Gaza evacuees move in to Shomriya

Kibbutz forced to disband to make way for some 60 families from Atzmona.

gaza settlers 88 (photo credit: )
gaza settlers 88
(photo credit: )
Peacocks perched on rusty farm equipment are all that remain of Yoel Atias's pioneering, decade-long dream of developing Kibbutz Shomriya in the Negev. Pointing to an empty field near the small road, flanked by a sign that said "a small kibbutz with big dreams," Atias said he had hoped to create a tiny zoo there, starting with the peacocks. Instead, lack of government support forced the kibbutz to disband to make way for some 60 Gaza evacuee families from Atzmona who have moved into Shomriya. But while observant Gaza evacuees were settling onto the Shomriya site where they plan to build their permanent homes as part of their idealistic quest to development the country, Atias was among 13 of the original secular kibbutz families who spent this Pessah packing their bags. Fighting back tears as he squatted on the grass to unscrew an air-conditioning unit from the outside wall, he said, "This was my house." Last summer, when he saw photos of soldiers tearing evacuees from their homes, little did he imagine that some eight months later he would be in the same situation. "I didn't understand how hard it was for them. Now I do," he said. Solving a housing problem for the Gaza evacuees has meant that he now shares their fate, he said. The army did not park itself at the kibbutz door, but he feels like he was forced out of his home just as they were. It's true that the members in the end agreed to leave, but they felt they had no choice in the matter because the government said it was stopping all financial support for the kibbutz. Government support had never been enough to allow the kibbutz to thrive, said Atias, but at the same time it would not be possible to exist on the site without government help. When he first came to the small Negev kibbutz outside of Beersheba, he was as idealistic as the picture of a smiling pioneer with a kova tembel on his head, flanked by a girl and a cow, which was sketched onto the T-shirt he wore, made for the kibbutz's 20th anniversary. "It's the last one we made," he said. Feeling betrayed by both the state and the Kibbutz Movement, he said that if it weren't for his wife and four children, he would leave the country. Instead he was moving down the road to Kibbutz Dvir. He laughed when told that Acting Knesset Speaker Shimon Peres opened the Knesset last week by urging the importance of developing the Negev and the Galilee, because he feels the kibbutz received little from the government. For years the kibbutz urged the government to repave its road which often washed out in the rain. They rebuilt it only once an agreement was reached for the Gaza evacuees to move in. Atias's neighbor, Noam Levi, who had returned to gather a few last possessions, including the dog and the dog house, said the kibbutz had started an area nursery school last September in hopes of promoting development. Then Disengagement Authority head Yonathan Bassi arrived with a number of buses filled with evacuees in what Levi referred to as "black October." Initially, he said, the government spoke of temporarily resettling the evacuees in the kibbutz. It abandoned the idea in part because of the lifestyle differences involved with mixing a secular and religious population. Instead it decided to move the out the initial secular families altogether, said Levi, who has moved to nearby Kibbutz Lahav. An official in the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee said the ministry had only been in existence for less than a year and could not comment on past history. The official did add that the purpose of its ministry was to ensure that money and support was given to help communities in the Negev. Kibbutz Movement head Gavri Bargil said it's true the government had not given enough the kibbutz enough support, but the issue now for the Kibbutz Movement was to save Shomriya and not to dwell on past history. Money was not available to save the kibbutz unless the evacuees moved in, Bargil said. Had it been lost, its members would have been left with nothing, he added. By making a deal with the government the Kibbutz Movement was able to maintain the kibbutz and allowed for the original members to receive compensation funds. He noted that all the kibbutz's families were awarded the same compensation sums as the Gaza evacuees. But Levi and Atias said they would rather have risked continuing to build their future in Shomriya. "It hurts," said Levi as he looked at his empty home. "Now I feel rootless," he added. It was a feeling shared by the Gaza families from the Atzmona settlement, who have been moving into the kibbutz over the last month. But while they held barbecues and entertained visitors who came to see their new home over Pessah, they were far from feeling settled. It's their third move since they were forcibly removed from their Gaza homes last August. They were not among those Gaza evacuee who chose to head to the hotel rooms offered by the government after being bused out of Gaza. Instead, with the help of private donations they moved into large tents outside of Netivot, which they called City of Faith. When the weather got too cold and wet to stay in the tents, they relocated to small trailer-size modular homes. Now they have moved into new yellow modular homes with red rooftops set up by the government, until permanent homes are constructed for them on the kibbutz. They are close enough to that final stage of being in a new home that Noah Raisch, a mother of 11, aged 4 to 23, has finally unpacked her possessions that had been in storage since August. For the first time in eight months she eats at her own kitchen table and sleeps in her own bed. But while there is a comfort in finally having a home with her own things, said Raisch, there is a sadness that comes with it as well. "When I arrived here, I missed Gush Katif more," she said. Seeing her familiar household possessions in a strange space is a poignant reminder that the home which use to house them had been destroyed. Sara Aflalo said that ironically she too felt the destruction of her past home more now that she too is in the final stages of coming to her new one. The young mother, whose first son was born three months before the Gaza pullout, said didn't like to use the word "permanent" when describing the new home that she and her husband would be building on the kibbutz. The word permanent implies that she is never returning to Gaza, a move that she still hopes and prays for, said Aflalo." "When we got here I understood that we are not returning so soon," she said. Still, she and Raisch said they were happy to finally be a the stage of building real homes. More importantly, they were pleased to have weathered the odyssey with their community and to have landed in a place where they could continue their mission of settling the land. Looking out at the empty hills around the kibbutz, Raisch explained that very few Jews lived in the area. She hoped that she and the other evacuees would help correct that problem. Still, she said, to underscore the point that this is not her true home, she hung a photograph of her former Atzmona house by the doorway of her Shomriya one, "so no one will think I forgot about my house that was there," she said. Aflalolo also showed the photograph of her Atzmona home that hung by the doorway of her Shomriya home as well. "This was my house," she said.