Fearful Memories, Bureaucracy, Bedevil Some Scud Homeless
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ Most Israelis have stowed away their gas masks and resumed normal lives. Not Varda Golan. She lost her home to an Iraqi missile, and still sleeps with a gas mask by her bed.
″Until I see his body on the TV screen, things won’t be back to normal,″ she says of Saddam Hussein.
Ms. Golan and her two small children are among 21 families who have been living in a cheap Tel Aviv hotel since Iraqi Scuds rendered their homes uninhabitable. The Golan family was hit in the second attack seven weeks ago.
More than 400 families are in hotels in Tel Aviv and neighboring Ramat Gan, the cities worst hit in the 18 barrages fired at Israel during the Gulf War.
″I have a lot of fears,″ said Ms. Golan, sitting in the lobby of the hotel. ″I can’t sleep. A slamming door, a ringing telephone - it makes me jump.″
The missile casualties were remarkably low - two dead and 230 wounded, most of them slightly. But the disruptions caused to people like Ms. Golan go on and on.
A former policewoman, she has had to give up her job with a detective agency to look after her children. The kids are asthmatic and suffer from the sea air around the hotel. The bureaucracy has problems with her marital status, since to be an unmarried mother by choice is still unusual in Israel.
″Every time my 2-year-old girl hears a loud noise she crawls into Fistuk’s House - that’s what she calls the mamat.″ Mamat is a Hebrew acronym for the plastic anti-gas tents provided for small children. Fistuk’s House is a children’s television program.
She describes being humiliated by bureaucrats who think she’s a loose woman, but reserves most of her anger for Saddam. She says she’ll throw a party in the hotel if and when she gets definitive word that Saddam is dead.
Israel Shaked, City Hall’s permanent representative at the hotel, says the city’s assessors ″are very liberal and flexible.″ If someone says he lost a balcony, they believe him. ″Unless the claim is really farfetched, they are always willing to add something to the list. ... They meet the people halfway and round things off very much in their favor.″
Homeless people get the equivalent of $2,000 to rent temporary homes, and monthly subsidies for the next six months, he said. The city is putting up concrete prefabs near the Scud-hit areas, and buses the evacuated children to school.
The government offers compensation for lost belongings. But some predicaments aren’t easily solved.
Rivka, a mother of four who did not want her surname published, said she was having problems because her house, like many in her low-income neighborhood hit in the first attack, was built illegally on government-owned land.
For years she has been fighting to stop City Hall from demolishing the house. Now that it has suffered structural damage, the city has condemned the house and Rivka worries that she won’t be allowed to rebuild it.
″I don’t want their help. I just want to rebuild. If I have to, I’ll do it alone - me, my husband and my son, little by little, a piece at a time.″
Her 23-year-old daughter has had to postpone her planned wedding. Her 16- year-old still sleeps with her shoes on in case the sirens go off, even though the army is confident the danger has passed.
Rivka’s husband sleeps in their house to guard their possessions. Rivka could have had them stored at government expense, but doesn’t want to make it easier for City Hall to tear down the house.
She has had to give up her job working with autistic children, and the family lives on a disability pension of $400 a month that her husband receives because of back troubles.
″After we were hit, whenever I heard about missiles falling I’d burst out laughing,″ she said. ″I don’t know why. I just did. I went to a psychologist. She said, ‘It’s a normal reaction. Some people cry. You laugh.’
″But now I cry every day. Everything gathered up inside and now it’s bursting out.″