Not too late to help Gush Katif evacuees

They don't have to remain “refugees."

Gusk Katif -Neve Dekalim 311 (photo credit: Yakov Ben-Avraham)
Gusk Katif -Neve Dekalim 311
(photo credit: Yakov Ben-Avraham)
It’s been almost five years since over 9,000 Israeli citizens were forcefully uprooted from their homes in 25 Gush Katif and Northern Samaria settlements, most of them thriving veteran communities. Last week, the state commission of inquiry entrusted with investigating their ongoing plight issued its definitive report. It concluded that the state, which ceremoniously promised “a solution for every settler,” had turned the evacuees into “refugees in their homeland.”
Summing up his nearly 500-page report, the commission chairman, retired deputy chief Supreme Court justice Eliyahu Matza, minced no words: “The state failed, and its failure was absolute and abysmal.”
The report abounds in dismal details: Most evacuees still languish in caravan sites; in most cases, construction of permanent housing hasn’t begun; the rate of unemployment among evacuees is double the national average and 15 times greater than what it was among them pre-disengagement; many are only nominally employed in artificial ad hoc programs and earn markedly less than preevacuation; some evacuees are doing incongruous minimum- wage work; most evacuees used up all their compensation for day-to-day living expenses and are now penniless; previously prosperous farmers have been reduced to dependence on the dole.
THE PREVALENT vogue is to quibble about who is to blame. Some fault the evacuees – who in many cases delayed cooperation or refused altogether to cooperate with the relevant government authorities – for their sorry lot. The Matza Commission itself noted that “a substantial number of evacuees themselves, as well as some of the communities that were to absorb them, contributed to the problem.” Nevertheless, the commission maintained that “the authorized branches of government are primarily responsible. The government evicted these people from their homes.”
Indeed, the evacuees were coerced into hardship not of their choosing; they didn’t ask to be displaced. And even the most cooperative, so-called non-ideological settlers, particularly from the three northernmost Gaza Strip settlements and the four North Samarian ones, have largely ended up as disgruntled as the rest.
All these families underwent severe trauma. Nobody simply “moved house.” As the commission phrased it, the state “inflicted injury on a large number of people.”
Their world collapsed upon them. Acknowledging this should have nothing to do with whether one approves of their politics or not.
Large families were thrust into glorified fiberboard trailers that began to fall apart in the first winter. Many families started to disintegrate, illness – both physical and psychological – grew rampant, youths were disconsolate, and previously well-off families became destitute.
The least Israeli society owes the evacuees is to guarantee them a fair equivalent of what they were forced to lose. For example, if evacuee groups insist on living together in communities, as they did previously, this is certainly their prerogative. As the commission justly noted, “this is a question of human rights, of basic human decency and of Jewish morality.”
Perhaps the most disconcerting summation came from panel member Prof. Yedidya Stern, who described the process as “a human rights failure and an inexplicable failure of democracy… an inability to find relief for people hurt by their own society… Nobody was out to deliberately hinder the evacuees, but official organs failed to function,” he lamented. “Officials didn’t seek to sabotage resettlement prospects, but an intractable situation was created.”
Incompetence and bureaucratic stalemates are sometimes harder to combat than outright ill will.
THE QUESTION now is whether the commission’s exhaustive investigation and its resultant findings can improve matters. The commission made it clear that the evacuees must be fully resettled by the end of 2011. Matza added that while the blame for the failure lay with previous governments, the buck had been passed to the current Netanyahu administration. “If it doesn’t solve the problem, it will become accomplice to the failure,” he justly warned.
This government, which would doubtless regard itself as well-disposed toward the evacuees, must rise to the challenge. Disengagement was implemented in the name of the entire nation. We owe it to those whose lives were turned upside down to give them the appropriate opportunities to recover.