Former Gush Katif residents stage protest at Knesset

An assembly of over 200 homeless and out-of-work Gaza evacuees held a large-scale protest in front of the Knesset on Monday to condemn the sluggish pace at which the Government has moved to provide them with new homes and new jobs. The protesters, comprised of religious and secular Israelis, marked what they claim is their 1,000th day without homes. "We want the government to give us what we had [in Gush Katif]," Yael Schwartz, 40, told The Jerusalem Post. "We had houses - give us houses. We had had jobs - give us jobs," she demanded bitterly. Most of the evacuees have lived first in hotel rooms and then in modular homes since they were forcibly pulled out of Gaza in August 20005, as they wait for authorization to build permanent homes in newly established communities, mostly in the Negev. To date, according to the evacuees, only some 70 families are actually building homes, and only a handful have finished them. Schwartz, a 17-year resident of Gush Katif who now lives in a makeshift community near Ashkelon, said that she hasn't had a job since the evacuation and that she is not exactly sure how to begin a new life. "We want to help our kids - from what they took they gave nothing back. I hope they'll feed my kids, but I don't know when. I don't want someone to carry me on their backs - I want to live [on my own]," she said. rally organizers said that the unemployment rate among the evacuees is 23 percent. Schwarz's husband, Yossi, 46, was quick to condemn those who say the protesters are solely looking for money and handouts. "It's not the money. What they took from me I want back," he said. At the rallying command of "All friends, we will march!" entire families headed from the Shimon Agranat Square and through the Wohl Rose Garden, congregating behind a large green security fence in front of the Knesset. With blazing bullhorns, matching green hats and poster board signs colored in marker, protesters unabashedly shouted slogans towards officers and Knesset members as they strolled into the building. Protesters also brought attention to their cause by releasing a plume of red balloons emblazoned with slogans such as "I have no home," into the air towards the Knesset. According to the Disengagement Authority 547 families still lack housing lots while 586 families have been assigned land for their new homes. At a press conference in Ashkelon on Sunday, Disengagement Authority head Tzvia Shimon said that the creation of 24 communal housing sites for the evacuees is a time-consuming process and that the authority has moved as fast as it can. But the evacuees claim that red tape is keeping many of them from building, and that even those who have housing lots have been needlessly delayed from starting construction. The rally also aimed to bring attention to the plight of children affected by the 2005 disengagement. Youngsters ranging in ages from 10 to 16 stood upon the sidewalk chanting and singing songs to passersby while munching on ice cream cones and drinking cola. Orly Maman, a 16-year-old evacuee, said that life has been trying for the former children of the Gaza settlements. "Moving out was hard. I lived there since I was a kid and it was a very beautiful place," she said. Maman recalled the evacuation, emphasizing the pain of watching soldiers no older than her brother remove residents. "They were so organized. It was hard to see them like that because they came to do something bad," Maman, who now lives on Kibbutz Nitzarim, said. Supporters of the Gaza evacuees also joined in the protest, expressing sympathy for the evacuee's lack of compensation. "I think what [the government] has done to them is an injustice . They threw them out of their houses," said Ron Sorell, 50, a resident of Mount Hebron. Sorell said he joined the protest in order to express unity with the former settlers' dilemma. "They have to pay those people for all the evil that was done." Sorell also said that settlements should be reestablished in the northern Gaza Strip and in northern Samaria, but was not optimistic this would happen. "I don't think much will happen," he said. "I don't think the people of Israel are interested in what's happening here with these people." Sorell lamented the lack of support for Gush Katif residents, saying "The people of Israel are sleeping." Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.