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An infuriated reader sent a letter to the editor in which she accused us of unjustifiably picking on the settlers evacuated from Gaza. "My sister-in-law was a teacher in Gaza," she wrote, "and now she's sitting at home, unemployed. Aside from that, do you have any idea how much city tax (arnona) costs per square meter in Nitzan?"

Nitzan naturally refers to the new mobile home settlement that was created for the Gaza evacuees on the Nitzanim dunes. Arnona per square meter there is the costliest in the south of Israel. It is different from the arnona they paid in Gaza, where they got a tremendous discount (on that and on every other payment to government).

The discount on arnona was just a smidgen of the massive aid the Gaza settlers received from the government. The main form of assistance was in employment: The government supplied a job to every Gaza settler who wanted one, mostly in education, though there was no real need for the personnel.

But as soon as they left Gaza these people discovered just how superfluous they were: There was simply no need for that many teachers, that many city councilmen, that many security officers. The result is that most of the Gaza evacuees are now unemployed. Out of 400 families that resettled in Nitzan, almost all have no breadwinner now.

It is convenient to bristle over the insane subsidies that the government heaped on the Gaza settlers through employment in needless work. Every last taxpayer in Israel footed the bill, through taxes. But the ones paying the bill now are the Gaza evacuees.

Drowning in icy waters

In retrospect, the State of Israel did badly by the settlers. Not only did it wrest them from their homes against their will, it did it the hardest possible way. In one swoop it detached 8,000 people from the teats of the state and demanded they manage on their own. Suddenly they were thrown into the cold water of the cruel labor market and expected to get by on their own. The results are that they are having difficulty surviving.

The shock of leaving Gaza for a life inside Israel is a double one. In Gaza, the state diligently padded both sides of the survival equation. It gave them free income through unnecessary work, and tax breaks too, which increased their net income; and it reduced their costs through subsidization at almost every level.

They didn't pay the household rate for water, they paid the much lower rate applicable to farmers. The state paid 90 percent of their kindergarten costs, it gave them discounts on arnona. Their greenhouses and lands were tilled by cheap Palestinian labor. When Palestinians could not be employed because of the security situation, the state compensated the settlers through property tax.

No small number of people ostensibly cultivating Gaza were farmers in name only: All they did was file a demand with the property tax authorities once a year, claiming the security situation prevented them from working their land.

It was a well-padded, well-oiled machine that operated under economic rules entirely disassociated from the real world, the free market inside the State of Israel. As long as the Gaza settlers had shelter in their niche economy, their situation was wonderful. Now, as they have to adjust to the cold world outside, they are not doing well.

In retrospect, inside the kid gloves with which the state handled them all these years was a fist of steel, which is hammering illusions into dust. Their sheltered niche economy was not sustainable over time, and the price of illusion is the inevitable, painful, awakening.

Because of the emotional cost, the state is again paying an economic cost. It is excessively assisting the evacuees inside Israel, obeying almost every demand they make. Again, it is weaving a magic spell that is fated to end in disillusionment.

Government subsidization devoid of economic logic cannot last. It is fated to end in sobriety and pain, the kind that the Gaza evacuees are feeling. That is a lesson that future evacuees from Judea and Samaria, who presumably get much the same perks as the Gazans used to, must learn and digest. It is a lesson for everybody subsisting at the expense of the state, for no good economic reason: One day they will be forced to wean, and it's a cold world out there.