Sunday, July 15, 2007

Gush Katif Farmers: "Give Us Back What You Took!"
by Hillel Fendel

( The farmers of Gush Katif began several days of protests this morning outside the Prime Minister's office. The theme: "Return What You Took!"

"Justice Demands: Return What you Took - Home, A Living, and Respect." So read some of the signs held by hundreds of former Gush Katif farmers in Jerusalem today.

A parade of farmers and their farming equipment made its way to Jerusalem, joined along the way by sympathizers. Upon arriving in Jerusalem, they marched from the Israel Museum to a protest tent outside the Supreme Court, near the government complex. The tent will be manned over the coming days by residents of the various now-destroyed communities.

Ministers Eli Yishai (Shas) and Tzipi Livni (Kadima), and MK Zevulun Orlev (NRP), visited the protestors and expressed their support. Minister Livni asked to receive a list of their demands, while Yishai said that the Disengagement - the destruction of Gush Katif and northern Shomron and the expulsion of the nearly 9,000 Jewish residents from their homes into temporary quarters - was a "failure from beginning to end." The protesters are "100% right in their demands," Yishai said, adding that if a solution is not reached quickly, there will be no choice but to pass special legislation to rectify the wrongs.

A Plea to Incoming President Peres
MK Orlev called upon incoming President Shimon Peres to place the plight of the former residents atop his agenda, and "to thus remove the ethical stain of the State of Israel that expelled them firmly and now relates to them with apathy."

The Knesset Audit Committee held a special session on Gush Katif last week, in honor of the second anniversary of the expulsion. Among the difficult questions asked by the MKs of the ministry representatives were these:

* Why is there no practical program for the establishment of permanent communities for the expellees, including budgeting, a timetable, and rushed-up procedures?
* Why is there no practical program for individual, family and communal rehabilitation up to the point that they are settled in their permanent communities?
* Why are 70% of the farmers of Gush Katif who are looking for work still unemployed, without a piece of land on which to work?
* Why has no suitable solution yet been formulated for the farmers and business owners, despite the State's promises in the agreement it made with the residents?
* How will the State compensate the farmers for their resultant loss of growing seasons and markets?
* How does the State plan to deal with the communities' needs that have developed as a result of the extension of the 'temporary quarters' period?

New Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim, who took over the position from Meir Sheetrit last week, said at the time, "The resettlement of the expelled residents in their new communities is the first job on my agenda." He added, "The State of Israel has not yet completed the task it took upon itself in carrying out the Disengagement, in that it has not yet completed the resettlement of the evacuated residents in their new homes."

Shimon Peres, who will become Israel's 9th President on Sunday evening, has been asked to place the matter of the Gush Katif expellees at the top of his agenda. National Religious Party Secretary-General Sar-Shalom Jerbi wrote to Peres, "Two years after the expulsion, the general sensation is that the State has discarded the settlers. This bleeding wound is far from healing. As the elected president of the entire nation, you must take this matter of rehabilitating the residents and place it atop your agenda. This will truly prove that you are the president of all of us." Jerbi also asked that Peres use his influence as President to have the indictments against the Disengagement-protestors canceled.

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