It Costs Me More

What can I say, we're a Zionist country and we must absorb the Jews from the territories. To absorb yes, but we are not obliged to bow our heads in honor of the `disengagement enterprise' that now replaces the settlement enterprise.

This year, the number of Jews immigrating to Israel will be about 9,000 more than the usual projections, or a little more than a third of the total number of new immigrants who arrived in 2004. These 9,000 Jews now reside in settlements in the Gaza Strip and four settlements in the northern West Bank (Samaria). According to law, anyone who did not reside in Israel for a consecutive or cumulative period of 18 months during the three years prior to receiving immigrant (oleh) status is eligible for a "basket" of absorption benefits - nearly NIS 30,000 per family. The settlers of Gaza and Samaria certainly fall under this criterion. And if not, they could definitely be regarded as "returning Israelis" and be granted tax breaks on importing durable goods purchased in stores in Nablus or Gaza City. They could also be given tax breaks on purchasing an automobile.

But, nonetheless, these settlers are not immigrating - they are disengaging. And the laws of immigrant absorption do not apply to disengagers. Instead, they are subject to the Evacuation Compensation Law, which should be called the Settlement Evacuation Compensation Law. First, you invest tens of billions in the settlements. Then you realize this calamity and begin to pay to evacuate. And the payment is not only what is apparent - the NIS 2.5 billion to 3 billion, and perhaps more - because no one can say exactly what the final sum transferred to the disengagers will be. And we are not only talking here about the cost of the military operation, whose price will soar as more and more disengagers seek both the money and one last chance to lash out against Israeli soldiers. The price also includes what I will pay here, in the absorbing country.

For example, from now on I will be required to pay more money for yeshiva students over the age of 23, because that is the condition set by United Torah Judaism for supporting the state budget, the same budget that will pay the price of the disengagers' immigration (aliyah) to Israel. I will apparently also be asked to accept a cutback in spending for the services I receive, from my health maintenance organization or from the education system, because the money transferred to the disengagers will force the government to increase its deficit.

Indeed, it approved a 0.4 percent deficit increase and the spending of another percent of GDP, but this is not intended for me. This deficit spending will go to the immigrant clusters from the territories. Okay, I've already paid NIS 290 million to United Torah Judaism, and perhaps I'll need to pay another NIS 290 million if Shas also agrees to support the budget, and the study of geography will have to be canceled in order to help the Education Ministry's budget, and the widening of the road between Yokne'am and Afula will have to wait - but what can I say, we're a Zionist country and we must absorb the Jews from the territories. To absorb yes, but we are not obliged to bow our heads in honor of the "disengagement enterprise" that now replaces the settlement enterprise.

In Israel during the 1970s, the expression was coined - "villa and Volvo" - which maligned an entire community of immigrants from the Soviet Union. These immigrants did not choose to live in the Soviet Union and were not allowed to emigrate freely, but the relatively large absorption grants they received turned these people into exploiters in the eyes of the Israeli public.

The exodus from Gaza is not at all similar to the exodus from the Soviet Union or to any other process of immigrant absorption. Jews who fled on foot via Sudan, escaped economic crisis in Argentina or feared anti-Semitism in France received what every new immigrant receives: an absorption basket, packed with bureaucracy. If the State of Israel had been required to pay these immigrants only half of what it is paying to every immigrant from Gaza, no immigration at all could have been sustained. Just think - in another few years, when we'll need to pay for the evacuation of additional settlements, the price will rise exponentially - from NIS 2.5 billion to about NIS 50 billion - for exercising the right of return of about 200,000 Jews from the West Bank. One should remember these numbers when hearing the sad sobs of the disengagers, most of whom have just been waiting for the moment when they would be rescued - at the expense of the rescuer - from what they should have been extricated years ago.