Commissioned by Israel Resource News Agency and the Center for Near East Policy Research

“No Treatment for Special Needs Children”

There are three families currently living in Ir Haemuna who have young children who have special needs, and who received regular treatments, paid for by National Insurance, in Neve Dekalim, the “capital” of Gush Katif, before the disengagement. One of the children, a 5-year-old boy, is recognized as a victim of terror, and receives treatments as a result of a mortar injury he suffered when he was only a year old.

Since the families did not know how long they would be in Ir Haemuna, they began to arrange for the children to receive treatment shortly before Rosh Hashana.

According to one mother, they were told by the supervisor of the local treatment center five minutes away that she was given an instruction by the Prime Minister’s office to not give treatment to any children from Ir Haemuna.

A more senior supervisor, who was also the supervisor of Special Education facilities in Gush Katif before the disengagement, stepped into the picture and met with the families on the eve of Succot, and said she would attempt to solve the problem.

The Prime Minister’s office did not respond to our question about the incident.

More on Ir Haemuna below.

Moshav Katif The members of Moshav Katif have been staying in the Ulpana in Kfar Pines since the disengagement. Dvir Cohen, spokesman for Moshav Katif, says that the possible deal with Kibbutz Hafetz Haim fell through because the Disengagement Authority was not willing to pay for meals and the families of Moshav Katif, none of whom, to the best of his knowledge, have received compensation yet, do not have the funds to pay for food, nor do they have the facilities in the small guest house rooms to cook for themselves. The day after Succot, the Katif community will be moving to the King Saul Hotel in Ashkelon (which means that the elementary school children will have to change schools again).

The long term plan is to end up in the Lachish area, but it is not clear where they will be between a short stay about a month in the hotel and when they go to Lachish. Among the possibilities being discussed are being in a high-rise apartment building in Ashkelon, being in the Nechusha area in the Negev. There were originally almost 60 families in Moshav Katif. There are currently about 45 left in the Ulpana. The others have scattered to Ir Haemunah, to parents or friends or other private arrangements. This is one more example of a community that is slowly being broken up.

Seven sites of the Gush Katif community were visited over the Succot holiday.

Ganei Tal – Yad Binyamin 1 [Photos available]

The people from Ganei Tal are still living in cramped conditions in Kibbutz Hafetz Haim, although they are complimentary about how the kibbutz and its guest house has received them. They still have only two washing machines for more than 60 families, and have grown used to taking their laundry with them to family and friends when they go to visit.

The caravan site, to which they are due to move some time soon after the Succot holiday, is in the process of being completed. People from Ganei Tal have testified that there were homes that were tested for water-proofedness and found faulty. A “tour” of several of these houses confirmed what has been said about the small sizes of the rooms, and the fact that the living-dining-kitchen area is small and not sufficient for a regular sized family, including their kitchen appliances, and normal sized dining and living room furniture. There were no security rooms in the houses, as is required in new buildings by Israeli law. An outside glance at some of the houses revealed crooked “trisim” (closing blinds), which raises the question if those are freak occurrences or an indication of the general quality of the building materials and/or process. The homes are set very close together and the windows face each other so there is no semblance of privacy.

One Ganei Tal resident who toured a sample house, said about it, “Aside from the fact that it’s made out of cardboard, it’s not bad.”

Nitzan Residents here are from Neve Dekalim and a number of other Gush Katif communities [Photos available]

It had rained for approximately fifteen minutes in Nitzan that day, and there were some streets that were filled with water, where the drainage was faulty, and many muddy areas.

MK Uzi Landau visited Nitzan that day, met with local residents and then toured one of the homes. At the same time there was a visit by Nobel Prize winner Professor Yisrael (Robert) Aumann and the head of World Mizrachi, Mr. Kurt Rothschild, who said that World Mizrachi had donated succot to Nitzan and elsewhere.

The residents spoke with MK Landau about the debilitating issue of unemployment. Aaron Hazut, who had been the head of the secretariat of the Gan Or community before the disengagement, who is himself a victim of terror, led the discussion from the side of the residents. There are currently 270 families living in Nitzan. Hazut says, “We were not among those who said, ‘It won’t happen’. We didn’t think it would ‘weaken anyone to plan in advance; we wanted to find a solution.” He then went on to describe to MK Landau the problems that they’ve encountered, in spite of their decision to plan.

The main issue raise was unemployment. Hazut said, “The government built a local employment office but the ‘solutions’ they’re suggesting are putting salt in the wounds. There is a real feeling of unkept promises. The homes don’t have the proper infrastructure or security. The employment office doesn’t offer any real solutions. We’re trying to create the solutions ourselves.”

According to Hazut, there were originally 420 farmers in Gush Katif, of which 200 actually worked the land themselves. Most of those ended up in Nitzan. He said that 520 families would be located in Nitzan in the end, including others from Neve Dekalim.

The farmers claimed that the land they were offered was not developed; they were told to use their compensation money to develop it but then there would have left them nothing to build their businesses with afterwards.

They say that the compensation is based on what things were worth six years ago, but everything has gone up since then – the raw materials, gas, solar, etc. They valued their worth according to the old prices but they will have to pay the new prices. (This and other issues were raised before the disengagement by attorneys who brought petitions to the High Court of Justice, but ten out of eleven judges found, in most instances, against the people to be disengaged.)

Personal comments by farmers: o So we sat [with the Disengagement Authority] before the disengagement, and what good came of it? Only bad – the entire Gush fell apart. You [politicians] also only worked on how to prevent it. Even during that period, those MK’s who considered themselves the “rebels”, should have worried about the “day after”.

o Personal comment: “They wouldn’t tell someone who lived on a kibbutz for 20 years, ‘Go rent an apartment on the third floor in a city… ‘”

o Another Farmer: We have to fight for everything.

o I was a person who was active, busy, doing business, now is doing nothing. We still have to pay our everyday supplies, but there are some people who have no income since June!

o We have to buy storage sheds, different furniture…The ministry of agriculture didn’t find solutions for us. My equipment is thrown in Masuot Yitzhak, and parts of it are always being stolen.

o They give us 90 meter homes in these kinds of conditions, and then we have to spend tens of thousands of shekels on storage. I look at the newspapers nothing appears there about this. We expect the people “in charge” to help take care of these things, to have a heart.

o We brought millions of dollars into the state of Israel through our exports. This [disengagement] is a national crime. And we’re a society who are law-abiding…

o There aren’t closets in the homes, someone had to spend NIS 40,000 just on all new closets. We’re still paying mortgages, and being charged $450 for rent.

o Farmer: We, who were super-farmers, are now super-unemployed. I grew 90 dunams of cherry tomatoes, exported tons to Europe, employed 60 workers a typical Gush Katif farmer. When I signed up for unemployment, they wanted me to take a job in a carton factory, folding cartons at minimum wage. Some of my Thai workers, that are working somewhere else, hopefully temporarily, are receiving NIS 5,000 a month. I would have received NIS 3,000 a month. We need something to get up for in the morning.

o At the most, we’ll receive 60% of what our real worth is, and that’s the best case scenario. They’re offering compensation that will be able to bring us, at best, to 50% of the output we had before. There is no possibility that we’ll reach what we reached before. We’ve already lost one season. Even if I started building right now, I won’t be able to get it off the ground till September, 2006.

o The day before the disengagement we sat with the Director of the Ministry of Agriculture and he said, “I’ll do thus and thus…”A month later, when we sat with him, we saw there are no solutions. They offer land far away, or inappropriate…The Minister of Agriculture doesn’t relate to us, or his deputy minister.

o They offered us land that is not sandy, not appropriate to our organic produce for which we developed an expertise. We can’t use up all our compensation on developing land. But we can’t just sit at home doing nothing, either.

o It takes an average of three years just to “learn” the agricultural land area. They say that it took the farmers from Yamit five years before they were able to produce effectively again [and they had three years in advance to prepare, and much higher level of compensation TKG].

o We had special terms with Agrexco and others; one has to work hard to be accepted into that “club”; now we have to start from scratch.

o At first, they came to us with the offer of going to Kibbutz Nahal Oz, to give us 2,000 dunams there. The government was to take care of the infrastructure. The only problem was that the kibbutz didn’t give the land in the end.

A visit was made to several families who live in Nitzan. They were obviously trying to make the most of the situation by arranging the homes nicely, but they all commented that they had to spend money on storage sheds, new closets or furniture that fit the small rooms, and other items, such as trisim (blinds). Unlike the caravans in Yad Binyamin, the homes in Nitzan all come without blinds, even though the homes look into each other. One family the Farjun’s – estimated that they had to spend between NIS 25,000 and NIS 30,000 on items that they would not have had to buy, had they stayed in Gush Katif, and that will not be covered by any compensation.

On a very troublesome note: They told MK Landau that three teenagers have been hospitalized in the psychiatric ward in Beer Sheva. “It’s a human tragedy,” said one resident. “There is no treatment for the problems of the teenagers. Not to mention how they feel, when they come home and ask, ‘Abba, what did you do all day?’ And these are youth who, before the disengagement, when professionals were sent to study them, were considered psychologically the strongest among youth.”

MK Landau promised to pursue solutions for the various issues.

Gan Or – Kibbutz Yavne [Photo of Dorit and Tzvika available]

There are five families from the community of Gan Or who have been absorbed into Kibbutz Yavne on the basis of residents, not members, for the next two years. One family we visited, Dorit and Tzvika Fixler, had settled into a little kibbutz home that was 30% the size of their home in Gan Or. Dorit, who worked full time as an art teacher in Gush Katif, had not yet started working, as there already are art teachers in the kibbutz. Tzvika, who, with Dorit, owned a highly successful bio strawberry growing farm that exported extensively to Europe, is now working as a salaried employee for an irrigation company. They do not know what their long term plan will be and, like the other Gan Or people, are exploring a number of possibilities. The families in Kibbutz Yavne from Gan Or, mostly from the field of agriculture, made arrangements in advance, but because there was not a location that could take all of them, Gan Or was one of the communities that did not succeed in remaining together following the disengagement.

Elei Sinai Tent City [Photos available]

According to spokesperson Edi Amit, families left in the tent city of Elei Sinai are waiting for the government to make them an offer of a communal settlement. The large Bedouin carpets meant to give a “feel of home” were sunk into the mud, as it had rained that day. A sign facing the highway says, “59 days without a home” (on October 19) and another sign, on a makeshift clinic tent, reads, “We treat people with sensitivity and determination”, a reference to the instructions given to the soldiers who removed people from their homes.

Shirat Hayam Hotel in Ashkelon Residents from Bdoloch, Morag, Elei Sinai and elsewhere. [Photos available]

There are about 40 families left in this hotel.

The hotel, at the instructions of the Disengagement Authority, has allowed the people to remain in the hotel rooms but has closed the dining room. We found them, at dinnertime on chol hamoed Succot, sitting around a little table in the lobby, eating meals out of airline-type packets, that have been donated. For the most part, they buy their own food now. Most of them have not yet received any compensation and are unemployed.

Other families from those settlements, who had desperately wanted to stay together as communities, are scattered around the country. Rabbi Yishai Bar-Hen, who had been the rabbi of the secular, northern Gazan communities, gave us a tour, and was astounded to discover, in the process, that the hotel had dismantled the synagogue room. He expressed bitterness and anger about what he called “a lack of basic humanity” being shown the Gazan Jews. Another member of the Elei Sinai community fumed as she showed us the what she referred to as a “one-sided” contract that they had been offered by Kibbutz Carmia [contract available in Hebrew], where there already is an area with caravans for the disengaged, and more are due to be built. “The caravans aren’t ready yet,” she says, “but the Disengagement Authority wants us to move anyway.” She pointed out a clause stating that that they could not have “invited guests” in their homes, without permission of the kibbutz, only guests who “happen by”. [We have a copy of the contract.] They will be charged rent (deducted from their compensation, while they are still paying mortgages), almost $500 including expenses as of August 15, even though they will be moving in some time, they hope, in November. The payment is supposed to come from the Disengagement Authority, but the contract states that they will be required to pay, themselves, if the Authority does not. Also, the evacuees, not the Disengagement Authority, are required to have two guarantors sign the contract.

The secular Gazans said they were sorry that, whereas religious settlers were given succot as gifts, they were not offered to most of the secular. When asked if it was common practice for secular Jews in Israel to build succot, they replied, “We all did in Gaza.”

Atzmona Ir Haemunah (near Netivot) [Photos available]

Atmona’s tent city, called in Hebrew “Ir Haemunah” The City of Faith is located on the outskirts of Netivot, a city in the Negev. It is in an abandoned factory compound. There is a reconstructed temporary playground in an empty area across the road, for Atzmona’s many children.

Large industrial tents have been set up and separated by plyboard and various materials into separate living quarters. Concrete and rubber sheeting have supplanted the pastoral community of grass and palm trees.

Atzmona was the “holy” settlement in Gush Katif, unique in its combination of deeply committed, religious people who were also welcoming and tolerant to outsiders. They allowed no televisions or secular newspapers into the community, and many of the adults were involved in the study or teaching of Torah; others were farmers who ran the largest plant nursery in the Middle East. It also boasted one of Israel’s most famous pre-army study (“mechina”) programs, headed by a rabbi who had been a pilot in the air force. That program has relocated to Yated, a community in the Negev, close to the Egyptian border and within the range of mortars from Gaza, where about 20 of Atzmona’s families including many farmers and the mechina teachers – went after the disengagement.

Most of the others about 57 families – have remained here, while they await a community solution. They are not interested in apartments scattered in various cities, or in what they consider the large, impersonal, Nitzan development, which are the only options they’ve been offered so far by the Disengagement Authority. A handful of families have arranged for other living quarters, for now.

There are areas in the compound set aside for study, for prayer, and the second floor of the factory has the school. The Ministry of Education refuses to finance either the school or the pre-schools. Bathrooms and showers for the community are metal stalls standing in a row at one end.

A slice of life: The “rabbanit” of Atzmona, Meira Netanel, welcomes us in their tent and explains that, “It’s been a hard day. The concrete is not level, and all the rain flowed down to our side and flooded the tents here.” She spent the day picking items up off the wet floor and trying to push the water out of the tent. Two of her daughters were sitting on a small couch, using plastic chairs as desks. There were crayons, books, and a Hebrew version of Monopoly on nearby stools.

Shabbat candlesticks stood on a small white tablecloth on a well-worn wooden bureau, and a bamboo bookshelf held food supplies. Meira said they were about to leave for a funeral near Yated. The 83-year-old man known as “Saba (Grandfather) Tzadok” Raab (brother of the Israeli poet Esther Raab), who became a media star during the disengagement, had passed away that afternoon. He was the oldest person to be expelled from Gush Katif, and was a favorite with the young people of Atzmona. “Saba Tzadok” was shown on Israeli TV when he spoke with the soldiers and officers who came to remove him from his home in Atzmona. He tried to return a medal to an IDF officer, a medal he received from the State of Israel for his personal war efforts against the Nazi’s, who destroyed his first home in Czechoslovakia. He also lived and fought in Kfar Etzion, that fell in the War of Independence in 1948, with the rest of Gush Etzion, and he sat in a Jordanian prisoners of war camp after that for a year. He lived for 18 years near his son in Atzmona, since the death of his wife, and worked in the Atzmona plant nursery. During the disengagement, he no longer wanted an Israeli medal, hence his attempt to return it.

Meira told us that her husband, the rabbi, had visited Saba Tzadok just before Rosh Hashana, and Saba had told him of his joy to at least be living in a new settlement in the Negev, where he would be able to bring a little bit of “tikun”, repair, to the world, following the disengagement. He worked a little bit every day, in spite of his age.

When asked what their future plans are, Meira said, “The government is offering us something in the Lachish area [where some other Gush Katif communities would also be] but nothing is finalized yet. There is a secular kibbutz there, with eleven families, of the Hashomer Hatzair [Communist] movement. We’d be perfectly happy for them to stay in the area, but they apparently would want to move, and have asked the government for compensation that it is not willing to pay. So I don’t know how long it will take. We may be here [in the tent city] for months.”

Interim possibilities? “Yes, in apartments scattered in various cities. But we want to remain a community.”

Her words are confirmed by Yonatan Rom, a member of the Atzmona secretariat, and he adds, “If the government wanted to help us relocate now with the same determination that they expelled us, we’d no longer be living in this tent city.”

There is a sign hanging from the “school” balcony, a sheet painted with the words, “It is impossible to stop this faith.”

For more information or contact information:
Toby Klein Greenwald
0523-822104 From abroad: 972-523-822104