Thursday, October 19, 2006

Have We Forgotten the People of Gush Katif?

In August, 2005, the Israeli government destroyed 21 Jewish communities in the Gaza region and in the Northern Shomron and expelled 1800 families from their homes.

Maybe you hung a blue ribbon on your car, demonstrating that you were in favor of The Disengagement because you thought that it was important to try every possible avenue to peace.

Maybe you hung an orange ribbon on your car, demonstrating that you were adamantly opposed to The Disengagement, sensing that ceding control of Gush Katif to the Palestinians would yield nothing but intensified levels of violence.

Maybe you didn’t know what to think politically, but you grieved over the loss of Jewish homes and Jewish communities in Israel.

It doesn’t even matter at this stage. What matters today is whether you have effectively forgotten about the people of Gush Katif.

Like many others, when The Disengagement was threatened but had not yet been carried out, my husband and I made it a point to connect to the people of Gush Katif. We went with our daughters to visit the thriving Jewish communities of Gush Katif several times. We left inspired by the spiritual magnificence of the Jews living there.

After The Disengagement, our family returned to visit people in several of the temporary housing camps, to hear about their trauma first hand and to see how they were coping. Over and again, we found so many reasons to be in awe of these people who lost their homes, their communities and their livelihoods.

In January 2006, five months after the expulsion, 344 families were still living in the most temporary arrangements such as hotel rooms and tent cities. After months of being in storage, many families lost their household goods to weather damage or theft. As a result of the destruction of communities, 1800 people who lived and worked in Gush Katif were still unemployed five months later. Of the 220 farmers from Gush Katif, only 11 had been given alternative plots of land by the Israeli government five months after their farms were destroyed.

In May 2006, nine months after the expulsion, 118 families were still living in hotel rooms and tent cities. At that point, 50% of the adults from Gush Katif were still unemployed. Most people who had owned farms and businesses had not yet been given any compensation for their losses, and even those who received compensation for rebuilding their homes found that the compensation offered was less than the most basic cost of building a home in Israel.

Most of the expelled families have already moved several times and are still not in permanent housing. According to Dror Vanunu, International Coordinator of the Gush Katif Committee, thirteen months after The Disengagement, “building has not begun on even one new house for the expellees.” He predicts that, unless the government dramatically changes its course, thousands of people will be forced to spend between five to seven years in the cramped and poorly constructed temporary homes that were installed in what amounts to refugee camps.

Dislocation, unemployment, destruction or theft of household goods, unimaginable bureaucracy, poverty, traumatized families, divorces and suicide. All outcomes of The Disengagement.

Anita Tucker, spokesperson for the destroyed communities of Gush Katif, speaks of the eternal optimism of the people of Gush Katif, starting over despite all the loss, all the obstacles, all the devastation. She refers to those who are still helping when she says, “The most beautiful thing of all is that there are amazing people in Am Yisrael popping up everywhere who see this perseverance and strength [of the former Gush Katif residents who remain determined to rebuild their glorious communities]. These special people, Am Yisrael people, care and love the fact that the Gush Katif people won't allow the government to force them to be ‘unfortunates’."

The truth is, the Jews who remember and who are still helping the expellees put their lives back together are so special, not in small measure, because they are so rare.

Have we forgotten the people of Gush Katif?

You tell me.


Ways You Can Still Help The Families of Gush Katif

Donate to Anita Tucker’s community of Netzer Hazani:
Central Fund for Israel
980 6th Avenue,
New York, NY 10018
Memo Line: Netzer Hazani

Donate to Rachel Saperstein’s Operation Dignity:
Central Fund for Israel
980 6th Avenue,
New York, NY 10018
Memo line: Operation Dignity

Donate to the Gush Katif Committee
Friends of Gush Katif P.O.B. 1184 Teaneck, NJ 07666

Shop in the Gush Katif Online Store

Order a copy of With an Outstretched Arm, an original English-language women's musical that serves as a fundraiser for Lema’an Achai’s work with Gush Katif families.
Minimum donation $18
rivkah30@yahoo.com

Order a copy of Home Game: The Movie to support the rebuilding of Netzer Hazani. The movie is about the determination, faith and struggle of the Netzer Hazani community basketball team to win the 2005 basketball tournament during the time that they were also struggling against the Israeli government plans to uproot them from their homes.