Living on a Prayer: 'We're suckers for believing Sela'

"What are we asking for? Just to be resettled in similar conditions to our former community..."

evacuees in hotel 248 88 (photo credit: Courtesy [file])
evacuees in hotel 248 88
(photo credit: Courtesy [file])
The former residents of Elei Sinai haven't had much luck. One group of families that moved to Kibbutz Carmiya found themselves subject to ongoing Kassam rocket attacks without proper protection, but their request to the government for alternative housing was rejected by the High Court of Justice. A larger group of 35 families, including Arik Harpaz, father of slain terror victim Liron Harpaz, are still in tents at Yad Mordechai, nine months after they demonstratively trekked out of their community on foot. "We thought we'd be here for a day or two... Now summer is coming again and we are still here, now plagued by mice and snakes... We worry they'll bite the babies," Harpaz said. Searching for an appropriate place to rebuild their community, the evacuees came to an amicable arrangement with Kibbutz Palmahim six months ago when 87 percent of its members voted to absorb them into the kibbutz. The two groups have held numerous activities to become acquainted, including planting trees together there on Tu Bishvat. In previous interviews with The Jerusalem Post, Harpaz expressed optimism that he would soon be moving to Palmahim, but on Sunday, after apparent evidence of deception on the part of the Sela Disengagement Authority, Harpaz's patience had worn thin. "What are we asking for? Just to be resettled in similar conditions to our former community... this is the minimum we should expect. The state forcefully took away our homes and threw us on the mercy of small-minded bureaucratic clerks... and the feeling now is that they have lied to us and used trickery to avoid moving us to Palmahim." Harpaz was referring to an incident described in more detail by attorney Sarita Maoz, herself an Elei Sinai evacuee and a key member of its negotiation team. Believing the Disengagement Authority supported the Palmahim plan, Maoz agreed to meet with its representatives to look at an Ashkelon apartment building to be used to temporarily house the evacuees. However the day before the meeting, the evacuee told Maoz, "An Ashkelon real-estate agent, unaware that he was speaking to an Elei Sinai evacuee, told me that the Disengagement Authority planned to keep us in the apartment building for two years, until we lost hope, and then they could disperse us throughout the city... He called us 'naive suckers' for believing Sela... that we would never see Palmahim... "When he found out I was from Elei Sinai, the agent immediately clammed up and denied it, but he had revealed too many details that he couldn't have possibly have known if he wasn't intimately involved in the deal," she said. Sela spokesman Haim Altman strongly denied the allegations. "None of our people spoke with a real-estate agent... This story has been told thirdhand and it is probably based on a misunderstanding," he said. Altman stressed, "The facts have not changed... we are still involved as a bridge between the [Israel] Lands Administration, the attorney general, Elei Sinai and Palmahim, to assist the evacuees to move to Palmahim with temporary housing in Ashkelon until agreement is reached." Maoz said she was happy to hear that the authority still supported the Palmahim plan, but that she saw no reason to meet with its representatives until the evacuees receive guarantees. According to Maoz, the main reasons for the delays is the recommendations of the Hagar Commission designed to prevent kibbutzim from selling off land in profitable real-estate deals, which limit them to building only those homes needed to support natural growth. As such, Palmahim is only allowed to build the 30 new homes needed to house its own adult children. "We can't ask Palmahim to refuse their own children in order to make room for us," said Maoz, "But we would expect that someone in the Disengagement Authority or the government would take the responsibility of making an exception to the rule in everyone's best interests... The move is being blocked by petty bureaucracy." Altman prefers to stress the financial aspects. "The Disengagement Law doesn't talk about communal solutions except for groups of more than twenty people in preferred development areas... Palmahim, north of Ashkelon, is not in a preferred area and the land is worth six times that of Gush Katif. "[Sela head] Yonatan [Bassi] believes that since they just want to build their homes there, the monetary value is not relevant... but while he can recommend that they be granted their wish, he doesn't have the final say." Both Harpaz and Maoz accept that Bassi would like to help them, but they are dismayed at his inability to take the reigns by demanding a swift solution. Says Maoz, "Bassi says his hands are tied... If he is not capable of standing up and taking control, then he should have publicly admitted it instead of allowing the false claim of a solution for every settler." Maoz was evacuated from Yamit in the Sinai as a teenager and moved with her family to Neveh Dekalim. "When I married, I chose to live in Elei Sinai as the place that most resembled Yamit. It was like the Garden of Eden until October 2001, when Liron [Harpaz] was murdered right outside my home. She ran into our garden where my husband and I were sitting and died there - we gave Arik that corner to place the memorial stone for Liron. We ran into the house and the terrorists shot 30 bullets at us, wounding us both," Maoz said. "As someone who was expelled from Yamit, I know that the emotional state of those who remained with the community was much healthier than those whose split off and tried to make it alone. We just want to move together as a community to another community that is happy to welcome us," she said. The evacuees said they have survived this long in the tent city, saving the state hundreds of thousands of shekels in food and housing, and will not give up now, although Harpaz admitted that the strain of the evacuation has already resulted in the separation or divorce of seven couples. Maoz, a mother of three, said her oldest daughter finds the loss of privacy very difficult. Her husband, an engineer raised in Neveh Dekalim whose projects were all in Gush Katif, saw his life's work bulldozed. "Since then, he just doesn't have the will to go back to work... He keeps himself busy in the tent city... The conditions here are difficult and there's always something to do... That's an advantage over the passivity of living in a hotel," she said.