Two years after leaving, Gush Katif evacuees are still suffering

Unemployment, marital strife, children at risk have social services concerned.

Until two years ago, Nurit Brown was working as a nanny, caring for children in the Gush Katif community of Neveh Dekalim. It was a job she had been doing for 20 years. But since the Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip in August 2005, Brown has been stuck in a rut, unable to find work or transcend the trauma. "I wish I could find work for two or three days a week, but no one is willing to hire me unless I work full-time," she told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday in her newly adopted community of Ein Tzurim, a religious kibbutz near Kiryat Malachi. Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog was there to meet with Brown, leaders of the evacuee community and social workers who have been helping former Israeli residents of Gaza deal with the pullout trauma and get on with their lives. Asked why she does not want to work full-time, Brown said, "No one understands what I went through unless they were there." Her story is typical of many former residents of the Gush Katif bloc. It was one of several heard by Herzog, who was housing and construction minister when the disengagement plan was carried out. Unemployment, failure to move into permanent housing, lack of training, bureaucracy within the welfare services and a general breakdown of community organizations are among the social problems facing the evacuee community, which numbers up to 8,800 people. Herzog recognized that the evacuation from their homes was a "difficult process for all involved and was highly damaging to many people," his spokeswoman told the Post. One of the 25 social workers assigned by the ministry to work within the community told the meeting that SELA, the special disengagement committee, had not provided enough training to professionals trying to help the evacuees, most of whom are not classic welfare recipients. She recommended that such issues be dealt with under the supervision of the Welfare and Social Services Ministry and not by SELA. Lior Kalfa, a former Neveh Dekalim leader, told Herzog he did not want the evacuees regarded as tragic cases. They were working hard to keep a sense of community, with an emphasis on family values, he said. According to recent figures published by SELA, the evacuee community has an unemployment rate of 37 percent, with a growing number of married couples separating, a rise in the number of children at risk and a serious dilemma faced by teenagers who have ambivalent feelings about enlisting in the IDF. At the end of the meeting, Herzog said he would continue looking into what social services are needed within the community and would recommend to the Finance Ministry to continue its allocation of NIS 5 million-NIS 7m. annually to deal with the evacuees' social problems.