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Monday, October 30, 2006

The human cost of Israel surrendering territory

This post is not about the Kassam rockets that have been falling on southern Israel non-stop since Israel surrendered the Gaza Strip to Palestinian terrorists last summer. That story has been well-documented and continues to be reported on an ongoing basis. This post is about a different story: the story of the refugees from the Jewish cities and towns in the Gaza Strip. Their story ought to give any Israeli government pause as it considers turning territory over to terrorists in Judea and Samaria and in the Golan Heights.

Let's go back for a minute and set the scene. We can do that, because there is now a full length movie out about the last days in the Gaza Strip. The movie is called Home Game, and it is about the annual basketball tournament that took place among the Jewish cities and towns in the Gaza Strip. Dave Bender posted on his blog and it will give you some idea of where we stood in August 2005.

Gaza Pullout: Settlers & Supporters Protest on Vimeo

In fact, for those of you looking to see what life was like in the Gaza Strip on the eve of the disengagement surrender, Dave has a whole post about it here.

Israelis were assured over and over again that housing arrangements would be made for the Jewish residents of the Gaza Strip. Even in the weeks after the surrender, when the Jewish refugees were shuttled off to (mostly cheap) hotels, we were promised that this was temporary, and that permanent housing was on its way. The first incident that led many to believe that the government had lied again was the appeal for winter clothing that went out about this time last year. The refugees had put all of their worldly belongings into storage, and they were not able to remove them unless they removed everything. They had no place to keep all of their possessions. So appeals went out for winter clothes, toys for children, etc. That eventually led to this incident, when the Olmert government (before Peretz joined and before Livni became foreign minister), embarassed by the sheer quantity of donations coming from abroad, attempted to tax the donations so as to discourage foreign donors. Since then, the government's handling of the situation has gone from bad to worse.

This morning, the mainstream Jerusalem Post is reporting that Olmert is 'furious' over the 'red tape' that is delaying the 'resettlement' of the Gaza refugees. One has to wonder why they didn't think of that before they embarked on the surrender plan (yes, I know, they thought of it and they could not have cared less, but I'm being charitable). Anyone who has ever bought an apartment on paper in this country knows that it takes at least 2-3 years before anything is built here, and that doesn't even count how many times they will dig up your street to add infrastructure!

But the percentage of families that have no housing solutions is astounding. As you read these statistics, keep in mind that the government started talking about this folly in 2003(!) and the surrender took place in August 2005. There were 1700 families in the Gaza Strip, and about 9000 Jews there. By comparison, the Golan Heights has about 33,000 Jewish residents and Judea and Samaria have close to 100,000. How has the government fared in 'resettling' the 1700 families of the Gaza Strip?
While most of the evacuees now live in some form of temporary housing, only 21 families have made it through the bureaucratic process and obtained permission to build permanent homes. It is estimated that some 1,379 families still await authorization to build homes that replicate their Gaza communities. The remaining 300 families are assumed to have sought individual solutions.
Twenty-one families out of 1700. That's about 1.2%. By the way, 'temporary housing' doesn't mean that they're living in someone else's apartment for a while. It means one of two things: either a hotel room (and most of the nice hotels pulled their rooms because they can make more renting them out to tourists), in which a family of eight may be living in the same room, or what's known here as a 'caravan' or in American parlance, a mobile home. The Post goes on:
It is now estimated by government officials that the time needed to build new homes for the evacuees will be three years, instead of two as originally estimated.
That's a good joke. Remember how I said that it takes 2-3 years to build a new apartment here. Well, that's from the start of construction. Let me give you some idea. I live in a relatively new area of Jerusalem. Our entire neighborhood was a barren mountaintop in the early 1990's, except that it had been flattened out for another construction project that ended up being cancelled. We signed up for our apartment at the end of February 1992, just before the deadline (sign up actually began a couple of months earlier). We went to contract during the course of 1993. Actual construction started at the end of 1993 (they actually dug the foundations a couple of months earlier because there was a rumor that the government was going to agree to a housing freeze in 'East Jerusalem' and that anyone whose foundations were dug would not be subject to the freeze). People started moving into this neighborhood - with no infrastructure - in early 1996. We moved into our home in May 1996, but did not have phone lines until August 1996. Most people moved in during the course of the summer and fall of 1996. But for three years, most of the synagogues were 'caravans.' The only reason our bus service was decent almost from the outset is that our neighborhood is well-connected politically.

The way that the government is talking of 'resettling' the Gaza Strip's Jewish refugees is comparable to my neighborhood. As far as I can tell, they have not even gone to contract yet. That would mean it would be at least 2009 before these people are 'resettled.' That's a best case scenario of four years from the time they were expelled from the Gaza Strip (and let's not even talk about how the government is going to pay for this). And the government wants to 'evacuate' more Jews? There aren't enough hotel rooms and mobile homes in the country!

Three weeks ago, I told you why many Israelis feel differently about the Golan than they do about Judea and Samaria. The Washington Post has a similar article today in which they note the large increase in Jewish residents in the Golan in the past fifteen years. Given the fashla that the 'resettlement' of the Jewish refugees from Gaza has become, I cannot conceive of any circumstances in which the average Israeli is going to agree to just surrender the Heights to Assad, and that's without even considering their strategic value and the fact that one third of Israel's water supply is controlled from the Heights. Nor do I believe that the government is capable of undertaking the 'resettlement' of the 33,000 Jews in the Heights, let alone that of the 100,000 residents of Judea and Samaria. The Gaza experience shows us why.

When we voice our opposition to further surrenders of territory for an illusory 'peace,' it's important that we add the creation of long-term Jewish refugees to our security concerns. While many Israelis are naive enough to trust the good intentions of 'moderate Palestinian President' Mahmoud Abbas Abu Mazen and of Bashar al-Assad the Chinless Ophthalmologist, most Israelis are not stupid enough to trust their own government not to leave Jewish refugees in the streets for four years or longer. This is a different aspect to the problem that may even arouse sympathy from at least some people on the left side of the political spectrum.


At 6:34 PM, Blogger Red Tulips said...

The situation is so bad right now, I feel sick.

Thanks for highlighting this.

What I do not understand is how a suicidally incompetant man like Olmert gets to be in charge.

How is this possible? Can you please explain?

At 7:55 PM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...

Red Tulips,

Olmert is a master wheeler dealer who is a complete incompetent. There is no way he will be re-elected and he knows it. But that's also true of most of his party and most of the Labor party - they understand that if there are new elections anytime soon, they are out. So they are trying to keep themselves in power as long as possible, regardless of the costs to the country.


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