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Jewish World Review
August 31, 2005
/26 Meanachem-Av, 5765
Paid-off settlers and other myths
An army of twenty public relations professionals sold a self-serving message that was (gullibly?) bought hook, line and sinker
In the long span of Jewish history, the uprooting of 8,500 Jews from Gaza will not rank as one of the worst tragedies, though it was unique in that those doing the uprooting were themselves Jews. This was not 1492 and the expulsion from Spain or the Holocaust. And the attempts by some in the settler community to appropriate symbols of those earlier tragedies yellow Jewish stars, concentration camp uniforms and by implication, and sometimes explicitly, to cast the soldiers executing the evacuation orders in the role of Hitler's S.S. troops, only infuriated secular Israelis.
Yet if the expulsion from Gaza was not one of the worst tragedies in Jewish history, the trauma inflicted on the Gaza residents and indeed on the entire national religious community, is nevertheless overwhelming. Rarely has a democratically elected government treated a part of its own population so harshly.
The loss for those uprooted from their homes took place on many levels personal, communal, theological, and sociological. The faith in the imminent redemptive process that has animated the national religious community since Israel's miraculous expansion into the Jewish people's historic heartland in 1967 has now suffered an immense blow.
At the same time, the community's sense of itself as the vanguard of Israel society, widely admired as the exemplars of the true Zionist faith, can no longer be sustained. No longer can the national religious world delude itself that only a handful of narrow societal elites stand between it and the realization of a far more Jewish state in Israel. The settlers feel rejected and spit out by a large portion of Israel. And the sense of betrayal and having been stabbed in the back runs very deep.
Secular journalist Ari Shavit, who views the Gaza settlement as misbegotten from the start, even as he is filled with considerable sympathy and admiration the settlers, captured their feelings of bewilderment in the face of betrayal: "They have build a kind of model of Zionism in the sand. . . . A cruel and na´ve Zionism. A Zionism . . . that protects itself with reckless abandon and buries its dead with deep devotion. And maintains on the dunes of Gaza beach a form of the lost Israeli soul to which Israel is itself already foreign. Israel itself no longer wants it."
The trauma is so much greater for having been inflicted by the state and army in which the settlers so ardently believed. Shavit again: "The soil bound Israelis of Gush Katif could not believe that the digital Israelis of Tel Aviv would throw them out like an object no one wants. And would send against them the army in which they believed so much; would send into their homes people in the uniform they loved so much."
Not only have the Gaza settlers witnessed the destruction of their lives' work, they are without any clue as to what the future holds for them. An army of twenty public relations professionals working for SELA, the body charged with overseeing arrangements with those uprooted from Gaza, has skillfully spread the message in Israel and abroad that all the settlers walked out of Gaza with checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars, an amount sufficient to reestablish themselves anywhere in Israel.
That is a seriously distorted picture. Those who were renting homes are entitled to only modest checks based on the number of years living there. Most of those were teachers or otherwise employed by the Gush Katif Regional Council, and now have neither homes nor jobs. Even those who had large homes in many cases 250 square meters or more with lawns and gardens, will, in the best case, be relocated to caravans of 60-90 square meters, for the next two to three years. Those caravans have no room for their ovens or refrigerators, which will be stored for years on Negev army bases, in containers where the internal temperatures are estimated to reach close to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Far worse, from their point of view, there is no room for their Shabbes (Sabbath) tables or their seforim, holy books. It will be a long time before they can again host for Shabbes their married children and grandchildren, who, in many cases, were living right next door until last week.
But the image of the generously compensated settlers misses the point in a far more fundamental way. They never wanted the checks in the first place. The idea of providing checks and leaving the former residents of the Gaza Strip to make their own arrangements was to make life easier for the government.
Though the settlers, by and large, refused to carry on individual negotiations with SELA, on the grounds that one does not discuss one's own funeral arrangements, from the beginning they made clear through their legal representative, the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, that their primary concern was that they be able to remain together with the neighbors with whom they have built their entire lives together over the last 37 years.
The Gaza Strip settlements were not suburban housing developments; they were faith communities of people animated by a shared vision and depth of commitment. Together they built lush, verdant communities out of the sand dunes, and together they mourned many sons and daughters killed in battle and terrorist attacks. Many of the younger generation have never known any other home. And their most fervent wish was that they could remain together.
Those hopes, too, now appear dashed. According to Yitzchak Meron, an attorney with the Legal Forum, less than ten per cent of the Gaza settlers know what their final housing solutions will be. The largest site planned for the refugees on the Nitzanim sand dunes south of Askelon will hold at most 300 (of the 1500 families uprooted from Gaza), and likely take 3 years to complete. In addition, the government inserted a contract clause that if it does not secure all the necessary permits by the end of the year, the whole deal can be cancelled.
Worse, no more than one-third of those removed from their homes even have temporary housing solutions. The government purchased less than 500 caravans all total, and has explicitly said that it will purchase no more.
As of the start of the evacuation, SELA had procured only a thousand hotel rooms around the country for 1,000 families, many of them very large, with no place to go. Only at the last minute, did it scramble to come up with another 1,500 rooms. The exiles from Gaza were shepherded onto busses with no idea where they were going, and, in many cases, when they arrived, they were told that there were no rooms for them. Even at the first stage, the different communities were split up. Residents of Netzarim, for instance, are now housed in eight different hotels in Jerusalem.
Those who did have rooms soon realized that in the haste and circumstances of their departure, they had failed to take even the most basic necessities soap, toothpaste, diapers and that they had no place to wash their laundry.
With the school year about to begin, parents have no idea where their children will be attending school. Even if the original ten day stays granted by SELA are extended, families will have to move a number of times in coming months, as the hotels fill up for the Yom Tovim. Those groups that found places for themselves in different dormitories around the country will also have to be relocated at the end of summer vacation. Psychologists have said that each of these moves is a separate trauma for the families already traumatized by the loss of their homes, support groups, and entire way of life.
The recitation of these heart-wrenching facts requires no explanation. Jews must know when other Jews are suffering. And particularly so those who believe in the uniqueness of every Jew and our common mission from Sinai.
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JWR contributor Jonathan Rosenblum is a columnist, author and Israeli director of Am Echad. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
© 2005, Jonathan Rosenblum