Gaza families weigh pressures to leave, and stay

jerusalem | Simha Weiss and Meir Rotenstein lost their businesses the moment they said they wanted to leave Gaza’s Gush Katif region a few months ago.

Weiss, a 19-year resident of the settlement of Slav and a mother of six, gave up and closed her small kiosk.

Rotenstein, a 22-year resident of Neveh Dekalim and father of five, is more stubborn. He still sits in his vacant electricity store in the center of the settlement.

On Monday, Nov. 15, they felt like they had won the lottery when they heard that the Knesset had finally approved the release of funds to compensate the 8,000 Gush Katif residents who will be forced to move by next year.

“I jumped for joy,” Weiss said.

With businesses and homes that no longer have any value, neither Weiss nor Rotenstein can afford to leave without those funds.

On Tuesday, Nov. 16, they and four other families boarded a bus to look at communities in the Gilboa region of northeastern Israel with the help of Shuvi, a nonprofit organization that lobbies for disengagement.

There is enormous internal communal pressure on Gush Katif residents to stay, said Shuvi volunteer Ofer Cornfeld, who helped lead the trip. Half the families scheduled to tour the Gilboa canceled only that morning. The moment people make it known they want to leave, they are shunned by their neighbors and sometimes threatened, he said.

Barak Cohen, a seven-year resident of Neveh Dekalim, is so sure that he is staying put that he is building a larger home.

“We will stay here because God promised us this land and His word is eternal. In politics, anything can change,” he said, explaining that he doesn’t believe disengagement will really come to pass.

But for Weiss and Rotenstein, disengagement was a welcome relief. They said they had tired of living in a military zone, in which Palestinians shoot at their cars, try to infiltrate their communities and fire rockets at their homes.

Weiss, who moved to Slav from Sderot, which is also often under rocket attack, said she is lucky that she left, because otherwise she would not have the funds to move to safety.

“Since the intifada started, life here has become impossible,” Rotenstein said.