ID cards 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Replacing a lost or stolen Israeli identity card, or teudat zehut, is time-consuming and expensive. But imagine doing so if you're an evacuee from Gush Katif or Samaria. When you get to the part on the form about where you live, the clerk turns to you and explains that you can't get a new card unless you have an address.
If you've just read the words "Gush Katif" in this column and groaned "not again," then you're on par with the average Israeli, according to an evacuee I spoke to this week. "When I go to social functions like weddings with Israelis from Tel Aviv or Kfar Saba, I make people uneasy when they ask me where I'm from," Anita Tucker, 59, confided, "They express sympathy, and then discreetly move away. Few want to hear about it anymore."
The international press has indeed moved on. If you search for Gush Katif on the Internet, you're unlikely to find the entry on the Web encyclopedia Wikipedia, which includes the evacuation of Jewish Gaza.
Indeed, the loss of an ID card is the least of it. The former residents of Gush Katif have lost their identity. Just a few months ago, residents belonged to one of the most distinguished communities in Israel. Now they are separated and facing daunting personal decisions for which their boisterous supporters, having assured them that the disengagement would never take place, left them pragmatically and emotionally unprepared. Several evacuees I phoned for this column didn't want to be named for fear they'd lose hard-won government concessions.
"Three months later, people are doing worse, not better," said Tucker, who is living with her husband in the guest house of Kibbutz Ein Tzurim. "The post-holiday down which most people counter with the energy of getting back to their daily lives isn't relevant for us."
Tucker is the former spokesperson of Netzer Hazani, and also the former "Celery Lady" renowned for her breakthrough in growing this bug-free vegetable. After she left, other farmers quickly stepped in to produce what consumers still call "Gush Katif celery."
"Remember 'kosher-style' from the States?" says Tucker with surprisingly good humor. "Now they're producing Gush Katif-style vegetables."
LONG AFTER non-resident protesters have gone back to classrooms and jobs, after the fading of the orange and blue protest ribbons that respectively marked resistance to and agreement with the disengagement, red is the dominant color. Red as in red tape. These aren't your usual clerical annoyances. Ironically, Tucker hasn't lost her identity card, but the government doesn't accept it as sufficient proof of residency. She and her husband must supply evidence of living in Gush Katif for all 29 years - phone bills, for instance - a problem because for their first seven years in Gush Katif the Tuckers didn't have a phone. When they were evacuated, the Tuckers weren't thinking of organizing decade-old receipts and school records from their file cabinets. In a Catch-22 twist, they'll lose the insurance on their belongings if they open the containers which hold their household goods and rummage for documents. "My husband says that even if he could find the kids' report cards he'd be embarrassed to show them," says Tucker.
Another bureaucratic nightmare that wound up involving half a dozen government agencies before it was resolved concerned the place and price of burial for the first evacuee who died after leaving Gush Katif. Still another question that required high-ranking deliberation was how to announce the home towns of homeless evacuees taking part in IDF officer training ceremonies.
Such dilemmas reflect the sobering reality that the so-called "interim period" between the disengagement and finding long-term solutions may take months and even years. Among the "complications" is the adamant desire of evacuees, like those from Netzer Hazani, to relocate as a group, making a last attempt to preserve the unique identity of their communities.
"The spirit and support network we created were precious to us," explains Tucker, who has her heart set on recreating Netzer Hazani in a new farming village, perhaps near the Rafiah border. If she had her druthers, she'd move there soon instead of setting up home in a caravan, when it's ready, on the kibbutz.
"In the meantime, do you look for a job or remain idle and get used to being a person who's dependent on the kindness of philanthropic supporters?" asks Tucker.
She believes that job help and therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder are the most pressing needs of these former front-line farmers. "I don't think there's one of us who hasn't suffered from trauma. We're just trying not to show it."
As a voting, tax-paying Israeli, I'd like my government to give the evacuees the benefit of the doubt in matters of residency proof. If mistakes are made, I'd prefer us to err on the side of generosity. Most of all, I'd like to see the same energy, creativity, determination and streamlined organization that carried out the evacuation put into coming up with solutions.
How well we accomplish this part of disengagement will ultimately determine the identity card of our people.