Thursday, August 23, 2007

Too Little, but not Too Late

At least a few months before the Israeli disengagement from Gaza, I read a newspaper report -- in Haaretz, I believe -- about a special government report which had been presented to the Knesset. Everyone was worried that a disengagement might lead to an Israeli civil war, and the report was basically tips to the government of how to do a disengagement the most peaceful way, if they were going to do it. I remember clearly that the number one most important point was that the settlers who were being moved should be treated as heroes, that political leaders from across the political spectrum should laud the settlers for their commitment to Israel, for their Zionist ideals, for having been willing to live in a harsh security situation because of their commitment to the land and to the State. The public message should be, the report said, that although the settler movement in Gaza was no longer deemed to be in Israel's best interests, the people themselves were heroes who had made great sacrifices for the country and should be acknowledged as such.

As anyone can tell, this message went unheeded by most of the Israeli left and the media outlets that represent them. But some of us were paying attention. Though I supported the disengagement as a political and military necessity, I always said that the 9,000 Jews who would be forced to move should be treated well and given generous compensation packages, that the government should work with them to ensure that they can find new places to live, or rebuild their communities elsewhere, as quickly as possible.

This, too, has not happened. Though I don't have the statistics at my fingertips, many of the settlers of Gush Katif are still unemployed, not because they don't wish to work but because the promises they received that they could start farming elsewhere have not been fulfilled. Many of them are still living in sub-par temporary housing and are being given the runaround by the government, who won't let them break ground on permanent homes.

One of these communities is that of Shirat Hayam. They had been promised by Ariel Sharon himself that they could all move, together, to a new location in the Jordan Valley called Maskiot. Now, I personally think it is ridiculous on the government's part to promise that they could move to another location over the Green Line, in the West Bank. However, if this is what they were promised, I think it's in everyone's best interests, especially that of the Left, to show that when the government promises something, they deliver. Instead, the government has been giving the community of Shirat Hayam/ Maskiot the runaround.

Two years after the disengagement, the people of Shirat Hayam are still living in caravans in a community called Chemdat, which is near Maskiot. I don't have any knowledge of the relationship between the Chemdat hosts and their Shirat Hayam guests, but a friend who is familiar with the community told me that the Chemdat infrastructure was built to support one small community of 30 families. And now, suddenly, the community doubled as Chemdat "absorbed" the displaced persons of Gush Katif.

The Jordan Vally is extremely hot, and this doubled community has been praying together every Saturday in a caravan, packed like sardines. Did I mention that the Jordan Valley is scorchingly hot?

My friend Aviva is raising money to purchase an additional caravan before Rosh Hashanah, so that the people of Shirat Hayam can say the High Holy Day prayers together as a community, with somewhat more comfort both for themselves and for the people of Chemdat. After the holidays, the caravan will be used as a community center, and it will be moved to Maskiot once the people are finally allowed to move there.

A caravan costs $33,000, way more than the people of Maskiot/Chemdat can afford, but not so much if a lot of people each give a little. I urge you to consider showing your support for the displaced community of Shirat Hayam. Even if, like me, you supported the disengagement, even if, like me, you think that the whole idea of moving Jews into Gush Katif was misguided from the beginning . . . well, these are good people who moved there in good faith, with the blessings of the State of Israel. They are Jews who have been bounced around by our own government, who were promised homes and are still living in caravans and praying in a shule that is too small for them by half. As the Day of Judgement approaches, the least we can do is help ease their suffering -- not to mention that of the community of Chemdat-- from the heat and from the impermanence of their living quarters.

If you would like to help purchase a caravan for them (or get information about helping to build other future infrastructure in Maskiot, such as a mikvah and a permanent synagogue building), click here.

From the States, you can send a (tax deductible) check, made out to AFNCI, to Rabbi M. Strasberg, 179-10 73rd Avenue, Flushing, New York 11366, including a note stating that the donations are to be allocated to Shirat-Hayam-Maskiot.

Or, call Avivah Harbater at
050-874-3484 (Israeli number) or 1-516-515-95-92 (American number; rings in Israel). Tell her Chayyei Sarah sent you!

Best wishes to everyone in finding a comfortable seat for the long Rosh Hashanah prayers, and may your own community's davening be meaningful and answered!

(hat tip: Jameel, Jameel guesblogging for Dov Bear, and Avivah Harbader)

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