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Gush evacuees still waiting for permanent homes

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Dror Vanunu, international coordinator of the Friends of Gush Katif, in a field designated to house a community of Gaza Strip evacuees. Construction on new homes has yet to begin. Ben Harris

NITZAN, Israel – More than four years after her family was ejected from their home in the Gaza Strip, Karen Sarfaty lives with her husband and four of their children in a small pre-fab house in this small town located about midway between the southern Israeli cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod.

Neither she nor her husband have found adequate employment. The compensation she received from the government is running out. Her daughter is only now beginning to overcome the trauma of their forced removal from Gaza. And while the lots allocated to them to build permanent houses are nearly ready, Sarfati says she lacks the money for construction.

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Moshe and Rachel Saperstein, seen here outside their temporary home in Nitzan, are still waiting to move into their home in the new community of Bnei Dekalim. Ben Harris

“I have a lot of anger inside of me,” Sarfaty told JTA. “If [the evacuation] had to be, then it had to be. But at least if it had to be, it should have been done the right way.”

More than four years since the August 2005 removal of some 9,000 Israelis from Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, the national trauma of the forced evacuation is firmly in the past. But for the majority of evacuees, who still do not live in permanent homes, the trauma has not ended.

According to a report last November by Friends of Gush Katif, the American arm of the former Gaza residents’ official representative in Israel, unemployment among the evacuees is 21 percent, and only 12 percent have begun construction on permanent homes. Housing construction has begun at only seven of the 23 sites where the evacuees are to be resettled. At about half the sites, work on permanent infrastructure — the prerequisite for housing construction — has not begun.

The situation is so bad that the Knesset has established a commission of inquiry to look into the matter. In an interim report issued in September, the commission said the government basically had failed in its handling of the evacuees, though it also noted that a lack of cooperation from some in the settler community contributed to the delays.

According to government data cited in the report, only about half the 1,800 or so families had been allocated plots of land to build new homes. Of those, only about 250 families had begun to build as of last August.

Several evacuees noted with disgust that while the government managed to speedily carry out the evacuation — also known as the disengagement — from conception to execution, the rehabilitation has dragged on without any sense of official urgency.

“There was terrible foot-dragging,” says Dror Vanunu, the international coordinator for Friends of Gush Katif.

Evacuees were supposed to be housed in temporary quarters and then moved to permanent dwellings. But in Nitzan, which is home to the largest concentration of former Gaza residents in the country, the community has all the trappings of a permanent neighborhood.

The community has schools and groceries, playgrounds, and hair salons. Many families have upgraded the small, pre-fab housing units known as caravillas with additional rooms and elaborate gardens.

About a mile to the south, where permanent dwellings are to be built, roads have been paved and sewage and electricity lines installed, but construction on housing has not begun. According to Vanunu, the paved roads and absence of pedestrians have made the area a popular destination for high-speed motorcycle racing — so much so that the authorities have broken up parts of the pavement to discourage the practice.

“Look around,” Vanunu says. “Not even one single house was built.”

A spokesperson for the commission of government inquiry said the infrastructure is in place and the onus is now on the evacuees to begin construction of their homes. But Sarfaty says that after more than four years with minimal income, the family lacks money to begin construction and may be forced to sell part of their plot to finance a new home.

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Karen Sarfaty, in the garden of her temporary home in Nitzan, says her family lacks money to build a permanent house. Ben Harris

Rachel and Moshe Saperstein also have not begun construction on a new home. The Sapersteins, who moved to Neve Dekalim, Gaza, in the 1990s in protest of the Oslo accords — or, as Rachel likes to say, to “put our bodies where our mouths were” — live a few blocks from the Sarfaty family in a caravilla with a small garden where Moshe, who lost an arm in the 1973 war and several fingers in a terrorist attack, likes to smoke cigars.

Their future home will be in Bnei Dekalim, a community being built in the eastern part of Israel’s Lachish region. The town eventually is supposed to include a luxury hotel, cottages for rabbis on sabbatical, and a health spa. Infrastructure is being built in the area, but it will be many months before the Sapersteins move into their new home.

“I wish I were 39 so I could build a town, watch it grow, and still have a few years left,” Rachel says. “When you’re 69 going on 70, you should theoretically be living in a place that is built. But I’m excited. I’m going to build a town at 69.”

That sort of optimism isn’t always easy to muster among the evacuees, but Sarfaty says her faith helps her to cope.

“We’re people that believe. We believe that everything is for the best,” she says. “Maybe right now we can’t see it. Maybe in another couple years we will see it.”

JTA

 
 

Israelis troubled about Palestinian response to Itamar

JERUSALEM – The Palestinian reaction to the grisly killings of five Israeli family members in the Jewish settlement of Itamar, on the west bank, has prompted many Israelis to ask the same question of the Palestinians that the world often asks of the Israeli government: Are they really serious about peace?

On the one hand, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas went on Israel Radio on Monday to condemn the March 11 killings of the Fogel family members, including a 4-year-old boy and a 3-month-old girl, as “despicable, inhuman, and immoral.”

On the other hand, a day after the attack, members of Abbas’ Fatah faction participated in an official dedication ceremony in the west bank town of Al-Bireh for a town square dedicated to the memory of Dalal Mughrabi, a terrorist involved in killing 37 Israelis in a 1978 bus hijacking on Israel’s coastal road. No PA government officials attended the ceremony, Reuters reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu derided the Palestinian Authority’s reaction on Sunday to the Itamar killings as full of “weak and mumbled” statements and accused the Palestinians of continuing to incite against Israel in their mosques and schools. Meanwhile, in Gaza, Hamas members reportedly handed out candy in celebration of the attack.

The Palestinian leadership must “stop the incitement that is conducted on a daily basis in their schools, mosques, and the media under their control,” Netanyahu said. “The time has come to stop this double-talk in which the Palestinian Authority outwardly talks peace and allows — and sometimes leads — incitement at home.”

The brutal murders of the Fogel parents, Udi, 36, and Ruth, 35, and three of their six children — Yoav, 11, along with Elad, 4, and Hadas, 3 months — shocked and angered a nation that had seen terrorist attacks dwindle in recent years. The circulation of photos of some of the stabbed children — apparently distributed to news media by relatives of the victims — offered gruesome pictures of the blood-soaked scene.

A group called the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades of Imad Mughniyeh claimed responsibility for the attack. Israeli forces combed the area after the attack, and the Palestinian Authority agreed to participate in a joint investigation to find the killer or killers.

The attack sparked angry demonstrations throughout Israel and the west bank in support of the settlers, with demonstrators holding signs reading “We are all settlers” and “Peace isn’t signed with blood.” One of the largest rallies took place in Tel Aviv near the army’s national headquarters.

After a funeral in Jerusalem for the Fogels drew an estimated 20,000 people, some settlers went to Palestinian villages to carry out revenge attacks, throwing stones and destroying property.

For its part, the Israeli government on Sunday announced the approval of some 500 new housing units in the west bank, in the settlements of Gush Etzion, Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel, and Kiryat Sefer.

In the attack, which took place late last Friday night, two sons, aged 8 and 2, were spared, apparently because they were sleeping in a side room that escaped attention. A daughter, Tamar, 12, returned home late at night from a Bnei Akiva youth program to discover the door to the house was locked. Alarmed, she contacted a neighbor, and they entered the home together and encountered the gory scene.

Volunteers for ZAKA, the Orthodox-run search-and-rescue organization, described the scene shortly after the terror attack as “absolutely horrific.”

“We saw toys lying next to pools of blood, Shabbat clothes covered in blood, and everywhere the smell of death mixing with the aroma of the Shabbat meal,” one volunteer said.

The Fogel family had relocated to Itamar following their removal from the Gush Katif settlement in Gaza, which was part of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. They had lived for a while in the Jewish west bank city of Ariel before moving to Itamar, which is near the Palestinian city of Nablus.

Danny Dayan, chairman of the Yesha Council settler umbrella group, called the approval of new housing in response to the attack “a small step in the right direction.” He said it was “deeply troubling that it requires the murder of children in the arms of their parents to achieve such an objective.”

At the emotional funerals, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said the Fogel parents personified devotion to the Zionist vision and were pioneers.

JTA Wire Service

 
 
 
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