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by Toby Klein Greenwald


Efrat, Israel: When I visited Debby Rosen of Neve Dekalim, Gush Katif, at the Shalom Hotel in September, she said with sad eyes, "I'm looking forward to the day that I can bake my own challahs again."

The Rosens were among the 10,000 men, women, and children in Gush Katif, northern Gaza, and northern Samaria who were uprooted from their homes in mid-August. Debby is baking challahs in "her" kitchen again, this time in the Nitzan caravan camp. It's better than a hotel room, she says, but it's not the joyous occasion that challah-baking was before. When she moved in a few weeks ago, there were leaks and plaster all over the place. "It wasn't fit to live in," she says. Her exquisite garden in Gaza has been replaced by mud and flooded streets. Even the Chanukah holiday cannot wash away the sorrow. It brings back painful memories of what used to be.

"The worst part," she says, is that "almost everyone's forgotten us except for 'our' communities, the religious Zionists." Where are the left-wing non-religious who claim to care about humanitarian issues?" she asks. "And where is Ariel Sharon's efficient army? They knew how to pack up our belongings to get us out of Gush Katif. Why are the elderly from Gush Katif at the mercy of friends and volunteers to help them move their furniture out of containers, rebuild their closets, fix and shlep? Some of these people are survivors of terror attacks and are disabled."

"When mortars were falling around us, the army said that it couldn't spare enough soldiers to solve the mortar problem. But when they decided to uproot us from our homes, there were tens of thousands more than were sent to fight the Yom Kippur War. Doesn't the IDF have a maintenance division? Can none of them be spared now to help us put our homes such as they are back together again?

A native Israeli who speaks perfect English, Debby has been unemployed since the expulsion. The mother of six, ranging in ages from 6-19, she had worked for the spokesman's office in Gush Katif, where she and her husband Shlomo lived for 20 years.

Reporters from Israel and abroad know Rosen as a walking encyclopedia on Jewish Gaza. Journalists still call her for information.

I first met Debby more than two years ago, when she took a break from her hectic schedule to participate in a weekly creative-writing class I gave to women in Gush Katif. One chill night in January 2003, I asked participants to "write about how you would feel the morning you're expelled from your homes."

They were shocked at the assignment, and some refused to write; others cried as they read their poems or essays. My goal had been to stretch their imaginations about something frightening. Ten days later, Ariel Sharon announced the Disengagement Plan, and the women were in shock.

"You should have told us to write about the coming of the Messiah," they said in anguish.

"We were told that we would be in the hotels for one week," says Debby with barely controlled rage. That week stretched to four months for Rosen and her family. At the time of this writing, there are still between 200 and 300 families in hotels or tent camps.

Almost 2,000 people are still unemployed, even though in Gush Katif unemployment was virtually unknown, and the community even donated money and produce to the less fortunate. Rav Yosef Tzvi Rimon of Gush Etzion has created a grassroots effort and website ( to help find jobs for people. He's had some success, but there is still a long way to go, and there is almost no help from the government.

People signed up for Ministry of Trade retraining courses in early September, but the courses have still not opened. One minister who had taken an interest in the evictees and tried to help was Matan Vilnai (Labor), but when he and the other Labor ministers resigned from Sharon's government, he lost his power base.

Chaim Altman, spokesman for the Disengagement Authority, told me in September that there are three types of housing for the Katif evicted "immediate" (hotels and tent camps), "temporary" (caravan camps set up by the government), and "permanent" (real homes).

Only about 35 families from the northern Samarian communities of Ganim and Kadim have achieved the third category by using their compensation money to buy apartments in the Afula area or elsewhere. The other 1,900 families are still in either "immediate" or "temporary" dwellings. But the Disengagement Authority, apparently seeking a more favorable spin, has changed its terminology in the last few weeks, and now refers to the caravan camps as "permanent" housing.

Education is one of the Rosens' greatest worries. While they were in the Shalom Hotel in Jerusalem for four months, the children were sent to makeshift schools set up for the Gush Katif "refugees."

"My 10-year-old had five different teachers in the space of three months," says Debby. "My 6-year-old started first grade without the special 'first-day' events that we used to have in Gush Katif and that they have in most Israeli schools."

Now the youngster is in a Katif school, a bus ride away from Nitzan caravan camp, but even that is not without its problems. Parents have complained about the lack of vital equipment and about the paucity of psychological help, says Debby. "There are also no bus shelters for the children, so they wait for their school buses in the pouring rain."

"The TV ads said, 'There is a solution for every settler,'" Debby quotes bitterly. "We knew in advance it was a big lie, and now the whole country knows it, too, but no one does anything about it. The prime minister's office has revealed itself as the most inefficient organization in the state of Israel."

"Had we agreed to go to scattered rental apartments in failing towns throughout Israel," she adds, it would be "one more way to totally destroy our community life. It forces us to ask the question, 'Is that what the government wanted to happen?'"

Many people evicted from their homes in Gaza have still not received any compensation, including the first 50,000 shekels they were going to receive "the first few days after the disengagement."

The Rosens filled out their paperwork for compensation in early September and haven't received any money yet.

What does the Disengagement Authority tell Debby now when she asks where her compensation is?

"They say, "It's on the way."

Regarding their current conditions, Debby says, "her friend describes Nitzan (caravan camp) as a Hollywood set. They built the scenery, but they know it will be destroyed, so they didn't put a lot of effort into it. There is no soccer field or basketball court, no youth clubhouse. Many youth are still in distress."

A few weeks ago a few pizzerias were opened, but there is no shopping area. The only businesses that have reopened are cottage industries, such as a cosmetologist or a seller of paper goods operating out of their homes.

The evicted are still paying their mortgages, and people who rented privately are being singled out from those who rented from government bodies or owned land.

The agriculturists have their own set of crises. For example, Assaf Asis, whom Jewish organizations and the Israeli government like to hold up as their "poster boy" because he spoke to the Disengagement Authority well in advance of the disengagement, has still not received a single penny in compensation for his successful geranium-export business, which he transplanted to southern Ashkelon. He is more than three million shekels in debt now because he is honoring his European contracts in spite of the government's foot-dragging.

Kassam rockets fall almost daily on Ashkelon now, not too far from Asis's greenhouses. They are fired by Palestinian terrorists operating out of the area of the former Jewish community of Dugit, which was destroyed by the disengagement forces.


Toby Greenwald, a former Clevelander, works for the Center for Near East Policy Research. Her reports on evictees can be viewed at

This article appeared January 20, 2006 in the Cleveland Jewish News


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