Evacuated Gaza Settlers Find Their Transition a Never-ending Saga

'The government sweet-talked us... I didn't believe they would abandon us,' says a former Gush Katif resident.

Aharon Hazut, a former resident of Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip, is due to be questioned at the income tax offices Wednesday. Until four years ago, Hazut was a model taxpayer, to the tune of around NIS 250,000 a year. Then one day his income dropped to zero.

Hazut should have been a model of a successful transition after cooperating with the authorities before the evacuation of the Gaza Strip. In June 2005, three months before the pullout, he met with prime minister Ariel Sharon. The idea came up to move all of Gush Katif's residents to the Nitzanim area north of the Strip, and a large temporary housing community was built there.

"The government sweet-talked us. They said we should just bring them the people and they would take care of everything," Hazut says. "I didn't believe they would abandon us."

Until that meeting the government hoped it could take care of all the evacuees' problems such as housing, livelihoods, education and welfare by giving each family a large check. Instead, the state found itself establishing communities, distributing land, finding jobs and building schools. Thus began the bureaucratic saga that continues to this day.

All this led to the evacuees' complaints of foot-dragging. Meanwhile, supporters of the state's moves to ameliorate the evacuation argue that while the measures are expensive, they have enabled some communities to remain together and rehabilitate themselves psychologically.

"The price these people will pay will be less than what the evacuees from Sinai paid," says Yonatan Bassi, the head of Sela, the government agency that handled the evacuees. "But if you were to tell me in 2005 that this would be our situation in 2009, I would have thought it unreasonable."

Hazut feels this unreasonable situation particularly well. Today, not only is he not working, he still lives in a temporary dwelling in Nitzan. If all goes well, he will move into his new home only in another 18 months.

Before the evacuation he rented out agricultural equipment and ran Gush Katif's only gas station, after having to leave farming following a serious injury in a terror attack.

After the evacuation, Hazut applied for a gas station operator's license. It has been approved and a site has been located, but the final permit has not arrived.

Meanwhile, Hazut devotes his time to activities on behalf of the evacuees, living on his "reserves," which he says are beginning to run out.

"I feel the government cheated us and I have let others know it," he says. "Today I'm fighting with all my strength to correct this lie."

Unlike Hazut, Lior Khalfa, chairman of the committee for the former community of Neveh Dekalim in Gush Katif, urged his friends to refuse all talks with the government. The refusal cost them dearly - they spent months living in hotels. Khalfa says his therapy after the evacuation was his activity on behalf of the evacuees.

"I didn't stop working as a way to work through my grief, and when I did and thought about what I had gone through, I found myself going to a psychologist," Khalfa says. Six weeks ago, the Khalfa family became the third from Neveh Dekalim to move into a permanent home in Nitzan.