Living on a Prayer: Evacuees feel pressed to leave hotels by Pessah

Evacuees feel pressure to leave Jerusalem hotels before Pessah.

When Rina Akerman heard that she and the other Gaza evacuees who have been living in Jerusalem hotels for close to eight months would have to vacate their rooms a few days before Pessah, she didn't take it seriously. "We have heard similar claims so often over the past months that there was no reason to assume this time was any different," said Akerman Monday as she packed the possessions of her 13-member family at the Shalom Hotel. "I am excited to be leaving but feel overwhelmed by the mountain I have ahead of me to climb. We have to fit 300 [square] meters of furnishings into a 130 [square] meter mobile home within a few days... for sure it won't be livable before Pessah, but I hope we can fit in our possessions until after the holidays... then we'll search for somewhere to store the furniture that doesn't fit." Determined to free hotel rooms for Passover tourists, the authorities have suddenly begun working frenetically to prepare two of the last temporary caravilla communities intended for evacuees from Neveh Dekalim and Moshav Katif - Ein Tzurim and Amatzya. According to the weekly update posted on by the Ein Tzurim group, most of the homes were ready, although much of the infrastructure and public facilities were still lacking. Amatzya was less prepared but young volunteers from around the country have been recruited to paint the caravans and help move evacuees move into the new homes. Dror Vanunu of the Committee for Gush Katif Communities described the evacuees' mixed feelings about the rushed and haphazard attempt to move them into their new communities: "On the one hand, people are desperate to leave the hotels and return to normal life and they are thankful that the work is finally being performed at a faster pace... on the other hand, they are understandably worried about the results of such hasty construction. "I saw with my own eyes young Bedouin boys helping to build the homes in Ein Tzurim... how professional will the results be?" he asked. The hotel evacuees are still better off than those from the mixed secular/religious community of Elei Sinai, who are still living in tents. The government is apparently in no hurry to resettle them in their preferred location of Kibbutz Palmahim. They will undoubtedly be spending the Festival of Freedom as their forefathers did, in tents. While she had not received a key to her new home or a letter informing her when she could move, Akerman said each family in the hotel had received a few packing boxes from the Disengagement Authority, been instructed to pack and been assured that moving vans would be provided. She was critical of the attitude displayed by the authorities. "We are treated as if we ourselves are just cartons, to be moved around at will. We have not sat still over the past eight months just waiting to be moved... People have found jobs... We are not available to pack and move across the country at a day's notice," she said. Akerman said, "The most painful thing is that after being forcibly thrown out of our homes once, one would think [Disengagement Authority head Yonaton] Bassi would have assured us, 'You will not be forced to leave the hotels without a home to go to.' Instead we were pressured to be out of the hotels by Shabbat Hagadol [this Saturday], without knowing if our mobile homes would be ready for occupancy. And this affected our children terribly... my young son asked if we would be forcibly evicted from our hotel." Unlike Akerman, who dealt with the uncertainty by accepting invitations to spend the holiday with friends, Ella and David Hoffman have no idea where they will be for the holiday. They elected to move with three other Neveh Dekalim families to Shekef. "We were going to go to Amatzya, but they were making such a mess of the place with caravans so close together that we decided to go to Shekef with families from Tel Katifa." Tel Katifa was refused official recognition and residents were therefore not entitled to compensation from the Disengagement Authority, but an arrangement was worked out with the Israel Lands Administration for them to move into caravans in Shekef, four kilometers from Amatzya. The caravans are not completed or connected to utilities. A generator has been placed on site, but it has not been hooked up. The Hoffmans worry that they will be forced to leave their hotel prematurely. Ella said, "I have asthma and heart problems, and when we drove up there last week the homes were still coated with plaster dust and dirt. I cannot clean this up myself... but they may try to force us in anyway." The Hoffmans received two cardboard boxes but they have not begun packing. "We are not going anywhere until we see what's going on... We are not ordering our container until the caravan is ready. I don't have high hopes for the state of our belongings... they may be melted from the poor storage or destroyed... because the worker who drove away our container told David that it was the first day he had ever driven a forklift truck," she said. Akerman said that ironically, "We are less worried about damage to our belongings because we refused to cooperate and didn't use the government movers. Wonderful members of Kibbutz Yavne came to move our belongings and those of some other families, and a factory owner near the kibbutz offered to store our things on a floor of his warehouse." Disengagement Authority spokesman Haim Altman said no one would be rendered homeless, despite the instructions to leave the hotels. "We based our statements on information we received from the Ministry of Housing and the Jewish Agency that the mobile homes would be completed by March 31. "But obviously we will deal with each family according to their situation... An objective committee checks each caravilla individually to ascertain its readiness, and if [a family's] home is not ready to move into, they will not be forced to do so," he said.