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
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.”
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.”
says she has no explanation as to why her building permit has been
“I think the Tenufa are well-intentioned people, but they are at
the bottom of the bureaucratic government pyramid, so nothing seems to be
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.”
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
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.
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
But Saperstein says enough is enough.
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.
writer is a media expert, freelance journalist and the host of Reality Bytes
Radio on www.israelnationalradio.com.