Living on a Prayer: Part of a continuing series.
It has been a tumultuous week for Gush Katif evacuees. Last Wednesday they were stunned as hundreds of young protesters at Amona suffered injuries from police including fractured skulls, broken fingers and police-boot marks on their scalps. According to Katif.Net, 200 of the youth involved in the clashes were Gush Katif evacuees, a number of whom were hospitalized. The Committee for Gush Katif Communities set up an emergency hotline for evacuees to call for information about their children.
Two nights later, a Kassam rocket fired from the Gaza Strip fell on the evacuee section of Kibbutz Karmiya, populated by 54 families from Alei Sinai and Nisanit. A seven-month-old baby was seriously wounded in the head and most of the families immediately fled to the Ashkelon Recreation Village currently housing Neveh Dekalim and Moshav Katif evacuees. Since then, they have been sleeping on the floor of the cafeteria and fed by Kfar Darom evacuees living in Ashkelon.
Sarah Mitzrafi, a resident for 18 years of the mixed secular/religious community of Alei Sinai, stresses they are law-abiding citizens who have been abandoned by the State of Israel.
"We left our homes within the allotted time and signed twoyear contracts with the Disengagement Authority in the middle of the night... to have a home to wake up in in the morning," she says. "Since then, we have been subjected to every possible danger... Kassams and mortars every single day! Israeli law says every home should have a shelter, but we don't... we were simply expelled and abandoned. We demand the state free us from the contracts that we naively signed at their behest and find us an alternative home where our lives won't be under constant threat."
Disengagement Authority spokesperson Haim Altman responds that the government has just approved the installation of emergency shelters, and a security room to be added to each home. Regarding the 34 families who do not want to return to Kibbutz Karmiya, Altman notes that no one forced them to move to Karmiya and says it will be problematic to release the evacuees from their contracts in which they agreed to pass their rental compensation to the kibbutz. But he adds the Authority is looking into the possibility of renting apartments for the families in Ashkelon.
David Yamin, an evacuee from Alei Sinai, says they were wooed to the kibbutz by the Disengagement Authority with promises of a peaceful life after living under mortar fire in Gaza.
"Yet after one month of quiet, the Kassams started and have continued to fall daily. It is clear to us that even if they provide security rooms we cannot continue like this."
Arik Harpaz, an Alei Sinai evacuee, has spent the past six months with 30 other Alei Sinai families living in Ohalei Sinai, the tent city near Yad Mordechai. When he spoke to the Post back in September, Harpaz said one of his reasons for moving into the tent city was that families which had agreed to move temporarily to Karmiya were already expressing concerns about the inadequate protection afforded by their flimsy, modular homes.
"It's a miracle no one has been killed there," he says. "Those families, who cooperated with the Disengagement Authority are doubly traumatized. A couple of families have moved to our tent city. They have lost even the slightest feelings of security they may have had in their homes. At least here, though we also have Kassams falling near us, we hope in the near future to be able to move to a community out of range of Kassam attacks."
At the same time, Harpaz praises Disengagement Authority head Yonatan Bassi for the concern he has shown the Alei Sinai community since his visit to the tent city. "Bassi was really moved and since then has worked with us shoulder to shoulder in trying to find us a community solution."
Harpaz says the difficulties of living in tents has been worth it for the community.
"We have small family tents within larger tents. Obviously there is no privacy, no intimacy... communal kitchens, toilets and showers... but the togetherness of the community has strengthened us. With our generator, food and other living expenses funded by our own contributions and private donations, we are independent people, making our own decisions and will rebuild our community as soon as we can make an agreement with the government."
According to Harpaz, few of the families in Ohalei Sinai have received compensation for their homes and loss of livelihood. Harpaz himself has not even begun the lengthy application process.
"After expelling me from my home, the government then demanded that I prove to them that I lived in Gush Katif, where my daughter was murdered by a terrorist and from where my sons served in the army. It is a disgrace that we are treated as if we are liars and opportunists. The state took away my home, it is their responsibility to compensate me."
Harpaz sees a correlation between the incidents in Amona and Karmiya.
"When the state decided to expel us, they threw us into the street. Olmert's government has done nothing to improve our security, has not ordered the IDF to respond forcefully to the Kassam attacks and has not provided the promised protection from rockets for the evacuees living in Karmiya and all the residents of the Gaza border communities.
"What is most important to him is to throw Jews out of nine houses in Amona... for that he has security forces and money... ignoring the thousands of other illegal homes built in Wadi Ara and by Bedouins in the Negev. This is an election ploy and I hope it backfires... I cannot believe that the Israeli public really wants this pretender to rule the country."
While noting that the police were required to use force to neutralize violent demonstrators, Harpaz says, "It is clear that the police acted with unacceptable brutality against youth who were merely sitting on the floor in passive protest.
"And why shouldn't the youth be allowed to engage in civil protest? They saw that by acting nicely in Gush Katif and leaving peaceably from a government-mandated, legal settlement, we were simply ignored and left to rot. The youth have seen that when you are living under a dictatorship, being nice doesn't help."