Wednesday, August 09, 2006

wandering jews

Nir Hasson of Haaretz writes,

The wandering Jew: Out of money, northern refugees refuse to leave the hotel

For the last three weeks now, Meir Yanko has struggled to find a place for his family. The family fled Safed on the third day of the war, after the first volley of Katyushas to fall on the city hit their grandparents home. Yesterday Yanko recounted their journeys:

"At first we arrived at the King Solomon hotel in Jerusalem, from there we moved to the Jerusalem Pearl hotel, which offered us a free night, the next day we went to a hotel in the Dead Sea for a discount price, after that we continued to Eilat.

"From there to a hotel in the center, and on to a host family in Petah Tikva, after which we spent a night sleeping in our car at the Masmia (Re'em) junction, with me guarding outside. On Friday we arrived at my sister's in Hadera, but then rockets fell in Hadera, and the kids had flashbacks, so we fled again to the center. Since yesterday we're in Jerusalem again, at the Ariel hotel. It's safest here, but I still don't know what we'll do tonight".

So far the Yankos have spent NIS 18,000 on their enforced vacation. The father says he cannot afford it any longer, but returning to Safed is not an option.

"The kids are crying, they will not return. I don't want to sound like a poor beggar, but we're mentally exhausted," says Yanko.

The Yankos are only one of tens of thousands of families who left their northern homes following the start of the Katyusha firings. What started as a vacation from the war, funded by donations, is increasingly turning into the sad plight of families who keep relocating.

The troubles of the refugees could be seen as an exemplary case study of a welfare system that relies on donations rather than on regulated government funding. Those who financed the exodus themselves have fallen into financial difficulties. Others, who were supported by donations, are being asked to leave the hotels and return to their homes despite the ongoing bombing.

Suicide threat

Last Thursday one of the guests at the Kings hotel in Jerusalem threatened to kill herself because she was asked to leave. Police cars and ambulances arrived at the scene. The woman, together with a group of 60 Kiryat Shmona residents, came to Jerusalem with the aid of a private travel agency called Be'ad, which raised funds from private donors.

"The next day a riot started. The group refused to evacuate, and after some deliberations they received four extra days in a Dead Sea hotel", said Prima Hotels CEO Eti Levy.

Yesterday those four days were used up, and the story repeated itself. For eight hours the members of the group sat in the hotel lobby and refused to board the buses that were there to take them back to their homes in the north.

"On the one hand it's heartbreaking. On the other, I don't know what I can do. The Kiryat Shmona municipality told me to call the police to force them to leave. But I can't do that," she says.

"We must divide these moments of relief between many people", explains Yaakov Fried, CEO of Daat Travel Services. After some deliberations, and with the help of the Ra'anana municipality and of the nonprofit Parents for Pluralistic Education, a place for them was found in the Meitarim school in Raanana.

Seven in a classroom

One of the group members is Antoine Salame, a former member of the Southern Lebanese who lives in Kiryat Shmona. He fled south with his children, while his mother and sisters who live in a village in southern Lebanon have fled north to Beirut.

"Now we are here in the school, seven of us in a classroom. Since the war broke out, there is no work. I can't afford to return home," he says.

Ilana Mushkin, head of the Parents for Pluralistic Education says the school is available for the people from the North until August 27. "We hope that by then the government will find a solution", she adds.

A group of 500 residents of Nahariya who stayed in the Be'er Sheva Naot Midbar hotel, funded by the Sakta Rashi Foundation, found themselves in similar circumstances. Two days ago the group members refused to leave the hotel, after a week-long stay. One of the group members, Amos Gabriel, turned to the office of Defense Minister Amir Peretz, with whom he is acquainted from the time he was head of the workers' committee in the Hanita metal factory. Following Peretz's personal intervention, a temporary solution was found, plus funding to house them in several places in the center and in the south.

Tanya Gliatman from Carmiel, her 4-year-old daughter Sonya, her infant son Yuval, and her elderly mother have stayed for the last two weeks in the WIZO Hadassim boarding school in the Sharon. For the first week of bombing they were still in the shelter, but after the little girl started suffering from anxiety, they decided to go to the first place that would take them in. Now she is worried that with the coming of the school year, they will again have no place to go.

She has no intention of returning to Carmiel while it is still within Katyusha range. "One Katyusha fell on my daughter's playground, another on my workplace. I'm afraid to go back, and I haven't got the slightest idea what we'll do if we are forced to leave", she said.

She is full of appreciation for the school's staff, but is angry with the government: "So far those who helped the refugees were private and philanthropic bodies. The state has vanished."

Five hundred and fifty refugees from the North were taken inton the boarding school since the beginning of the war; in normal times it is home to 200 youths. A week from now the youth are supposed to return to the boarding school and prepare for the opening of the school year. As of now their return is on hold, and headmaster Zeev Twito is debating whether he should push the refugees to return to their bombed homes in the North or to postpone the opening of the school year. Every day he gets calls from families in the north who beg for a place to stay, and lately decided to house additional families from Kiryat Shmona in the gym, for lack of another location. All 84 youth villages and boarding schools, which have so far taken in around 8,000 people, are faced with the same problem.

Education Minister Yuli Tamir does not rule out a delay in the start of the school year due to the situation. "At the moment we do not plan to evacuate anyone," she says. "There is no great harm in delaying the school year by a week."

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