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In this essay, using news items, we track some recent developments in what's happening in providing the expellees from Gush Katif with the housing and jobs to which they are entitled. The chronology also highlights the rocky relationship between the settlers and the Israeli government. We include an email from Anita Tucker, once a farmer in Gaza, now a refugee in her own country.
"With great fanfare, Israeli officials announced on December 26, 2006 that some of the Jewish refugee families would move into Maskiot in the Jordan Valley. Maskiot, a small village and former army base, would be the new home of some 30 families that once lived in the town of Shirat HaYam. Shirat HaYam was located on the southern beach-front of Gush Katif until it was uprooted as part of Sharon's Disengagement Plan.
As the Jerusalem Post staff wrote on January 21, 2007 in an article entitled "The Maskiot Mess."
"Indeed the Jordan Valley, with only a sparse Arab population, is considered part of Israel's national consensus and vital to Israeli security. It was settled primarily at Labor's direct initiative and the Labor-affiliated settlements were dubbed "security settlements" by Yitzhak Rabin, as distinguished from what he branded "political settlements." Ariel Sharon personally promised to invigorate the distressed Jordan Valley bloc with Gush Katif evacuees. Thirty families, mostly from Shirat Hayam, had signed up for the Maskiot project and thorough planning of the project was undertaken and completed. Peretz's ratification was the last-phase rubber stamp."
Shirat Hyam-Gush Katif
The Shirat HaYam Organization wrote:
"After months of homelessness, the displaced residents of Shirat Hayam finally reached the decision to re-establish their community in the Jordan Valley, in the new settlement of Maskiot. This decision was motivated by their strong desires to remain together as a group, to develop as an independent community, to strengthen the bloc of religious communities in the Northern Jordan Valley and to create defensible borders for Israel. It was an expression of their commitment to realizing the Zionist dream in a region considered vital to Israel's security.
"Though Maskiot is a new settlement, it was in fact formed over 20 years ago by an IDF Nahal unit, but was not inhabited at that time. For the past three years, Maskiot has been the site of a yeshiva that prepares young men for military service."
The Maskiot project was strongly opposed by the U.S. State Department -- they didn't want more "facts on the ground" to complicate a projected renewal of the "peace process." In the Road Map agreement, Israel had promised not to build new settlements in Yesha, but could add to existing ones, so Israel saw the move to Maskiot as legal. The Palestine Authority was supposed to dismantle the terrorist groups. They were yet to get started on this promise. It was noted that the State Department has never objected to the extensive and illegal taking over of public land by the Arabs, who openly built without permits.
And on January 19, 2007:
"Peretz Caves To International Pressure, Freezes Settlement Construction"
By Associated Press
January 19, 2007
Defense Minister Amir Peretz has withdrawn the approval to construct housing units in the northern Jordan Valley settlement of Maskiot, Israel Radio reported Friday morning.
According to the report, Peretz's representative told the regional council that the construction plans would be frozen until a new decision is made on the matter.
About three weeks ago, the defense minister approved the construction of 30 housing units for families evacuated from Gush Katif. Work was scheduled to begin in the upcoming days.
Dubi Tal, head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, reportedly said that it appeared the Labor Party primary elections were more important than settling the Jordan Valley. He added that he would appeal to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who approved the settlement construction.
The decision sparked harsh responses also among the potential settlers.
Lior Kalifa, head of the Gush Katif settlers committee, said that "the defense minister is going everything in order to thwart the rehabilitation of Gush Katif evacuees and their return to a normal life.
"It should be mentioned that former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon explicitly promised to build the neighborhood in Maskiot, and the decision to freeze it now is a destructive move derived from cynical political considerations. The committee calls on the prime minister to prevent the defense minister from making a political profit at the expense of the people uprooted from Gush Katif."
'Decision to prolong evacuees' suffering'
Sources at the National Union-National Religious Party faction said in response, "It appears that everything has already been said about Defense Minister Amir Peretz's quality of judgment and about the seriousness of his decisions."
According to the sources, the decision to freeze the construction in Maskiot will prolong the suffering of Gush Katif evacuees in spite of the prime minister's promise to solve their problems.
Israel's plan to construct the new settlement drew rare criticism from the United States and the European Union last month.
The community was first founded as a "Nahal" military outpost and is currently supposed to absorb 30 families who were evacuated from Gaza last summer and to be turned into a normal civilian community.
Gonzalo R. Gallegos, a US State Department spokesman, said in December that If Israel goes ahead with the plan it would violate its obligations under the Road Map for peace.
"The US calls on Israel to meet its Road Map obligations and avoid taking steps that could be viewed as predetermining the outcome of future negotiations," he said.
Finland, which is known as a harsh critic of the settlement enterprise, added in the statement that "such unilateral actions are also illegal under international law and threaten to render the two-state solution physically impossible to implement."
"This development would also mean the relocation of some of the Gaza settlers in the West Bank, something that the EU stated is not acceptable when it gave its support to the Gaza disengagement," the EU said.
Olmert announces a plan to build in the Negev. The operative word here is "plans". I'm not holding my breath.
"Olmert plans new Gush Katif in Negev"
Staff writer, Israel Today
January 16, 2007
A committee headed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will tour the Lahish community area in the northeastern part of the Negev next week and will announce a government plan to construct a new block of communities in the area which will absorb many of the families who were evacuated from Gush Katif in Gaza in August 2005.
According to the plan by the Ministerial Disengagement Committee, the new block will include seven communities, some of them new and some already existing. The communities are Amazia, a moshav which already absorbed 100 families from Moshav Kativ; Moshav Shekef which currently houses 50 families; the community of Haruv near the security fence; Givat Hazan, which will house 140 evacuees from Neve Dekalim; Mirsham, which will absorb evacuees from Kfar Darom and Tel Katifa; Shomriah, which will absorb evacuees from Atzmona and Kfar Darom; and Karmit, which will be the largest community and will house 3,000 families.
During the tour of the proposed area, the prime minister and the other cabinet ministers will meet evacuee representatives to hear their thoughts and grievances about the proposed plan.
Sources within the Prime Minister's Office say that the new settlement bloc will not resemble the original Gush Katif, in contrast to the Nizanim area. The plan is to construct a big community of 3,000 families dedicated mostly to the families who were evacuated from Kfar Darom.
The first stage of construction will include building for 600 to 1,000 families, and the second stage will be an expansion of the community to encompass more than 3,000 families.
"First Lottery Of Plots For Expulsion Victims"
22:35 Jan 16, '07 / 26 Tevet 5767
(IsraelNN.com) The Disengagement Authority (SELA) will hold the first lottery on Wednesday January 17 for Gush Katif expulsion victims to choose plots for building permanent homes at the "Golf Compound" in Ashkelon. The lottery comes 18 months after they were expelled from their homes and housed for weeks and months in hotel rooms before being transferred to small and temporary quarters.
The initial lottery is for plots of half a dunam, about one-eighth of an acre. Most of the former Gush Katif residents are living in Nitzan and Ashkelon. Another lottery is to be held next month for hundreds of additional plots in Nitzan and Nitzanim.
"PM to build city for Gaza evacuees"
January 24, 2007 3:13
By Tovah Lazaroff
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged on Tuesday to start building new homes for 400 Gaza evacuee families in the Lachish region, between Jerusalem and Beersheva within six months.
"There is no limit to the area's potential," said Olmert as he visited the empty construction site in the South.
"I would like, not in one year, but already within six months to come here again to see the tractors working and to breathe in the dust, to see the foundations being poured and the buildings rising," he said. "There is no reason that this will not happen."
Government plans call for creating seven new communities in Lachish with approximately 4,600 housing units.
About 400 of the units have been earmarked for Gaza evacuees still living in temporary homes.
During Tuesday's visit, evacuees criticized the government's "foot-dragging" in building the permanent housing, 18 months after the Gaza withdrawal.
Housing and Construction Minister Meir Sheetrit was also critical of the process and urged Olmert to speed up the efforts. "There is absolutely no justification for this. With all due respect, this is not the way to run things. This could have all been approved in a day," he said.
The initial resettlement timetable called for all Gaza evacuees to have permanent homes within two years of the August 2005 disengagement.
According to the Disengagement Authority, only about 200 of the 1,350 Gaza families who plan to build new homes have received building lots from the state. The lots in Lachish have yet to be formally assigned.
Olmert promised to push the work forward as quickly as possible.
"From now on the Lachish vision is the government of Israel's vision. This is one of the most beautiful and inspiring parts of the country, and perhaps it has waited for the right people," he said.
He said he hoped that within 25 years, tens of thousands of people would live in the now sparsely populated Lachish area.
"There are no limits on what can be done and developed here," said Olmert. He said his vision included cultural institutions, agriculture and tourism.
"These [new] communities are an opportunity for us to turn the Lachish region into a national center for building up the country in the coming years," Olmert said.
In this report, doesn't the header make it sound as if only 100 settlers are unable to find work and the rest are ok?
"100 Gush Katif Evacuees Not Finding Work"
January 8, 2007
Despite Olmert's instruction to prioritize them among job seekers, 100 former Gush Katif residents unable to find work
Pursuant to losing their livelihood in Gush Katif, some one hundred of the evictees appealed to government and public offices searching for work. Despite Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's instruction that they be prioritized among job seekers, not one of them was able to find employment.
In recent months, various sources, among them the Disengagement Authority and the National Employment Service (NES), have attempted to bring the Gush Katif evacuees - most of whom lost their livelihood upon leaving Gaza - back into the job market.
As such, the NES, at the request of Minister for Industry, Trade and Labor Eli Yishai, consolidated a package comprised of unemployment benefits, vocational training courses, and other relief options for the former residents of Gush Katif.
Concurrently, Olmert instructed government and public offices to give hiring preference to evictees. The offices issued some 100 job offers and asked the NES to find them workers from amongst the evacuees.
However, an NES report -- which will be presented to ministers on the committee dealing with the Gush Katif evictees- revealed that, despite the existence of some 100 job offers, not one of the evictees was hired.
Why did this occur? The NES doesn't have a clear answer. Sources in the job market declared that "it is unreasonable to believe that all one hundred Gush Katif jobseekers were unsuited for the jobs provided and it is unreasonable that at least a portion of them weren't hired."
"Isn't it enough that they suffered upon being evicted? Now they're not being helped, even in the public sector?" the sources raged.
Minister Yishai wrote a letter to the government secretary asking that representatives of the Gush Katif evacuees be allowed to present their plight to ministers on the committee, but his request was denied.
This was one reader's comment to this article:
6. No govt help for expellees.
I applied for 2 ADVERTISED jobs with Israel Railways (ticket inspector) and spotter at train crossings - both through the govt. employment service. The former never returned my calls and inquiries and the latter "was filled" after the interviewer saw my beard. So much for govt. priorities. I have a masters in Biology and couldn't even get an interview with Mekorot Water company - after repeated requests with the govt employment service. There is NO govt. help for us - all media spin!
formerly Gush Katif, Israel (01.09.07)
This headline is certainly good news! It claims 75% of the refugees have jobs.
"75 Percent Of Gush Katif Evacuees Return To Work"
Tuesday, January 09, 2007 by Staff Writer
Seventy-five percent of Gush Katif evacuees returned to work after months of unemployment. Some 100 former Gaza Strip settlers appealed to a committee of government ministers and public offices, pleading for employment promised by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
The director of SELA (the disengagement authority) and different government ministries presented a detailed report to the committee on the updated situation of evacuated settlers of the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria and additional problems remaining to be solved.
The committee confirmed that the transfer of seven million shekels from the Internal Ministry budget to the local authority had been received by the evacuees as social aid.
The committee decided to allocate 10 million shekels to the budget for planning continuation of settlers from Gush Katif. A stipend will be given for a period of time for vocational training courses offered until the middle of 2007.
Olmert said he is aware of the public feeling that the subject of settlers is treated without intensity.
"The thing was derived from the fact that the evacuation would be carried out in a matter of days, but the rehabilitation process of residents is very long and demands the involvement of many causes," he said.
Nevertheless, different government sources are working speedily in relation to have all settlers and evacuees fully employed.
More than 3,000 individual apartments for evacuees have already been confirmed in the framework of the plan of the city building, but we hope that within a year most will be living in permanent housing.
This headline confirms the first article's good news! 75% of the refugees have jobs. But the innards of the item are less sanguine.
"Gov't: 75% of Gaza evacuees have jobs"
By Tovah Lazaroff
Tevet 5767, Monday, January 8, 2007
Approximately 75 percent of the Gaza Strip evacuees have found jobs since they were expelled from their homes in 2005, according to statistics presented Monday to the Ministerial Disengagement Committee. This number will increase to 85% within half a year, government officials who are working with the evacuees said.
But Yosef Zvi Rimon, head of the nongovernmental group JobKatif, which helps to find jobs for the evacuees, said the government's numbers were too high. He said only 38% of the evacuees had found jobs.
Rimon said 2,100 of the Gaza residents had jobs before implementation of the disengagement plan, but only 800 had found jobs since. He attributed the discrepancy between his numbers and the government's to the method for calculating how many Gaza evacuees were employable.
Rimon said all the jobs the evacuees lost needed to be replaced. The government, he said, counted only those evacuees it believed could be employed. As a result, the government was not taking into account those over the age of 50 who were having a hard time finding work.
The government was working quickly to resettle the evacuees and to return them to the workforce, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told the committee. He said some people had the impression the government was not doing enough to help, but that was because it took much longer to absorb the evacuees then it did to take them out of Gaza.
The committee also dealt with housing and financial issues. It approved the transfer of NIS 7 million from the Interior Ministry's budget to that of the Local Authorities to reimburse them for their absorption efforts following the Gaza withdrawal.
Some NIS 10,000m. was allocated to plan for housing construction, and 3,000 residential units were approved on Monday.
The committee also agreed to extend by another six months stipends for evacuees who are enrolled in the professional retraining courses offered by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry.
This article is less sure. It is short of statistics but it doesn't sound jolly.
"Agriculture Minister Calls For Legislation To Ease
Gush Katif Evacuees' Financial Distress"
By Amiram Cohen
January 11, 2007
Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon said yesterday that the Evacuation-Compensation Law should be changed, in a bid to help farmers from the evacuated Gaza settlement bloc of Gush Katif find a resolution to their ongoing crisis.
Simhon, who made the comments on a trip to communities in the Negev where some of the Gush Katif evacuees are living, said he would support a private member's bill submitted by MKs Uri Ariel (National Union-National Religious Party) and Avigdor Itzchaky (Kadima) to ease the restrictions on receipt of compensation payments, and even increase them under certain circumstances.
The bill is due to come up shortly before the inter-ministerial committee for legislation.
Simhon also said he has already spoken to the chairman of the ministerial committee on the implementation of the disengagement plan and the director general of the Prime Minister's Office, Ra'anan Dinur, on the problems faced by people evacuated from Gush Katif in the summer of 2005. Many of the evacuees are unemployed, and some of the farmers have yet to receive the land or water allotments for which they are eligible, and which they need in order to build new hothouses. Simhon said the bureaucracy involved in the Evacuation-Compensation Law makes it difficult to help the evacuees get back on their feet.
He also announced his decision to put Danny Krichman, a former director general of the Agriculture Ministry, in charge of assisting farmers evacuated from Gush Katif.
We're back to a reduced number of people who are employed -- at this point, we can't be sure how many. The article also talks health problems attributed to stress.
"A Year And A Half Later: Nearly Half Of Gaza Evacuees Are Without Work, Illness Is Up, And The Money Ran Out Long Ago"
By Nadav Shragai
January 20, 2007
Yitzhak Tzaig has looked for work at more than 50 places, but the interview with the manager of the Ace hardware store in Ashkelon was particularly difficult. At the door, the manager shouted to him, "Hey, how old are you?" Tzaig, 56, called up the dregs of his sense of humor to respond, "not including nights I slept, 28."
"I was a successful farmer at Ganei Tal for 22 years," he told the manager. "I finished a marketing course held by Sela [an acronym for the government's disengagement administration]; I have experience selling furniture," he said. He was even willing to work for free for a trial period. But the manager, who apparently paid more attention to Tzaig's age than to anything else, refused.
Tzaig has six children, and the family is living on the monthly salary of NIS 4,000 his wife earns as the secretary of an Orthodox girls high school, which moved from Neveh Dekalim in Gush Katif to Givat Washington, near Ashdod. Like other evacuees, the Tzaigs, who are currently living with their community of Gannei Tal at Yad Binyamin, are drawing on their compensation money, which was to have been used to build them a new house, to make ends meet.
Shimon Sokal, 52, a resident of Neveh Dekalim for 19 years and the owner of a carpentry shop there, is more fortunate. His new carpentry shop, which he runs with a partner, was built for him in the moshav where he grew up, Masuot Yitzhak. But until he got started, he used up half his compensation money. His chances of building his permanent home at Nitzan, the largest of the evacuee communities, are no longer what they were.
According to the committee of Gush Katif settlers, 49 percent of the working people of the Gush (1.460 people) are still unemployed. Only 150 of the 700 business owners (21.4 percent) have reopened their businesses. Their eligibility for acclimation allowances and unemployment benefits ran out long ago - and according to the Evacuation-Compensation Law, business owners were not even eligible for those payments. The committee says more than 500 families are in economic trouble and receiving food packages from welfare organizations.
Dana Zelinger, a 42-year-old mother of seven, managed a stationery store in the commercial center at Neveh Dekalim. Currently unemployed, and living with her family in Kibbutz Ein Tzurim, Zelinger is studying in a project management course sponsored by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, being held in Kiryat Malachi. Her husband, Tzvi, is an electrician whose income has taken a nosedive since the withdrawal. The family is also dipping into its compensation money, "just to survive," Dana Zelinger says.
Making a living is not the only difficulty facing the evacuees. Zelinger says outright what many others are unwilling to acknowledge: "Illness among the evacuees is much higher than in the general population. My situation and that of my friends also impacts on the family. More couples are getting divorced. Seeing their parents sitting idle is very hard on the children," she says.
Evacuee health problems
At first, illness among the evacuees was just something of a rumor within the community. About two months ago, though, the sense that something was amiss with the health of previously well people was backed up by a study undertaken by the district office of the Health Ministry with Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon.
Data from the Neveh Dekalim clinic, collected a year before disengagement, was compared with that from the clinic in Nitzan, from a year after the pullout. Cases of high blood pressure had almost doubled, as had the number of heart episodes. Diabetes was also on the rise - with 1.29 percent of the group suffering from it before the pullout, compared with 1.79 percent two years later. The number of asthma attacks were up by 50 percent and the rate of cancerous tumors had increased from 0.61 percent to 1.08 percent.
Dr. Alon Karni, of the Clalit health maintenance organization in Nitzan, says many of the illnesses are stress-related. The most famous patient among the Gush Katif evacuees is the former head of the Gaza Coast Regional Council, Avner Shimoni, who had a stroke a few months ago.
Disputed numbers of unemployed
Everyone agrees that the key to the rehabilitation of the evacuees is a return to work. The Employment Service says there are about 4,000 employable evacuees. Of this number, 783 have stopped looking for work for various reasons: Amomg them, 183 have retired, 87 women became housewives, 98 began studying in yeshiva, and 67 fell ill. There are still 820 people looking for work; and 2,257 have found new jobs.
These numbers show that unemployment among Gush evacuees is 25 percent higher than the national average. But the committee of Gush Katif evacuees says the numbers are much higher still. The labor force is 3,000, not close to 4,000, they say, and almost half of that number want to work but are not.
The numbers compiled by Ta'asuKatif, a voluntary association established by Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon of Alon Shvut, are similar, showing about 1,300 people out of a job. The organization has so far raised about $400,000 from communities in the U.S., which has assisted about 500 people find work. The state did allocate $20,000 to help establish small businesses, but it only gives the money to businesses in national priority areas A and B, where few former Gush Katif residents have relocated.
Rimon estimates that 350 of the 1,300 job-seekers have not found work because of their age and because they are unable to reestablish themselves as farmers. He has proposed that the state create voluntary positions that would be paid by stipends, "just so these people will get out of their house in the morning and be busy at something for a few hours."
Yitzhak Tzaig, who has not yet given up hope of finding work, says that despite the obvious differences, he feels like he is in the movie "The 81st Blow," about a Holocaust survivor who comes to Israel, where everyone ignores his story. "I already took the blows. My 81st blow is the people who don't believe I really want to work," he says.
75% OF GAZA EVACUEES HAVE JOBS? WISHFUL THINKING
Anita Tucker (email@example.com)
Jerusalem Post article headline "Gov't: 75% of Gaza evacuees have jobs" could be wishful thinking but is more likely a cover up for the shocking reality. A drop of simple kindness and morality needs to be added to their equations in figuring the next government "statistical" report. People out there are suffering!
The government statistics brought in the article that appeared this week in the Jerusalem Post quote figures that are very off course from reality. Visiting the temporary sites and learning the individual stories can help reveal the on site truth to all who care.
There are many former employees of Hof Aza regional Council who were put out on pension of approximately 1200 shekel a month and are over 40 and 50 and can't find other jobs.
They are apparently "statistically" not considered unemployed as they are receiving a pension.
Farmers who are not working may not according to these "statistics" be unemployed because they were not previously employed but business owners. Pehaps farmers, like myself, who have reached the appropriate age (61-women) and have since expulsion begun to receive National security old age insurance are not in the "statistics". In Gush Katif I might have managed my farm for many more years. Farmers who have been appropriated land as compensation, who are now self-employed, yet are going into debt because the government didn't bother checking whether the land given is appropriate for intensive agriculture, as in Kibbutz Zikim, are of course not in the "statistics." Farmers who have been appropriated land for compensation on paper yet the gov't has in fact not yet bought the land for them (with the compensation money they are holding) and therefore they, as yet, are not working nor have income, are of course not in these "statistics".
All those who have "no rights "according to compensation law, though they were born, married and had children in Gush Katif and never left the community until today may not be in these statistics as they are not counted for anything..
Anyone who is participating in a vocational retraining course may not be in these "statistics" as well.This in spite of the fact that limited numbers of those who have completed these courses have since found employement.
Many of those who are employed had a full working position previous to expulsion but now have been given only a half or quarter position. This is true for many who were employed for institutions who had to keep them employed SInce these people are often now living in other geographical areas,were forced to move branch location of work and were given work less hours according to what was available. These are certainly not in the "statistics".
Many teachers 45+ found they could no longer teach after the trauma of "disengagement". They went on early pension, receive pension which is equal to salary of one position, though previously they worked 2.5 positions making 2.5 as much as they are now in pension and cannot support their children. They are now not in these "statistics" but are desperate to find work and rebuild their lives and livelihood.
All those young people who finished their higher ed. or finished army service since expulsion, who would normally have been absorbed in their parents farming or other businesses in Gush Katif and are now unemployed are not included in "statistics". Their trauma and their family's temporary situation makes it more difficult for them to find work.
There are endless more examples to prove how perverted the government reported "statistics" in fact are.
Reporting these "statistics" is typical of the existing situation where our government bureaucrats are required to provide excellent excuses for everything yet are given no tools for timed solutions to the real and so painful problems that the poorly planned expulsion created.
The figures in the article as to funds budgeted to regional councils for absorption expenses does not tell what the real costs of absorption are. It does not tell that most of the costs are being carried by the people of Gush Katif themselves and the small help in donations the organizations involved are able to raise from individuals.It does not tell that not all government funding promised last year has yet reached the regional councils who in turn have not yet passed budget funding to the communities for basic services.
The funds appropriated for 2006 for planning new towns have been used immediately and towns are planned but government is avoiding signing contracts with appropriate funds to enable building anew what was destroyed to begin. Endless excuses and explanations are provided by our government bureacrats. An exact timetable with appropriate funding must be set until every family will again be in the built anew, as was, towns.
A drop of simple kindness and morality needs to be added to their equations in figuring the next government "statistical" report. People out there are suffering!
Anita Tucker was a farmer and had lived in Netzer Hazani, Gush Katif, Gaza, some 29 years, until she and all the other Jews of Gush Katif were expelled from their homes in August 2005. They are yet to be provided with permanent homes.
Bernice Lipkin is editor of Think-Israel. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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