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Minister for Pensioners Affairs Rafi Eitan has proposed appointing a minister for Sderot and Gaza-periphery communities' affairs.
According to Eitan's initiative, which he brought up Sunday in a meeting with reservist protesters from Sderot, the future minister would coordinate the daily affairs of local residents, manage civilian institutions and help business owners and the local economy maintain a routine.
Eitan told the reservists in his Jerusalem office that the funding for the new ministry would be taken from relevant offices such as the Education Ministry, the Social Affairs Ministry and the Construction and Housing Ministry. It was not clear whether this was Eitan's private initiative, as he has not received any official backing from the above ministries.
The Sderot reservists signed a letter of protest several days ago, according to which they "would find it hard to serve in the IDF reserves" while their homes and families were being "abandoned by the state and under constant threat." They collected over 200 signatures from Sderot and the kibbutzim
"I hope this latest agreement will bear fruit," Capt. (Res.) Edi Azran,39, a deputy company commander in a paratroopers unit, told The Jerusalem Post after the meeting. "Eitan told us the new minister would be responsible for finding solutions for the residents of the area, to make sure that even though we are under attack, our children will do their matriculation examinations in reasonable conditions. We need someone who can overcome the bureaucracy and can give these towns the services they deserve and need. We know budgets are given all the time, but they are badly managed. Too many people make too many decisions about us, and they often contradict one another. The failure is not in the willingness, but in the management.
"We know there are no magical solutions, but they have to let us continue our everyday routine so we don't collapse," said Azran, who works with youth and helps prepare them for their military service.
"To them I still say that we have no other country. Our fight is over Israeli society values. We don't encourage refusal to serve in the army," he said.
"Defense Minister Amir Peretz invited us to meet Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi on Monday. He said that we could suggest what we think the army should do. I don't need to give them solutions - this is their responsibility," said Haim Sassi, 34, a sergeant in the Alexandroni Brigade and one of the leaders of the protest.
"The defense minister asked us if we thought they should jeopardize IDF soldiers' lives for us to feel safer. We said that first, we care deeply for the soldiers; second, there are many things they can do without entering Gaza; and finally, when they called us to serve in the Second Lebanon War last summer, I left my wife with five children and was ready for the possibility that I wouldn't come back. I knew this was the only country I had, and I went there and fought. I think Haifa residents should be the first to join our fight. We were there for them. Now it's their turn to be here for us," said Sassi, who has lived in Sderot for nine years and teaches at the city's hesder yeshiva.
"I pay rent here. I can leave whenever I want, unlike many others. But I don't do it and I won't do it, - not until things are resolved for us for good," he said.
Eitan told the reservists that he was prepared to take the new appointment upon himself, "on the condition that I could work as I used to in the 50s" - referring, presumably, to his ability to act freely. "I visited Sderot several times in the last couple of weeks and found that many things have been neglected. In order to address those matters, we need available budgets," he said.
Eitan plans to present the proposal for approval at the next cabinet meeting.