Ex-Gush Katif students demand tuition-free year

Ayelet Shiber still has no idea where she will be living or where she might work to pay her way.

orange protest 88 (photo credit: )
orange protest 88
(photo credit: )
As Ayelet Shiber, a 20-year-old student who was evacuated this summer from Netzarim, prepares for next week's new academic year, she still has no idea where she will be living or where she might work to pay her way. In addition to finding a new home and job, Shiber has to take the exams she missed while spending her summer vacation and much of the previous semester battling against disengagement. Needless to say, she had not time in the past months to save up money for upcoming expenses such as rent. "The last couple of months were months of intensive national struggle," Shiber told The Jerusalem Post. "Right now, I have to decide whether to stay with the Nezarim community. It is very important for me to do so, yet most of the community is moving to Yuval, which is far away from Ashkelon, where I am a student." Along with other members of the student organization Ta Katom (orange cell), which was founded as part of the anti-disengagement struggle, Shiber is now demanding a year of tuition-free studies. The organization is demanding that tuition be waived for several dozen students who formerly resided in Gush Katif and northern Samaria, and who are experiencing difficulties getting used to life after disengagement. In a letter of support sent Wednesday to Education Minister Limor Livnat, MK Gila Gamliel (Likud) has also demanded that the tuition of evacuated students be waived during the coming Academic year. A tuition waiver, Gamliel wrote, would give them "necessary breathing space, while they are rebuilding their homes and their communities." The Education Ministry has yet to respond to Gamliel's letter. According to Shiber, part of the economic problems of the students have to do with economic difficulties posed by academic institutions and by the Sela disengagement authority. In order to receive special consideration from the academic institutions they study at, she said, students have been asked to bring documentation from the disengagement authority. Others, Shiber said, were turned down when they sought to enroll at a school closer to their future homes than the one they had attended while living in the settlements. Some students encountered difficulties when they were asked to produce documentation that is currently in storage. "Nobody from Sela turned to us and said 'We'd like to help' - for example, by giving us grants or some form of economic support," Shiber said. Ta Katom, which was founded last year to fight the disengagement plan, currently has 4,000 registered members, out of which approximately 1,500 are still active today in 25 different academic institutions. In the months preceding the disengagement, the organization staged a massive demonstration, a 12-day hunger strike, a series of street performances and other demonstrations. According to Ta Katom's spokesperson, Ronen Shuval, the organization is now redefining itself following the disengagement. Shuval, a secular resident of Ramat Hasharon, said that one of the important messages of Ta Katom is that the anti-disengagement ideology could not be identified only with the national religious sector, as is often the case. "Ta Katom," Shuval said, "was not just about the disengagement from Gush Katif - that was a symptom of a larger, ideological disengagement, which we will continue to fight against." On Wednesday and Thursday, Ta Katom organized an event about leadership at Bar Ilan University that was intended to foster alternative leadership values. "Orange isn't over," Shuval said. When students return to campuses starting next week, he promised, they would be received with "an avalanche of orange ribbons, t-shirts, and events such as an evening in honor of uprooted settlers, who will tell their stories." "It used to be considered an embarrassment to be a right-winger on academic campuses," Shuval said. "But that is about to change." The National Union of Israeli students has also pledged its support for the tuition waiver demanded by Ta Katom. According to a statement released by the Union, its stance on this subject does not equal political support for Ta Katom. Rather, the statement said, "The Union supports reducing or waving tuition for evacuees from Gush Katif, and our response to Deputy Minister Gamliel's suggestion is positive." The Union's spokesman told The Jerusalem Post that they believed all students who had not yet found new housing and new jobs were deserving of such consideration.