Together they fall

In the days before the disengagement, Anita Tucker stocked her home in Netzer Hazani with food for more than a month. She even bought a generator just in case the IDF shutoff the electricity.

anita tucker 88298 (photo credit: )
anita tucker 88298
(photo credit: )
In the last days before the disengagement, Anita Tucker stocked her home in Netzer Hazani with food for more than a month. She even bought a generator just in case the IDF shutoff the electricity. She imagined a long and protracted standoff between settlers and soldiers, perhaps envisioning the early August standoff at Kfar Darom where it it took 150 border policemen five hours in the hot summer sun to move one caravan after settlers blocked the road in protest. She was so certain the settlers would prevail in saving Gaza that she continued to work her celery farm until the end, and had even ordered plants for that September. In the rare instance when she imagined the nightmarish scenario by which she would be forced to leave her home, she felt certain that a new one would quickly be available. "I couldn't imagine that the government had no plan," she says. Reality played out differently. Gaza was evacuated in less than a week, but two years later the 61-year-old immigrant from Brooklyn is still living in temporary quarters. Given that she and her neighbors are still negotiating their final contract with the government to construct a new community in the area of Yesodot, she is unlikely to have permission to build a permanent house until November, and even that date is speculative. From then it is expected to take six months to a year to build her home. Faith in the government and the country was one of the defining characteristics of the Gaza evacuees, said Tucker. So even as the they opposed the government's plan to pull them out of Gaza in August of 2005, "we trusted the government when they said, there is a solution for every community." Her belief was underscored by many subtle and overt messages from that time. There was the vision of former prime minister Ariel Sharon who pounded his fist on a make shift table in the then empty grassy fields of Nitzan and said that more should be done, and faster, to build homes for the evacuees. Then there were the left wing politicians who always said that a withdrawal from territories, including Gaza, could happen at lightening speed if the government willed it. To say nothing of the Disengagement Compensation Bill itself, which initially set out rental money for only two years so the evacuees could have somewhere to live until their real homes were ready. Two years after disengagement, exactly at the point when Yonatan Bassi, former head of Sela, the disengagement authority, had initially predicted the the long saga of the families would be over, only a fraction of the evacuees - 200 of the 1,600 families eligible for full housing compensation - are living in their permanent homes, according to numbers provided by the authority. The delay has been the choice of some 87 percent of the families to maintain the structure they had in Gaza, where communities operated more as cooperative institutions rather than a geographical placing of random families. The song "Together," which the evacuees sang during disengagement, was and continues to be for them not just a mantra, but a binding ethic. Some were so determined to drive home the message that they wanted to stay together that they initially set up small communities of tents rather then be scattered in hotels. In Nitzan, some 210 families from Neveh Dekalim have delayed construction on their homes for half a year out of concern for 40 additional community members. They are looking to negotiate a contract with the authority that would set an affordable payment schedule for those who were not eligible for home owners compensation, a payment schedule that would allow them to purchase plots with their neighbors. Former Neveh Dekalim resident Dror Vanunu who is itching to move to a real home, says he is proud of the decision the community made to go to bat for the weaker members. "We are determined," he says, "not to leave the wounded on the field of battle." BUT WHEN the initial plans were first laid out and the initial legislation was drafted, the expectation was that most of the families would chose individual options. A source in Sela said the law governing the communal moves was added only at the end of the legislative process. The source readily admitted that it was a flaw in the initial planning stages to have assumed that the evacuees would prefer to live alone. But he denied there was ever a two-year timetable. That, he said, "was a media spin." There were also other complicating factors. In many cases the evacuees did not want to plan for the day after, so they did not start debating the question of which location they would move to until after they were pulled out of Gaza. All the projects that are the most advanced were begun prior to disengagement. The source attributed delays to environmental and permitting issues and disputes with municipalities and local authorities. There were also disputes in cases where a community was joining a moshav or a kibbutz. Finally, the contract negotiations themselves took time. Tucker says the bureaucracy is burdensome and in some cases the authority took steps to delay the process. But it's true, she concedes, that her community took some eight months to decide on a place to live. Part of the delay in their process had to do with checking out the feasibility of a number of options. But the authority, she says, took a year to appoint an attorney to handle their contracts. It's a charge the authority has flatly denied. In addition, she says, their community also had a family that had been left out of the calculation which it sought to provide for as part of its contract. Had the government invested the same resources in settling the evacuees as it did in pulling them out, everyone would now have a home, she says. SELA, IN contrast, claims it has moved mountains. It's popular to blame everything on the authority, the source said, but it's just not true. He pointed to the case of Hazan, an evacuee community slated to be constructed on the site of a former army base. The process of getting the land released by the Defense Ministry required the personal intervention of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who held four meetings with the ministry about it. In Shomriya, the authority paid compensation to the members of the dying kibbutz to speed the resettlement process by providing a site that already had infrastructure. Overall Sela estimates the bulk of the communities will receive permission to build within the next year or 18 months, with most of the homes completed within the next two years. It believes that most of the families will certainly be living in their permanent homes within the next three years. This matches a Knesset report which set the timetable at another three years. THE EVACUEES believe this is optimistic and as likely to come to fruition as the original timetable. "It's a lie," says Shmuel Katz, a former Nisanit resident. Unlike Tucker, he was among a group of families which made an agreement with Sela to move to an undeveloped area of Ashkelon, nicknamed Golf because at one time there were plans to build a golf course there. On the day of disengagement, he and his neighbors marched out of Nisanit on their own. He, his wife and their two young children went to a rented apartment in Ashkelon, on which he took out a two-year lease. Everyone, he says, from Bassi to the Ashkelon Municipality promised him that within a year he would have a permit to build his own home. When the property was first released to the evacuees prior to disengagement, SELA held a large press conference and handed out fliers and information about what the neighborhood would look like. Katz has waited since then for the authority's promises to be kept. To date, he says, the site has yet to be finalized for construction. It's been a costly delay for Katz, who receives $400 a month in rental subsidies, $250 less than the price of his 90-meter apartment. The lease ran out and he had to move to another apartment, so he found himself once more living out of boxes. His concern, he says, is that by the time the property is ready he will have used up his savings on the extra rental payments. So he has no faith in the new date of November, which is when the authority estimates the property will be ready for him to start building. But the worst part of the process has been the lack of honesty. It would be better, he says, for Sela to say it just doesn't know than to continue to hand out meaningless dates.