed far and wide.
Still more than this needs to be done. At present an appeal is before the Court for an injunction that would delay the “disengagement” process until these issues can be satisfactorily resolved. The government has made clear, specific promises with regard to humanitarian services that have not been honored. The request is for a delay in the process in the face of this government failure.
Activists who have worked diligently against the “disengagement” need now to be informed of what the scope of the government failure has been, so that they may apply appropriate pressure on the government to honor their humanitarian responsibilities to those who are being expelled from their homes.