|Israel Resource Review
||18th May, 2006
Status Report – Nine Months after the "Disengagement"
Dror Vanunu, International Coordinator.
Gush Katif Committee - May 2006
Nine months have passed since the terrible crisis befell us and we struggle to understand that we, who built homes, hothouses and public buildings, have to start afresh. It is a painful process, difficult and complicated, demanding effort and dedication to rebuild our lives after we were certain that our lives were settled.
After an exhausting process most of us have arrived at 'caravillas' located in four major centers: Nitzan, Lachish, Yad Binyamin and the Negev (Yated and Yivol). These small structures in the modern refugee camps built for us are uncomfortable, but one shining fact stands out: despite all the efforts to harass and disperse us, 85% of us remain united. This group unity makes it easier for us to face new realities.
The slogan trumpeted by the government prior to the expulsion – "There is a solution for every settler" – pales before the fact that 98% of our people have yet to find permanent housing and are still wandering from one temporary home to another. High unemployment statistics combined with delays in paying compensation to those torn from their homes, farms and businesses has had a devastating effect on those hundreds of families who not long ago were self-supporting and now find themselves forced to use compensation money simply to stay alive.
He who visits the various locations where Gush Katif refugees are located will find, along with the pain and frustration, a positive and optimistic attitude toward efforts to rebuild their lives. The Gush Katif Committee and individual communities are working together in dealing with government bureaucrats and other interested parties. Slowly, slowly we are beginning to see in certain areas projects that are being developed, hothouses rebuilt, and the revival of that special spirit that permeated the communities of Gush Katif prior to their destruction. The process of rehabilitating the expellees is long and complicated, and may continue for years to come. Only if the government views the rehabilitation of the expellees as a desired national objective, with the involvement of non-governmental agencies, will the Gush Katif communities be restored to their place as a constructive sector of our people and society.
Below is an update on the status of the expellees from a number of key perspectives.
Housing: (detailed table attached):
118 families are still living in interim accommodations (waiting to move to temporary homes). Of these, 68 families are still living in difficult conditions in hotel rooms and guest houses. 50 former residents of Elei Sinai are still living in the tent city at Yad Mordechai since no temporary or permanent solution has been found. The negotiations with Kibbutz Palmachim didn't lead to any conclusion.
1396 families out of the approximately 1750 former Gush Katif families decided to remain together with their original communities. The community framework offers support and mutual assistance.
Hotels- Yerushalaim 17
Ein Tzurim- Neve Dekalim 45
Ein Tzurim Guest House Netzer Hazany 28
Yad Mordechai – Tent City 50
Hafetz Haim Guest House – Gadid 16
Hafetz Haim Guest House Netzer Hazany 12
Kefar Darom - Ashkelon 51
Nisanit - Ashkelon 100
Tene Omarim 15
Or Haner 19
Yad Biyamin - Ganei Tal 80
Yad Binyamin – "Gag Anak" 50
Bustan Hagalil 14
Yad Binyamin - Torat Ha'Haim 100
Nitzan - Bedolah 34
Nitzan - Gan Or 32
Nitzan - Neve Dekalim 240
Nitzan -Nisanit 90
Nitzan - Morag 15
Nitzan - Gadid 34
Nitzan - Rafiah Yam 17
Nitzan - Netzer Hazany 11
According to the Sela Administration data – 4,091claims have been filed, but only in 2,390 cases did the Administration work through all its red tape and give a final decision (58.4%).
Many of the families expelled from Gush Katif are still dealing with the unbelievable bureaucracy, especially those that chose to request a special evaluation of their property in Gush Katif before the expulsion (700 cases) – they received only down payments on their house.
Even those who have already been paid are not finished with the ongoing saga: The Compensation Law evaluated the cost of rebuilding a house at $700-$850 per square meter, but as the expellees start looking into building – it turns out that the prices are significantly higher: at least $950! (for basic standards).
Most business owners and farmers have not yet received any payment. The lawyers of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel discovered that the process of evaluating farms and businesses is unfair and even not consistent with the Compensation Law, and appealed to the authorities. The expellees are still waiting to be dealt with fairly.
Of the businessmen only 25.5% reached the final decision stage, and among the farmers – only 5.1%!!!
Unemployment was almost unknown in Gush Katif. The great majority of residents were employed in agriculture, industry, education, and local services and they were significant contributors to the Israeli economy.
To date, nine months after the destruction of Gush Katif, the percentage of the unemployed has decreased and stands on about 50%. Due to the intensive work of the Gush Katif Committee in cooperation with JobKatif and Maavarim more than 450 found work.
70% of the salaried and independent workers who worked in Gush Katif lost their job immediately after the eviction from Gush Katif and remain unemployed until now.
1100 people are still unemployed – 380 of them live in Nitzan- and the large majority of them no longer receive unemployment payments.
Only 17.2% of the farmers – 38 out of the 220 that worked in Gush Katif - have resumed their activity (some of whom are currently working on rebuilding their hothouses).
Only 150 businesses, out of 700- a mere 21.4% - have re-opened: 40 of them in Nitzan, and 7 in Yad Binyamin in a new commercial center that was recently built there.
The teachers, school administrations and the Ministry of Education are all working together with the Gush Katif Committee to reestablish a normal and healthy learning atmosphere in all the schools.
Many of the children of the expelled communities of Gush Katif suffer from a full range of traumatic and post traumatic stress symptoms including anxiety, depression, regressive behavior, behavioral problems, lack of concentration and difficulties coping with new or challenging situations. As a result of the transit of children between 2-3 schools and the psychological difficulties, there are significant learning gaps among the children.
Five elementary schools serve most of the children of the former Gush Katif communities; another one will start operating in a few weeks in Nitzan.
The Neve Dekelim religious public school is located in Shafir and serves Nitzan and Ein Tzurim. There are technical problems and bureaucratic problems (the school serves children outside of its formal jurisdiction).
The Shaar Hanegev School serves the children from the former secular communities of Gush Katif who part of them live in Nitzan and the Ashqelon region.
The Breuer religious public school is located in Yad Binyamin and is working well. The problem of tuition fees that many families could not afford was dealt with.
The Talmud Torah of Atzmona is currently moving from the "Ir Emuna" tent city to Shomeriya, the new location of many Atzmona families.
The Netzarim religious public school has moved from temporary quarters in Hulit to the Yevul community.
Three of the schools (with the exception of the Talmud Torah of Atzmona) receive funding for lunch programs from Keren Karev.
Most of the high-school pupils attend boarding schools. There is a concentration of Gush Katif girls in the Ulpana, formerly of Neve Dekelim, which is currently located on the campus of Givat Washington. The site is inadequate and there is need for more substitutes teaching hours since most of the teachers are also expellees, many of whom live far from Givat Washington and have the additional problems involved in moving from their interim quarters to their temporary homes.
The high-school age boys are dispersed among many Yeshivot but there are concentrations of expellees at Dimona, Susia, and Mitzpeh Ramon as well as a group of 10th-grade special-needs boys in the "Menifa" program at Or Etzion where they receive individual attention, therapy, and supplementary lessons.
The education representative of the Gush Katif Committee follows up on the above and also deals with special problems such as tuition reduction and transportation arrangements as needed and with getting approval for special conditions for pupils taking Bagrut (matriculation) exams this year.
753 youth are located in 18 "caravilla" sites and 3 interim (hotel) sites. There are 5 locations without a youth counselor and 15 sites with no building for youth activities. Youth budgets ended at the end of March although the activity year continues until the end of August and there is an urgent need to plan for the following year's activities. In addition, now is the time that counseling is needed for 8th graders for placement in high schools in September.
Many of the youth meet the definition of "at risk". They are rebelling against parental and communal authority and are having difficulty in finding their place at school and in their new communities with youth who did not experience the traumatic experiences that they did. There is a danger of alcoholism and drug addiction and, therefore, experienced and empathetic youth counselors and programs are urgently needed.
In spite of all the above the government decided to stop budget for youth counselors as of the end of May; which means that the adolescents will be left unattended during the most critical period of the year, during the summer when constant structures are most needed.
From receiving to giving:
The past months were for the youth as for the whole population of the expellees, months of pain, grieving and mourning. During this period we received incredible support from organizations, and individuals as well, financial and moral.
Throughout this period we knew that it was a matter of time but the strong, self-sustaining society that we were in GK will rise again and find new opportunities to be givers again.
One of the projects that the youth of Gush Katif wish to undertake is volunteering in day camps in the south and thus to contribute its strength and energies to weaker children. We see this as a valuable project as it marks the beginning of the rehabilitation of the youth to continue being a vital part of the Israeli society.
The coordination of efforts between the Gush Katif Committee and the government Welfare Ministry has led to the understanding that job slots for social workers in the local municipal councils have to be increased. In addition of this added work force, the GK Committee employs 5 social workers, in various locations and coordinates the work of many volunteers that work on a regular basis among individuals and communities.
The Welfare department works towards the following goals:
• Establishing and strengthening the connection between the families and the local social services in the respective regional councils
• Training of a professional team for narrative documentation and promoting the project among the families as a therapeutic tool for rehabilitation. ( we already proceeded with this project among dozens of families to narrate their experiences during and after the disengagement. This project is not only vital from a historical point of view, but provides an excellent platform for therapy and the interviewers are all trained therapists).
• Fundraising in order to provide didactic and psychological diagnosis for needy families.
• Group dynamics sessions to help individuals within the community to recover from the consequences of the uprooting: regaining parental authority, community consolidation, coping with bereavement.
Special Assistance to Needy Families:
As a result of the expulsion, hundreds of families are in severe economic straits because of the loss of income of one or more former breadwinners and because of additional costs involved led to the complete economic breakdown of many families who never needed any help in the past.
Unemployment allowances are paid during the period of 6 months and many salaried workers are not entitled to this financial support anymore.
Moreover, many salaried workers who chose to enroll for retraining courses didn't receive the promised payment for attending classes or received only part of the allocation.
The Gush Katif Committee has distributed more than 4,700,000 NIS in donations to needy families in the various temporary locations. Yoni Cohen, the administrator of the Gush Katif Zedakah fund has handled this matter with great respect and discretion. At first, the assistance was for the most immediate needs. Lately, the assistance is supplementary to the family's own efforts to rehabilitate themselves and is based on contributions by organizations and individuals in Israel and abroad. The assistance is provided together with counseling for the management of the family budget.
Through the initiative of the Gush Katif Committee, many needy families were 'adopted' by communities which are supporting them on a monthly basis, each family for a delimited period of time.
At the eve of Pessach, when we are commanded to assure that all of Israel has the means to celebrate the Seder and the holiday, it became of utmost importance to be able to count on additional support for the families.
This is the place to thank all the congregations, communities and organization that extended their assistance before the holiday, and provided financial help for the needy families, vouchers and checks, and delivered hundreds of food packages to all of the dispersed communities.
Your contributions were distributed to many families and allowed them to celebrate Pessach with joy and dignity.
A WORD ABOUT THE GUSH KATIF COMMITTEE
After the first chaotic months following the evacuation, leaders from Gush Katif formed the Gush Katif Committee, representing the former Gush Katif communities and coordinating all relief efforts, both from private and public sources. A social welfare infrastructure was built to fill the gap left by government cuts. A teenage support program has been instituted. An employment program has been initiated and professional counselors are helping the evacuees find gainful employment or to start new businesses. The Gush Katif Committee evaluates the needs and coordinates the distribution of all resources to this special group of people.
For contributions in the U.S., please send checks to:
Friends of Gush Katif
Teaneck, NJ 07666
All checks made payable to Friends of Gush Katif are tax-deductible under US law.
In Israel: The Gush Katif Committee
P.O Box 450, Ahuzat Etrog, 79411
For additional information, please contact:
International Coordinator, Gush Katif Committee
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The Deputy Prime Minister on a visit to Canada
Peres: Withdrawal in the West Bank during the coming year
Senior Writer, www.Nfc.co.il (translated from Hebrew)
The Deputy Prime Minister believes that the consolidation in the West Bank will take place within the year if there is no change on the Palestinian side. The Israeli goal: "to get rid of the occupation that is against everything we believe."
Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres visited in Toronto this week (15 May 2006) and participated in a "forum of world leaders" to raise money and investors to develop the Middle East together with former President Bill Clinton. Two hundred and fifty persons of the cream of Canada's crop participated in the event at the Windsor Arms Hotel. Each of them paid 3000 dollars per plate for the festive dinner.
In his speech before the audience of business people, Peres focused on the importance of advancing the diplomatic process in the Middle East, and continued his unyieldingly optimistic approach. He noted that Israel "wishes to rid itself of the occupation, because it conflicts with everything that we believe. We did not leave the house of slavery in Egypt to be masters in another place. Without moral justification, the Jewish people has no existence," said Peres.
Peres noted that the Israeli government clarified that it is prepared to open negotiations and to respond favorably to most Palestinian demands, but the Palestinians are divided and there is no partner with which to negotiate an arrangement. According to Peres, Israel will wait for half a year to one year, and then if there is no change on the Palestinian side, Israel will act unilaterally in order to bring about the occupation's end.
Peres emphasized that the unilateral approach is not ideological, but is the last outlet in the absence of any other possibility. "Politics is constructed on schedules, but to organizations that are governed by religion, like Hamas, the schedule is always perpetual," said Peres, adding that the withdrawal in Judea and Samaria will be broader than that of the Gaza Strip.
Later in his speech, Peres talked about the importance of the economy as a factor in advancing discussions between countries and peace, and said, "We want to privatize peace and allow companies and investors to create links that countries failed to make. This is how it was in Europe in 1944… when you sign an agreement, things can change."
When he was asked in a newspaper interview for the source of his characteristic optimism, Peres answered that he prefers being an idealist to being a cynic, because pessimists and optimists die the same way, but live completely differently.
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Canadian Prime Minister's Parliamentary Secretary Hosts David Bedein in Ottawa With a Message:
Canada play a "heroic" role in Turning Palestinian Refugee Camps into Permanent Communities
Sarah McGregor, Correspondent
Senior Staff Writer, "Embassy", a Weekly Newspepr in Ottawa,
David Bedein suggests Canada play a "heroic" role in turning Palestinian refugee camps into permanent communities, an idea critics says is too simplistic and does not address the refugees's right to return.
Plan Would Entice Palestinian Refugees to Stay in Camps
The prime minister's Parliamentary Secretary hosted this week an advocate of the idea that Canada should play a leading role to permanently settle Palestinian refugees in camps spread throughout the Middle East.
David Bedein, a journalist with the online Israel Resource News Agency, says Canada is ably positioned to urge global policymakers to boost support to improve the squalid conditions in refugee communities in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. His theory is that Palestinian refugees would voluntarily opt to stay put in the camps if their standard of living was greatly enhanced.
The issue of Palestinians' right of return is a fiercely debated aspect of an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. Palestinian sympathizers say refugees and their descendants have the legal right to return to their homes, while some Israel supporters believe such a move could swing the demographic makeup of the Jewish state.
Mr. Bedein, who is based in Jerusalem, calls on Canada as chair of the agency's refugee policy working group, to shore up political support and aid money to implement a "humanitarian solution," an idea he has presented to the United Nations as well as American and European policymakers.
Mazen Chouaib, Executive Director of the National Council of Canada-Arab Relations in Ottawa, says Middle East peace negotiations must recognize the option of Palestinians to return to their homelands. "No one person can negotiate on the Palestinian right of return. It is an individual right and international law," he says. Mr. Chouaib calls the new Conservative government "pro-Israel" and points to Mr. Bedein's visit at the request of Mr. Kenney as proof.
"For Jason Kenney to invite somebody with such a hard position and someone who is a pro-Israel lobbyist is something that sends me a negative signal," he says.
On Monday, Mr. Bedein privately briefed about two-dozen Conservative, Liberal and NDP politicians on Parliament Hill and met with top officials from the Prime Minister's Office and the Department of Foreign Affairs. Mr. Bedein declined to provide the names of Parliamentarians attending three "off-the-record" sessions, citing journalistic integrity to protect his contacts.
He did confirm the presence of Conservative MP James Lunney and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Parliamentary Secretary, Jason Kenney, who requested the visit of Mr. Bedein. Mr. Bedein, an Orthodox Jew, says he has an affinity to Mr. Kenney, a practicing Christian, through religion. Mr. Kenney invited Mr. Bedein to Ottawa about one month ago, but they've known each other for several years.
Both Canadian politicians were unavailable for interviews this week. However, last week an aide to Mr. Kenney alerted Embassy to the upcoming visit of Mr. Bedein, describing him as an expert on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The UNRWA runs relief and job creation programs, and provides education, health care and other social services.
Palestinian Refugees from Iraq Extra Burden
An estimated 4.3 million Palestinians refugees are scattered in about 59 camps in the Middle East. Many carry legally binding certificates of registration that name the place they fled or were displaced during Arab-Israeli wars in 1948 and 1967.
UNRWA's Commissioner General Karen Koning AbuZayd last week pleaded with the Quartet the United States, European Union, Russia and United Nations to funnel the agency more aid. Its $471 million budget is facing an almost $130 million shortfall in 2006. "It's such a depressing time because there have been so many plans and programs on how things should be developed in the Palestinian territories," says UNRWA spokesman, Johan Eriksson, from Jerusalem. "But at the moment it's really down to just trying to give emergency aid. And that's really sad."
According to Mr. Eriksson, the situation in the camps has become more critical since donor governments, of which Canada was the first, shut off aid to the Palestinian Authority after the election of Hamas, defined a terrorist organization by some Western leaders.
Bill Frelick, Refugee Policy Director of Human Rights Watch, says the Palestinian territories are slipping into a humanitarian disaster.
Compounding the problem is the coming arrival to refugee camps of almost 30,000 Palestinians from Iraq who before the U.S. invasion hadn't been under the agency's watch, he says.
Yet, Mr. Frelick admits it's too simplistic to believe that the issue of Palestinians refugees will be resolved by improving their lot in life.
"The right of return to one's home and homeland is considered the best choice for refugees when they can return in safety and dignity," says Mr. Frelick. "I think it's wishful thinking to say that even if some economic needs are provided for that that will satisfy their need for nationality and identity."
Mr. Bedein says such basic infrastructure projects as sewage systems, could transform refugee camps from temporary to permanent communities.
"The political process isn't going to change, but Canada can play a heroic role in the humanitarian aspect of the peace process. Canada can say we don't want to keep these people in limbo," says Mr. Bedein. He recommends Canada deploy a task force to survey Palestinians on ways to improve their situation.
Asked if his case was met with a favourable reaction by Canadian political leaders, Mr. Bedein smiles and says "100 per cent."
Israel's Ambassador to Canada, Alan Baker, says a decision on the question of Palestinian refugees will be reached through peace talks and, whatever the form, a final decision must be financed by an international fund. "Canada is already part of whatever negotiating will take place on the issue of refugees," says Mr. Baker.
The Palestine Delegation in Canada did not return calls. Foreign Affairs Canada also did not respond to questions from Embassy as of press time.
This piece ran in the May 17th issue of "Embassy" at: http://www.embassymag.ca/html/index.php?display=story&full_path=/2006/may/17/return/:
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