Reengage the disengaged

The implementation of disengagement was a triumph of a society brought to a critical test.

bassi walking 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
bassi walking 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Israeli society is rife with simmering schisms - religious-secular, Ashkenazi-Sephardi, rich-poor, center-periphery and, increasingly, the settler enterprise and the state. As we pointed out earlier this week, this last conflict, manifest at its most troubling at Amona, places our society on the edge of an abyss, a choice between spiraling into violence and peacefully resolving even the most difficult issues. While the issue of protest and the response to it can be debated, as the Knesset did yesterday, there is another question that must be asked. What is Israeli society prepared to do to help bring some of its citizens back from the brink and to reengage with the state and its goals? To a significant extent, the implementation of the disengagement from Gaza and northern Samaria was a triumph of a society brought to a critical test. Security forces demonstrated restraint and empathy to ease the residents through their eviction. The vast majority of settlers left distraught and in tears, but peaceably. And for most of our society, the issue seems to have ended there. Most heaved a sigh of relief and carried on with their lives. Those who had been evicted could not do the same. Their homes gone, many of them unemployed as well, they have become people on the edge as their sense of community has been destroyed. Regarding themselves as having dedicated their lives to serving the Jewish people, as pioneers and soldiers, they also feel betrayed by the state's forceful dismantling of their work and mission. In what to some may have been a surprising letter (given the tensions that prevailed in the months immediately preceding and after the pullout) sent to Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office yesterday, the former Gaza settlers appealed to him to reappoint Yonatan Bassi as head of the Disengagement Authority when his term expires in May. Lior Kalfa, formerly head of the Neveh Dekalim Council, in a joint interview with Bassi on Army Radio, said that the settlers' rehabilitation had only just begun and that the process would be set back if Bassi left. Arik Harpaz, who was forced out of Elei Sinai and now lives in the tent city of Ohalei Sinai, told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday that Bassi has "worked with us shoulder to shoulder in trying to find us a community solution." These are the voices of the majority of the evacuated settler community, seeking a helping hand to set them on their feet and restore their dignity. The fact that there were no secure rooms built in the temporary housing for Gaza settlers, despite the law that mandates them, is just one shocking insight into the challenges this community faces. Those relocated to Kibbutz Karmiya have been forced to flee again from the Kassams launched from Gaza, one of which wounded four and destroyed their temporary home this week. Their plight suggests a yawning absence of concern and sense of responsibility among the relevant government authorities. It is often said that Israelis only respond to a crisis, but then do so with distinction. Well, we have a crisis to address - concerning a whole segment of our society that feels betrayed and alienated and questions its place in the Zionist dream - and it must be addressed promptly if we are to avoid a deepening of the schisms brought to the fore at Amona. What is urgently needed is a concerted effort to ensure the full reintegration of Jews whose lives were torn apart by government policy and who, six months after that trauma, have not been given the necessary tools to recover. Olmert, touring Gush Etzion on Tuesday and starting to give interviews as he raises his profile, is beginning to offer substance to his vision for the future of the settlement enterprise, talking of deepening Israeli control of settlement blocs and security zones that Israel will seek to retain under any conceivable agreement. What the acting prime minister should also do is address the needs of those most profoundly affected by the shifts in government settlement thinking - those who have already paid a price and those who may be asked to. For a start, he should go meet with the evacuated settlers, see where they are living, hear what they are lacking and make sure it is provided. Ariel Sharon's successor needs to enable them to rechannel their pioneering spirit, for the good of all Israel.