Evacuees drawn by challenge of Halutza dunes

Some 150 former Gaza settlers seek to continue Zionist dream.

halutza dunes 88 (photo credit: )
halutza dunes 88
(photo credit: )
Gaza evacuee Eliyahu Uzan is among a minority in Israel who remember that the Negev sand dunes of Halutza were once offered to the Palestinians by former prime minister Ehud Barak in exchange for territory beyond the pre-1967 border. The Palestinians rejected the offer and it has not surfaced seriously since. But Uzan is not taking any chances. He wants to make sure that the area remains in Israeli hands. So he is among some 160 Gaza evacuee families finalizing a plan with the government to build their new permanent homes in the Negev area by the Egyptian border. Among them are 50 families who, like Uzan, are from the Gaza settlement of Netzarim, as well as 40 from Atzmona. "We want to rebuild in an area where we are also making an ideological statement about the importance of Zionism," said Uzan, who had 32 dunams of organic produce in Gaza, including cherry tomatoes. He is hoping to rebuild those dunams in Halutza. "With God's help I'll build more than 32 dunams," said the father of eight. Since his evacuation from Gaza in August, Uzan, along with most of the Netzarim families, had been living in caravans in Ariel. Last week they moved into temporary homes in Moshav Yevul, close to Halutza. Even as his office is working on the problem of temporary housing for the 1,500 Gaza evacuee families, Disengagement Authority spokesman Haim Altman said the government was finalizing a plan of permanent housing for the settlers that would take some two years to complete. Two-thirds of the Gaza settlers were likely to build permanent homes in three locations: Lachish and Halutza in the Negev and Gush Nitzan in Nitzan and undeveloped areas of northern Ashkelon, said Altman. Gush Nitzan includes 300 families from Neveh Dekalim and 200 from the settlements of Morag, Gadid, Bedulah, Netzer Hazani and Gan Or, said Altman. It also includes 150 families from Nisanit who were moving to an undeveloped area of north Ashkelon called Golf Village. The Lachish project of 195 families would include 40 families from Atzmona, 50 families from Katif, 65 families from Kfar Darom and 40 families from different Gaza settlements, said Altman. Two of the former communities have already settled upon the permanent locations of their new communities. Since December 2004, some 26 Gaza families, including 19 from Pe'at Sadeh, have known they would be rebuilding in Moshav Mavki'im. Sixty-five families from Ganei Tal had already reached an agreement with the government to build new homes in Hafetz Haim, said Altman. Others are still in negotiations with the government, such as 60 families from Elei Sinai who are looking to move to Palmahim, although no such agreement has been reached yet. Former Netzer Hazani celery farmer Anita Tucker said while some 11 families from her community had settled upon Nitzan, she was among some 60 others who were still shopping for a new home. They were looking at Halutza and Lachish, but had not made any decisions yet, she said. Attorney Yitzhak Meron of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel cautioned against believing that the program laid out by the authority was as solid as the government claimed it to be. As an attorney who represents a portion of the settlers, he said the Nitzan plan was in advanced stages but that Halutza, for example, was only in the primary stages. "You have to distinguish between what is planned and what is decided," he said, adding that there were still many bureaucratic hoops that had to be gone through. He added that a number of communities on the list had not made final decisions as to whether or not they were really planning to move to one of those three areas. Gaza evacuee Yitzhak Wazana said part of the difficulty in making a decision was that it was hard for one solution to meet the needs of all the former residents of a community. He is among a group of 20 Netzarim families who opted not to head to Halutza. Until last week he had been living with 80 Netzarim evacuee families on the campus of the College of Judea and Samaria in Ariel. Now his smaller group is temporarily in yeshiva apartments in Karnei Shomron, while they await permission to build a new community within the city limits of Ariel. Wazana, who is an educator, said the fact that he was not a farmer and did not have to look for similar terrain left him free to explore the ideological option of strengthening the large city of Ariel in Samaria. They are among a minority of Gaza evacuees who have chosen to move into Judea and Samaria. "It wasn't an easy decision, because Yevul and Halutza are so far away," said the father of seven who survived a terrorist attack 10 years ago. But he added that he was comforted by the fact that like the rest of the community, they were also making an ideological stand, just in a different part of the country. Wazana said he and the others in his group had been impressed by the warmth of the people and the educational opportunities in the area. "We had a feeling we wanted to be in Ariel," he said.