Education Ministry Dir.-Gen. Shmuel Abuav, who served as director-general of the Housing and Construction Ministry from January 2005 to May 2006, deserves credit for his much-lauded work in finding homes for Gaza Strip evacuees during the August 2005 Disengagement.
Though he runs in left-wing circles - his ministry-level appointments are all by Labor ministers - Abuav recalls being awed at the social cohesion and commitment of the religious-Zionist public he encountered when working with the evacuees.
During the 16 months in which he served as director-general of the Housing and Construction Ministry, Abuav was instrumental in easing the hardship of the Gaza evacuees after the disengagement. For his work, many evacuees, bitter over government policy and at times skeptical about the Israeli political system itself, still refer to Abuav as the only figure in government who was interested in their welfare.
For Abuav, serving in a key government post during the disengagement was a job like no other.
"All my life I never really encountered them [religious Zionists]," he told The Jerusalem Post last week, calling the "intimate connection" he developed over 18 months of working together "a foundational experience. I was inspired by their ideological commitment, their solidarity," and the way in which "they carried many weaker sectors of society on their shoulders."
Now at the Education Ministry, Abuav's concern for the evacuees hasn't wavered - it has simply shifted to the religious-Zionist youth from the Gaza strip. "They feel that the adults didn't fight, almost as though they collaborated," he explains, lamenting that many of them "have a hard time identifying with the institutions of the state."
His main plan for dealing with the problem is educational. "We have to work with them so they understand that in a democratic society, you have to play by the rules, win or lose," he says.
Abuav is optimistic about the future, especially that of the religious-Zionist public. While the disengagement "was one of the most complex, difficult and controversial events Israeli society has ever undergone," he says, "the religious public has a faith that protects them from falling into despair."
Indeed, in his experience, one of religious-Zionism's most defining characteristics is its ability "to go through a great crisis, and then to rebuild."