Right the Gaza wrongs

Right the Gaza wrongs

October 3, 2009 20:06
3 minute read.

More than a thousand families from among those uprooted from 25 settlements in the framework of 2005's disengagement scheme have remained essentially rootless since then. The prevalent vogue is to quibble about who is to blame for their sorry lot and, sometimes, to fault the evacuees themselves. Even the state commission of inquiry into the government's handling of the resettlement challenge couldn't entirely avoid the trend. In its interim report, released last week, it argued that "a substantial number of evacuees themselves, as well as some of the communities that were to absorb them, contributed in no small measure to the problem." That problem is defined by the commission as "the fact that over four years after evacuation, the evacuees' rehabilitation is not even close to completion." Nevertheless, the commission did evince the courage to assert that "the authorized branches of government are primarily responsible." In itself, this admission is no small feat. The plain fact of the matter is that the evacuees were coerced into hardship. They didn't ask to be evicted. Moreover, even some of the most cooperative, so-called non-ideological settlers, particularly from the three northernmost Gaza Strip settlements and the four North Samarian ones, were hardly rewarded for their non-obstructionism and often ended up as disgruntled as the rest. All these families underwent severe trauma. To belittle it is unconscionable. Nobody simply "moved house." As the commission phrased it, the state "inflicted injury on a large number of people." Their world collapsed upon them. Acknowledging this should have nothing to do with whether one approves of their politics or not. Large families were thrust into glorified fiberboard trailers that began to fall apart in the first winter. These crowded, shoddy accommodations magnified the hardship. Many families started to disintegrate, illness - both physical and psychological - grew rampant, youths were often disconsolate and previously self-supporting farmers became destitute. The current official unemployment rate among evacuees exceeds 16 percent - twice the national average. But even that dire figure is misleading. Many of the nominally employed are earning markedly less than pre-evacuation. Many work at incongruous minimum-wage jobs. Some are helped out. The Makor Rishon daily, for instance, employs evacuees to run its subscription service. But these are artificial, ad hoc arrangements rather than real long-term solutions. The often inadequate compensation earmarked to enable the evacuees to construct alternative housing was eaten up for daily expenses over years without viable or adequate income. THE LEAST Israeli society owes the evacuees is to guarantee that each of them is left with a fair equivalent of what he or she was forced to lose. For example, if four groups among the evacuees insist on living together in communities, as they had previously, this is certainly their prerogative. The commission did right by ordering a speedy end to their travails (with a December 31 deadline for at least signing agreements to facilitate the start of construction). As the commission justly noted, "this is a question of human rights, of basic human decency and of Jewish morality." The most frightening comment in last week's report was written by panel-member Prof. Yedidya Stern, who underscored the sad truth that at issue here isn't only "a human rights failure but also a governmental failure." He observes: "We found no ministry out to deliberately trip the evacuees, merely official organs that fail to function... We found no officials out to spoil resettlement prospects, just an intractable situation that cannot be accepted." This, perhaps, is worse than outright ill-will. Incompetence and bureaucratic stalemates are sometimes harder to combat. Ex-premier Ehud Olmert ducked all responsibility in his recent testimony before the commission. We can only hope that the new government, ostensibly better-disposed towards the evacuees, won't do the same. In the words of the report, "the government must immediately place the evacuees' rehabilitation as a top national priority." This administration is burdened with a collective national onus to right the wrongs. None of us, in whose name disengagement was implemented, would voluntarily choose to be in the evacuees' shoes.

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