Many Settlers Remain Unanchored After Gaza Evacuation
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Thousands of former Jewish settlers have yet to find permanent homes or jobs more than three months after they were evicted from their homes in the Gaza Strip. They blame the Israeli government, accusing it of intentionally trying to destroy their community. Israeli officials blame the settlers, saying they have refused to cooperate with the government. NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.
LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:
Ruti Cohen(ph) sits at a large corner table in the Jerusalem Gate Hotel as her sons, six-year-old quadruplets, pick at their food. She soon gives up trying to get them to eat and sends up to their room to do their homework. Instead, they ride up and down on the hotel elevator. Cohen sighs.
For 15 years, Cohen lived with her husband, a career army officer, and her sons in a large house in the Gaza Jewish settlement of Neve Dekalim. She says the hotel where they've lived for the last three months is no place to raise a family, especially an Orthodox family. There are scantily dressed tourists roaming the halls and there's no place for her boys to do their homework. Cohen says she and her kids are going stir-crazy. She recently received an official letter stating that as of the end of this month, the government will no longer pay her hotel bill. She says the government is making it almost impossible to get the compensation she was promised.
Ms. RUTI COHEN: (Through Translator) They want us to prove that we lived in Neve Dekalim. Now they need proof. When the soldiers came to throw me out of my house, they knew everything--where I worked, how many children I have, even my shoe size. Now all of a sudden they don't know if I really lived there or not.
GRADSTEIN: She says that when her husband went to the Interior Ministry to try to get the proof they needed, the clerk refused to help him since his address is still listed as Neve Dekalim, a place which no longer exists.
Haim Altman, the spokesman of SELA, the government body that deals with the Gaza settlers, says the government is doing everything it can to help them. Besides the hotels, he says, the government rented 800 apartments around the country for the settlers. He says most families have already received at least some of the government compensation they were promised--in most cases, a total of at least $250,000 per family. Altman says only 330 families out of a total of 1,600 from Gaza are still living in hotels. Settler representatives say that doesn't include another 160 families living in temporary guest houses or in two tent cities set up near Gaza.
In any case, both Altman and the settlers say they want to move as communities, not as individuals. Altman says arranging these kinds of solutions takes time.
Mr. HAIM ALTMAN (Spokesman, SELA): You have to understand that most of them decided to talk to us not immediately after the evacuation. It took time for them to talk to us, about a day after. And most of the groups began the negotiations two months ago. And, you know, you can evacuate people by force; you can't put them in houses by force.
GRADSTEIN: Housing is just one of the problems the former settlers face. Unemployment among the adults is close to 80 percent, and social problems like divorce and drug use among the youth are on the rise.
Ruthie Lieberman, a settler activist, says hundreds of teen-agers from the Gaza settlements are still not enrolled in schools either because they are too far away or because the schools are not sufficiently Orthodox. She says community leaders are especially worried about the youth.
Ms. RUTHIE LIEBERMAN: Right now the kids are really at a loss. The youth is looking for answers. They're also questioning on the spiritual level. They're asking should they go into the army, should they be part of the idea? Where is their pride in their country?
GRADSTEIN: At the Jerusalem Gate Hotel, Ruti Cohen says her young sons still cry when they see soldiers or policemen, recalling the trauma of the forced evacuation from Gaza. Psychologists here say many of the former settlers won't be able to heal that trauma until they can begin to rebuild their lives. Linda Gradstein, NPR News.
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