As police played cat and mouse with young demonstrators in Hebron last week, some only 12 years old, it emerged that among them are children only recently evicted from Gush Katif who came to protest the threat to remove other Jews from their homes.
"Many of the youth evicted from Gush Katif five months ago feel frustration and anger, convinced that they did not do enough to prevent the disengagement," declared Eli Akerman, a former resident of Neveh Dekalim and Director of Psychological Services in Kiryat Arba, from his temporary home in the Shalom Hotel, Jerusalem.
"They saw that the Gush Katif campaign, whose slogan was 'With Love we Shall Win,' sounds very nice, but in reality it didn't work," he noted. "Now there is a lot of anger, and mistrust of the leadership who counseled that course of action, hence the new slogan, "Hebron is not Gush Katif."
Akerman said there are kids who are upset that they obeyed their parents and left before the evacuation, while others regret voluntarily boarding the buses that took them away. "They are determined to fight it this time. It is an extremely explosive situation," he said.
Penina Alfasi, a Neveh Dekalim evacuee and nursery school teacher, spoke with The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, just after receiving news that her 14-year-old son was returning "home" to their hotel.
"My son has been in Hebron since Sunday. I was frightened for his safety but he pleaded and cried with us to let him go and we just couldn't stop him," she said. "Before the disengagement, he was very active attending demonstrations, talking to the soldiers to try to convince them not to take part. He plans on enlisting when he's of age, to try to influence the army for the better."
"He called me from Hebron the other day to tell me that Yassamnikim [police special force units] had chased him and some others, but they hid in a synagogue," she added. "Now he is on the bus on his way back - I hope that we can convince him not to return. I don't know what the solution is, but as a mother I don't want him involved."
Akerman considers the decision to carry out eviction orders now extremely irresponsible, saying the government should back off. "The youth only came to Hebron because of the eviction. This situation should be treated delicately. I would like to believe otherwise, but delegitimization of settler youth, intimidation by Yassamnikim and arrests so soon after the Gush Katif evacuation- [suggests] someone has an interest in blood and violence. A senior officer even threatened the kids with his loaded firearm. What kind of a reaction do they expect?"
Though Akerman was not in Hebron during the recent protests, members of his staff were there to keep people out of danger and reduce trauma. "A few of the Gush Katif youth were in Hebron; others wanted to go but couldn't face the pain of reviving their memories of confrontations with the security forces and the threat of expulsion," said Akerman. "Many youth went to show by their physical presence that they have not been defeated and the struggle is not over.
"My own teenage daughter asked us for permission to go to Hebron - she assured us she would avoid any situation that looked violent, but she felt that she needed to try to prevent what happened to her from happening to anyone else. My wife was not keen on the idea, but I would have allowed her to go if she acted responsibly."
Rina Akerman, Eli's wife, a homemaker and mother of 11, said: "We received reports that the police were beating up even passive protesters, so it would be dangerous for a petite 13-year-old girl to place herself in that situation."
One of the Akerman's sons, Ben-Zion, told the Post that he would have been in Hebron if not for his matriculation exams. Some of his friends stayed away for the same reason, whilst others did participate. The eleventh-grader, whose yeshiva high school was closed after the disengagement, moved to a dormitory school without his former classmates. He has found it difficult to concentrate on his studies.
"I didn't have problems in school before the disengagement, but now I just sit in class staring at the pages, I can't focus on the material," he explained. "I was supposed to take my English exam on Monday, but I just couldn't do it. I have another matriculation exam in two weeks, then I'll go to Hebron."
Ben-Zion Akerman is angry at the way the media has portrayed the "Orange Youth." "They keep saying we are violent - but it is the secular kids who carry knives to defend themselves when they go to nightclubs. We don't behave like that, yet they are determined to show us as violent," he says.
Eli Akerman contends the state's failure to provide proper emotional assistance to the evacuees is one of the key problems. "Ten thousand people were evicted from their homes in August - every family has someone who is suffering and in need of counseling and the parents are so busy with their own personal pain and with trying to cope with myriad small difficulties like the compensation bureaucracy and unemployment that they cannot provide emotional support for their children," he said. "The youth are clearly demonstrating symptoms of post-trauma such as difficulty in concentrating, learning difficulties etc. Yet the government has provided very few psychological services."
Liav Sade-Beck of the Disengagement Authority Adviser for Community Affairs told the Post that since opening in September, the Maanim hot line, designed specifically for the evacuees, with an available staff of 54 trained counselors around the country, has responded to 190 cases - providing individual, family and marital counseling.
Akerman considers that relatively small number to be proof of the government's failure to create appropriate psychological services, asking, "What about all the others who are not receiving the professional help they need to overcome their trauma? This is one of the reasons that Hebron has ignited such strong reactions, because the emotional needs of the youth and adults after the disengagement have been neglected."
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