From Neveh Dekalim to Jerusalem

A Gaza evacuee adjusts to life in a hotel room.

neveh dekalim 298 (photo credit: AP [file])
neveh dekalim 298
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel Bronfeld isn't the kind of guy to let a few setbacks get him down. Two weeks after being evacuated from Neveh Dekalim in last August's disengagement from the Gaza Strip, the 65-year-old ex-New Yorker underwent open-heart surgery. Complications from the triple bypass operation led doctors to amputate half of his right foot to prevent the onset of gangrene. "It could have been a lot worse. I could have lost my whole foot. I got out of it okay," he insists. The pallor of his skin, aged face and thinning gray hair belie his bravado over the double trauma of evacuation and amputation. Neither that operation nor the fact that he has no immediate family in Israel, has stopped Bronfeld - who is partially mobile and uses a walker - from hobnobbing with other Gush Katif evacuees still living in Jerusalem Gates Hotel. "I have no plans to return to the US," says the perennial optimist, adding he talks almost daily to his sister in Philadelphia and brother in New York. Originally from the Lower East Side, where he worked as a taxi driver, Bronfeld made aliya nearly 30 years ago. From 1993 to 2005, the electronics jack-of-all-trades worked as a civilian employee of the IDF, mostly on the computer components of the Merkava tank. "Now I'm retired," he grimaces, partly from pain and partly out of frustration. Twice divorced and childless, Bronfeld appreciates the irony of his current situation. "I never ate so good in my life," he says of the hotel which he, three other single men and the remaining six of the initial 40 evacuated families currently call a temporary home. "It's nice to spend a week or two in a hotel. But not months." Though prevented from walking significant distances, Bronfeld hobbles to the dining room for his meals. He enjoys the socializing and camaraderie spent with others displaced from Gush Katif. Some come to visit his small, messy room - which houses a double bed, bureau, two chairs and walker. Bronfeld hasn't put up any photos or otherwise decorated his limited space. The homiest touch is a newspaper strewn on the bed. There's a lot of dead time, he acknowledges, with little to do but wait for his friends to visit - who themselves are preoccupied with trying to find employment and housing. The hard-boiled bachelor credits the hotel staff for making his stay as comfortable as possible. His simple, undecorated room, equipped with a TV and some religious texts, is hardly luxurious, But neither was his mobile home of 12 years in Gaza. "It was good enough for me - till they threw me out. Neveh Dekalim was really a tremendous place," he says wistfully. "I had my routine. But now things have changed." He asks me to open his single small window for him, and seems genuinely grateful for the smallest of gestures. The noise of Jaffa Road and its endless buses permeates the room, but Bronfeld refuses to feel sorry for himself. "It's mostly the farmers who are suffering. They're middle-aged, and can't get a job. A person had everything, and now he has nothing." Bronfeld has yet to receive one agora of the NIS 50,000 he is slated to receive from the Disengagement Authority for vetek (seniority) plus NIS 14,000 for a shipping allowance. Those funds are withheld to cover his hotel bill. Bronfeld is ineligible for housing compensation since he rented his trailer from the settlement. The decision to rent rather than purchase had more to do with the break-up of his second marriage than economic considerations, he says. "I'm okay financially. So I don't really need it," he says of the government's promised compensation package. "There's no price they can pay for what they did." What about the future? "When you can't get around, it's difficult. But I manage. The main thing is to get better. They have special shoes, and when the leg heals I'll be able to get back to a normal life." Four years of mortar attacks cemented a strong bond between people, Bronfeld says. As soon as he recovers from his surgery he plans to rejoin a nucleus of friends from Neveh Dekalim, either at Nitzan near Ashdod, Merkaz Shafir near Ashkelon, or Yad Binyamin near Rehovot. "They don't want to give me a caravan because I don't have rights," he explains. Waving his hand dismissively as if shooing away a fly, Bronfeld smiles an indomitable grin. "I'll try to build myself up again. I have to build my life again [here]."