By Helen Freedman
Dror Vanunu, International Coordinator for the Gush Katif Committee, arrived in New York on Sunday afternoon, March 22, for a four day whirlwind visit to New York City. Vanunu’s visit was prompted by the need to report to the media, and all interested parties, on the situation that exists today with the former Gush Katif residents, three and one-half years since their expulsion from their thriving communities in Gush Katif/Gaza.
There is no need to reiterate the disastrous results of Sharon’s unilateral Gush Katif expulsion plan. All the dire warnings about the rockets that would fall on Sderot, Ashkelon, and Ashdod, have proven true. In addition, the forced departure of the 8,800 Jews from Gush Katif, who served as the front-line of defense for the IDF, created a vacuum, quickly filled by Hamas. Israel is dealing with the problems of Hamasistan to this very day.
But what of the government’s promise, “There is a Solution for Every Resident” just one month before the August, 2005 expulsion plan went into effect? This ‘solution’ was advertised as being a complete government plan to absorb and assist the residents with all the needs that displaced persons might require – housing, education, employment, compensation, social services, new farm lands for the farmers, synagogues, cultural centers, and all the elements that make up a healthy living environment.
Today, 3 1/2 years later, Vanunu reports that 92% of the former residents of Gush Katif have not begun building permanent homes. There are 24 potential sites for the displaced persons; building has started on only five of the sites. Barely a fifth of the displaced farmers have gone back to developing some agricultural land. At least one fifth of the people are unemployed, many of them too old or too broken to begin their business activities from scratch. A number of deaths have occurred, attributed to the emotional stress involved in the loss of home, job, and community life. Compensation payments, designed originally to pay for new homes, have been spent for daily needs.
Former Gush Katif residents, 4,000 of whom live in thin-walled trailers, in locations spread throughout the western Negev, are constantly under attack by Hamas rockets. They received delivery of large sewer pipes during the Gaza war. These were to act as “shelters” should rocket shrapnel occur during a missile attack. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t be sufficient if there were a direct attack. This, however, was the temporary ‘solution’ to the lack of actual shelters.
Thanks to the ongoing efforts of the Gush Katif Committee, representing the 21 former Gush Katif communities, some positive achievements have been made. Over 85%, or 1,400 families have remained with their communities. Unfortunately, they are living in 18 temporary sites which were not designed for long term use, thus impacting on every facet of daily living. However, the determination to remain together as a group has enabled the Gush Katif Committee to make up somewhat for the lack of government concern. There has been coordination of relief efforts, the building of a social welfare infrastructure, the creation of a teenage support program, and attention paid to various projects on behalf of the children, youth and adults. There is active coordination with the representatives of all the dispersed communities, and there are ongoing efforts to work with government agencies involved in finding the ‘solutions’.
Due to the efforts of the Gush Katif Committee, many other dedicated friends of Gush Katif, and 88% of the Israeli public who believe the government has failed in its obligations to the people of Gush Katif, this March, a state inquiry commission has begun investigating the failure of the Israeli government to live up to its promises. Hopefully, this investigation will hasten the day when Gush Katif residents will be restored to a semblance of the life they enjoyed prior to the 2005 expulsion. The State of Israel will benefit from the ‘solution’ also, because researchers have determined that each additional year of delay damages the gross national product, and costs approximately $35 million.
Until the situation is rectified, those interested in helping to rebuild the new communities can do so by contributing to the matching funds needed for the public buildings. Even where the government provides some funding, private funds are needed for synagogues, cultural centers, youth centers, and the variety of social service programs that complete a community. Those interested in helping should contact Dror Vanunu – firstname.lastname@example.org. Contributions can be made out to, and sent to: Friends of Gush Katif, P.O. Box 1184, Teaneck, NJ 07666. In Israel, the address is: The Gush Katif Committee, P.O. Box 450, Ahuzat Etrog, 79411. The website is: www.katifund.org.