Katif youth psychologically damaged

Government admits it was too slow in finding a solution.

katif girl orange 88 (photo credit: )
katif girl orange 88
(photo credit: )
For two weeks after disengagement, Sabir Atias, 17, couldn't get out of bed in the morning. She broke out in skin rashes, cried for days, and fell into a depression no one could help her escape. "I'm not a person like that," she said recently, recalling her first days in the caravan park in Nitzan. "But there was no solution to my problem. I couldn't see a light." Six months later, Atias's smile, so conspicuous during her days in Gush Katif, has returned and her speech is as fast and scattered as a normal teenager. She told The Jerusalem Post that while she had learned to deal with the bitterness and sadness she felt in the wake of her family's eviction from Neveh Dekalim, she still harbored feelings very different than those she felt before disengagement. "I'm tougher now than I was before. Things that would have broken me before don't touch me now," she said. "But I'm not hopeful for the future, because I think it's all over, and there's nothing to look forward to here." As disheartening as her comments sound, Atias is among the better adjusted of the youth from Gush Katif, who, six months after disengagement, suffer a wide range of psychological problems, according to social workers and youth group leaders who work with them on a daily basis. A majority of the teens have been receiving poor grades and fighting with their parents, and experiencing feelings of betrayal, disillusionment and alienation. Others, social workers said, have contemplated suicide, been victims or perpetrators of rape and incest, exhibited signs of eating disorders, or forsworn school altogether. "The teens are going through a huge identity crisis," said Haiya Rabinovitch, a social worker from Achiya, in the Binyamin region, who heads 10 social workers hired by the Committee of Gush Katif Settlers to work with the evacuees. "Many of them are dealing with the effects of terror from the last five years, from friends who died, and they have put up a lot of barriers. Now they are in a vacuum where there is no terror, no struggle [against disengagement], and also they don't feel like they have a home," she said. These feelings have led to a huge number of teens being unable to concentrate in school, she said, while those already in the army or performing national service are constantly moving around and unable to settle down. "It is very tough for the kids to stick to the tasks they are given," Rabinovitch said. Given the delicate psychological condition of the 1,200 Gush Katif evacuees aged between 12 and 18, a strong, long-term government effort would be required to adequately care for the youth, Rabinovitch said. She, along with other social workers and youth group leaders, said the government had not come close to fulfilling its obligation to care for the teens. "The government isn't dealing with the big picture," said Avi Cohen, who works for the Gush Katif committee as an activities counselor. "They have just acted in small ways, so they can put a check mark on a piece of paper saying they dealt with the problem." Asked if the government was making the necessary efforts, Social Affairs Ministry spokesman Nachum Ido acknowledged that his agency had not been fast enough in responding to the needs of the youth, nor to the psychological problems of the evacuees in general. "We are only starting the major efforts now," Ido said. "It took a lot of time." According to Ido, the government's poor showing stemmed in part from a lack of understanding of how bad the situation was and also from initial denial on the part of the teens and their parents that they suffered psychological problems. "Nobody knew exactly what would happen. At the beginning, the [evacuees] themselves didn't know what they needed, didn't know they had a crisis. They didn't want to deal with the social workers," Ido said. "Nobody thought that these youngsters, who are very strong and very idealistic, wouldn't go to school, that they would have antagonism toward their parents." The ministry is only now getting around to spending most of the NIS 10 million budgeted for psychological treatment. The ministry will not finish doling it out until the end of April, Ido said. Now that the full magnitude of the problem is understood, he said, the ministry was gearing up for a stronger effort. Thirty social workers are being hired, and funding has been approved for the construction of three clubs for teens in Nitzan and to pay counselors to run them. Two social workers are being sent to Yad Binyamin, east of Ashdod, where another trailer park is located, to evaluate the problems of the youth there and develop a plan of action, Ido said. The government has authorized an additional NIS 10m. to be spent on social services for the evacuees in the coming year, the spokesman said. Rabinovitch said the additional social workers, though welcome, would not be enough. She also said the inexperience of many of the social workers hampered the teen's psychological recovery. "[A lack of] experience is a very big problem," Ido admitted. However, he said, since social workers are employed by local districts, the ministry could not bring in more veteran staff. "But the social workers who are in charge at the Disengagement Authority are experienced, and they can help the younger ones," he said. That response did not sit well with Cohen. "People are talking about ending their lives, and you're telling me it's too difficult to get the good people. That's crazy," he said. "These teens are our future and they are wonderful kids. "It doesn't matter if you were for the expulsion or not. We [hurt] them and now we have to build them up again," he said. People working with the evacuees fear lasting psychological damage had been done during the past six months, alienating the Gush Katif teens from the country they once loved. "There was a time I read the paper every day, but now it doesn't matter to me at all," Atias said. "I don't care about the state. I still care about the people, but whatever happens now, it wouldn't matter to me if I lived outside the country. No one is treating us like we deserve. The government, the whole system, the people, they all betrayed us. They didn't care enough."