The forgotten evacuees

The litany of post-disengagement misery for these Israelis is long and includes the breakup of families.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
It is nearly a year and a half since a government-sponsored advertising campaign reassured the nation that "there's a solution for every settler" - a reference to the thousands of Israeli citizens then slated to be removed from Gaza and northern Samaria as part of disengagement. However the sorry truth is that not a single evacuated family has been relocated to a permanent home. Most of the evacuated breadwinners are still unemployed. Only 10 of the 400 farmers were given new land, and even that was woefully inadequate. And the advances that have been paid on compensation (the final extent of which is still bogged down in red tape) are being eaten up by the cost of daily subsistence in lieu of income. Many previously well-to-do settlers are being reduced to financial ruin and cannot afford to buy new homes. The litany of post-disengagement misery for these uprooted Israelis is long, and includes the breakup of families, truancy and physical and/or psychological ill-health. Officialdom's excuses, which may have been semi-tolerable in the immediate aftermath of the complex and wrenching unilateral pullout, are patently no longer sufferable. Such a conclusion, it should be stressed, is not a reflection of partisan thinking. It is not the skewed impression of those politically disposed to support the evacuees in any case. A moving petition, imploring the government to end this neglect, was published last week above the signatures of a veritable who's who of Israel's left wing. Among them are such outspoken political figures as Yossi Sarid, Shulamit Aloni, Aryeh Eliav and Uzi Dayan; literati like Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, David Grossman, Sami Michael, Eli Amir, Yehoshua Sobol and Haim Be'er; showbiz and media celebrities including Gila Almagor and Yaron London; Peace Now's Mossi Raz and Janet Aviad, and even Shimon Peres's daughter Zvia Walden. While affirming Israel's "right to vacate territory and uproot settlements," the petitioners maintain that "it is incumbent upon the government to protect the evacuated citizens' injured rights, compensate and rehabilitate them. This is the mutual responsibility that obliges us all. It is the decree of morality and heart, of the law, of democracy's raison d'etre." The petition notes that "despite all the time that has elapsed, thousands of evacuees languish neglected in temporary accommodations. They have no permanent settlements. Joblessness is rampant. Communities disintegrate." The petition is not without a political subtext. It expresses a concern that "the mistreatment of Gush Katif's evacuees might delegitimize further such evacuations in future." But its stated bottom line, again, is firmly nonpartisan: "We behold the distress of our brethren, we feel their pain and we protest their situation." Such sympathy and sensitivity, unfortunately, is not shared across Israel's bureaucracy. A few days ago it was announced that evacuee children in the Ashkelon area are not eligible for the hot school lunches that are being offered to their classmates, who are permanent residents of the region. The bureaucratic logic behind this hardheartedness is immaterial. What matters is that youngsters are being blatantly discriminated against and set apart from fellow pupils in a most humiliating fashion. It has also emerged in the last few days that all fire departments, in areas where prefabs were hastily erected for the evacuees have refused to issue safety permits for the makeshift lodgings, branding them firetraps. The impression that the evacuees have been abandoned has crossed the ocean. North America's United Jewish Communities umbrella organization, which links 155 federations and 400 Jewish communities, is raising $2.5 million for the evacuees in the absence of a visible and efficient program by official Israel. UJC federation heads embarked on the project after visiting the various evacuee concentrations and witnessing the hardships firsthand. The fact that those displaced by the government are not being properly aided by it, that their plight has prompted expressions of solidarity from political rivals, and that they find themselves dependent on largesse from abroad, is an indictment of official policy. Israel owes them fairer treatment, and the sooner the better.