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No end in sight for Gush Katif expellees
By JOSH HASTEN
12/02/2013
It’s been far too long without a remedy, and still there is no end in sight.
 
Sitting in her tiny caravan and looking up at the water stains and cracks in the ceiling from the winter rain, Gush Katif expellee and current Nitzan resident Rachel Saperstein has had enough.

Referring to her community as a “refugee camp” Saperstein tells me with obvious frustration in her voice during a recent interview that “it’s time to leave.”

The 72-year-old mother and grandmother, a New York native, along with her husband Moshe – who lost an arm while serving in the IDF during the Yom Kippur War, and was then severely wounded again in a terror attack near their Neve Dekalim home in 2002 – are among the over 60 percent of former Gush Katif residents who, seven-and-a-halfyears after the expulsion, are still not living in permanent homes.

This normally bubbly, always cheerful, laughing and optimistic Gush Katif pioneer is not smiling anymore.

“I’m angry, I’m depressed, I’m frustrated, I want to get going and build my house, but I can’t do it. I keep hearing from them [the Tenufa Authority, formerly known as the Sela Authority, which is responsible for assisting Gush Katif families with resettlement] – ‘next month, next month,’ but nothing is moving.”

According to Saperstein, she and her husband have already acquired a parcel of land in the Lachish area, home to many other former Gush Katif families, have architectural plans and have picked a builder.

The only thing holding them back is the lack of a permit for their new home.

“We’re not the only ones,” she says. “Many of our neighbors are also still waiting for permits.”

Saperstein says she has no explanation as to why her building permit has been delayed.

“I think the Tenufa are well-intentioned people, but they are at the bottom of the bureaucratic government pyramid, so nothing seems to be moving.

But worse,” she says, “many of the people here can’t even move [into permanent housing] because they don’t have the money to build. We all received a small amount of money from the government [in 2005], which amounts to about half of what it would cost to build a house. But you have people here who took huge loans and are still paying off mortgages on the houses which were destroyed in Gush Katif.”

She adds that “the government money was used for living expenses. People didn’t have jobs – they lost their jobs as a result of the expulsion, so they had to use those funds from the government just to feed their children, for education, and just to get by.”

In total, according to Saperstein, “about 50 families in Nitzan do not have the financial resources necessary to allow them to move. They are desperate, and they have even come to me for help.”

Adding to the tension were press reports in Ma’ariv last month indicating that eviction orders were issued to 165 unsettled Nitzan families who were unable or refused to pay a newly issued rent fee on their caravans.

According to Arutz 7 news Tenufa clarified those reports, indicating that Nitzan residents who had rented rather than owned homes in Gush Katif will now be asked to pay rent on their caravans.

Exceptions would be given, said the Arutz 7 report, to those who have started construction on their permanent homes, but families who have not started building – which would include the Sapersteins – will have to settle rent issues with Amigur, the company which manages the Nitzan site.

“I have been getting phone calls from all over the world asking what’s going on [with regard to the possible evictions],” says Saperstein. “It’s frightening, and it’s sad. We were trying to keep our moods together as we were being bombed [during the recent war in Gaza], and now comes the second boom – being told that you are going to be thrown out of your caravilla [caravan] if you don’t find a way to build a house – so fine, [if that’s the case] give me a permit [to build]!” Throughout the years of turmoil Saperstein has done what she can to help those around her suffering as a result of the expulsion. She founded a small amuta (charity), originally called the “Band Aid Fund,” to help cash starved families.

Now known as Operation Dignity, Saperstein’s organization is involved with various projects to help former Gush Katif families including raising funds for educational scholarships, self-help work programs, and providing food subsidies to needy families, among other important endeavors.

She is also grateful for the work being done by the Friends of Gush Katif organization in funding community projects, and by the JobKatif organization that helps get people back on their feet through job placements and a slew of other employment services and trainings.

But Saperstein says enough is enough.

“Meanwhile, we’re 72 years old, and we want to build our home. We can’t keep waiting until we’re 73, 74, or 75. We’re getting very nice prospectim [brochures] from old-age homes around the country saying ‘welcome, come to us and you’ll have an apartment and you’ll dance and you’ll sing,’ but that’s not what we want, we want to build our home in Lachish.”

For Saperstein, and all of the other Gush Katif families who were told that there would be a “solution for everyone,” it’s been far too long without a remedy, and still there is no end in sight.

The writer is a media expert, freelance journalist and the host of Reality Bytes Radio on www.israelnationalradio.com.
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