Evacuees try new face-to-face effort ahead of election
'In truth, we should have started this campaign to connect with the public 50 years ago.'
By TAMAR WISEMON
In the months leading up to the disengagement, particularly before the Likud referendum on whether to go ahead with it, one of the key tools of the Gush Katif residents' campaign was face-to-face meetings with Israelis around the country.
Youth went to the Kissufim crossing every night to try to persuade soldiers not to take part in the evacuation, adults invited groups from all over the country and went door-to-door in the major cities. The strategy, in its effect on the Likud vote, was a startling success for the residents, resulting in an overwhelming majority against Sharon's plan, although the results of the vote was dismissed by the prime minister. The wider campaign, of course, also ultimately failed to prevent the disengagement.
Now facing national elections, with polls indicating a landslide victory for Kadima and the possibility of further withdrawals, the right-wing camp has decided to launch another face-to-face campaign across the country.
Rina Akerman, a native French-speaker who was heavily involved in speaking with the public and the press before her evacuation from Neveh Dekalim, is ambivalent about the idea.
"In truth, we should have started this campaign to connect with the public 50 years ago, rather than as a tactic of protest. Before the disengagement, we began it in a mood of euphoria - we believed that this tactic would succeed in canceling the decree... and it didn't work.
"Now, I don't have the emotional energy to talk to people... people always said I was 'nice' to discuss things with, today I am more sarcastic. I have been wounded by too many blows to exhibit much patience...
"I recently saw an ad for Tzav Pius [a not-for-profit that focuses on Jewish unity] piously declaring the importance of our engaging... after they delegitimized us and threw us in the garbage, now they talk about engagement?" At the same time, Akerman still believes that meetings are important.
"Television accomplishes terrible brainwashing and we have to do what we can to reduce this. Those who have the strength should join panim el panim, but don't expect it to solve the problems... know its limitations."
Ella Hoffman, still in the Shalom Hotel in Jerusalem after being evacuated, refers to another election challenge.
"Unfortunately, many of our own people are so disillusioned with the government and state apparatus that they themselves are disengaging and don't plan to vote. But I think that if we can show them how abstaining actually strengthens Kadima, then we will be able to persuade them of the importance of their vote."
From her temporary accommodation in the Ashkelon Vacation Village, Chana Cohen echoes Rina Akerman's sentiments on the importance of meeting the public along with a personal reluctance to participate.
"I still feel very strongly the pain of the destruction in Gush Katif... and the results of the expulsion... the rise of Hamas, the Kassams, the thousands of weapons flowing through the Philadelphi corridor in Gaza since Israel withdrew - leads me to wonder how anyone can have confidence in a Kadima that claims the disengagement was a success. For 70 percent of the population to understand that disengagement failed, yet still be prepared to back further destruction is simply a contradiction."
Yet Cohen is still hopeful. "Before the Likud referendum, we only had to speak with people for ten minutes about the real facts, the issues that the media hides from the public, for them to realize that we were correct. That explained the huge swing in the results. I believe it is possible to wake up the people, to open their eyes to what is happening to this country."
Rabbi Yigal Kirshenzaft also believes in the power of personal meetings.
"That Sharon ignored the Likud referendum doesn't negate the success of the face-to-face campaign that preceded it. Before the expulsion, Atzmona residents visited 300,000 people in Beersheba and held over 60 parlor meetings. The bonds formed through these meetings aren't one-time occurrences - the people remained with us. On one occasion, a woman burst into tears when our people knocked at her door... she had no family and lived alone and said it was the first time in eight years that someone had come to visit her... People in the cities live walled off from one another... and an important facet of the face-to-face campaign is to bring us back together."
On Monday, Rabbi Kirshenzaft was informed by the Caesar Hotel management that the hotel would no longer be providing his family with the special Chabad-Kashrut-certified meals they have been receiving in the hotel since July.
"The monthly cost of catered meals for this family of fourteen amounts to 30,000 shekels per month," said hotel manager Ronit Dayan, "a sum the Disengagement Authority agreed to cover back in August. Yet to date we have not received reimbursement. For the sake of the Kirshenzaft children, we couldn't bring ourselves to stop providing meals, but are currently owed close to 200,000 shekels... and this situation cannot continue."
Kirshenzaft, who still suffers the injuries of a mortar attack, notes, "It is a pity that we have been waiting for so many months to be given a home in Nitzan. The state could have saved thousands of shekels if we had been able to cook for ourselves."
Disengagement Authority spokesperson Haim Altman confirmed that his office granted permission for the provision and payment of the meals and said the responsibility for payment lay with the Ministry of Defense.
The Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday "A meeting took place today with the hotel management... payment will be made next week. There is no intention of halting provision of the meals to the family."
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