It is now five years since the mass expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif. The anniversary falls on Tisha B’Av, when we mourn the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. We also mark the modern-day destruction of Jewish life.
What happened to the thriving greenhouses, farms, schools, community centers, synagogues and homes of the Gush Katif communities? They returned to the dust and sand which had been there prior to the time the Gush Katif pioneers had arrived, with the encouragement and help of the Israeli government. In place of the communities, Hamas established its stronghold. Thousands of rockets began bombarding Israeli towns. Gilad Shalit was abducted and is still held by Hamas. The Second Lebanon war was fought, with Hizbullah, supplied by Iran, growing in power. After a long period of restraint, the Israeli government finally fought back against Hamas rockets and launched Operation Cast Lead in December 2008.
Recognizing that turning world opinion against Israel is more effective than suicide bombings, Hamas switched to the strategy of the “freedom flotilla.” Ignoring the fact that Israel supplies Gaza with tons of food, gasoline, medical supplies, electricity and water on a daily basis, Hamas created the myth of a starving Gaza population, denied all humanitarian needs by a cruel Israel. So the flotilla was launched, with one of the boats carrying thugs armed with knives, clubs, and guns, ready to lynch Israeli sailors as they boarded the ship. Once again, the international media attacked Israel, demanding investigations and an end to the Gaza blockade.
Could all of this have come out of the “disengagement” from Gaza? Yes, because it clearly was not a disengagement. The world would not allow Israel to free itself of the responsibility of caring for the humanitarian needs of the Gazans. And the so-called disengagement clearly demonstrated that Israel was willing to bargain over what land belongs to it and what doesn’t. The Arabs had won their battle. After that, it was just a matter of patience and pretend-diplomacy, talking “peace” while taking actions that put Arab control as a fact on the ground.
And what about the 10,000 Gush Katif Jews who were displaced? Where are they now? Did the government fulfill its promises to “find a solution for every settler?” The answer is a resounding no. Just last month the official investigative committee’s report admitted the failure of the state to provide for the expellees.
The recently published Gush Katif Committee status report tells us there are nine new communities where permanent homes have begun to be built. There are six locations where the infrastructure work has started or is ready. There are five locations where no work has begun. Only 9 percent of the expelled families have completed construction on their permanent homes. Some 85 percent – more than 1,400 families – continue to live in temporary caravillas, in kibbutzim, in makeshift homes, while they wait for their sites to be prepared.
Tragically, many of those who were jobless following the expulsion – and, despite many ameliorative efforts, remain unemployed or under-employed – have been forced to use for their daily needs the insufficient compensation money they received. Even when it will be possible to move into permanent homes, many families will be unable to do so because of insufficient funds.
And what about the farmers of Gush Katif, who had sold $150,000,000 each year in agricultural produce? What about the 380 farms that were destroyed? Only 28 percent of the farmers were able to start over again. The rest were left without full compensation for their land, their greenhouses, their farm equipment, the loss of international markets, and retirement wages for older farmers.
All businesses were destroyed. Today, only 50 percent of the small business owners have re-started. Agreements signed between small business owners and the government have not been implemented. The rate of unemployment is high, almost twice the national figure. Public buildings, such as synagogues, community centers and youth centers, lack the needed budget for reconstruction. Twenty-six synagogues were destroyed; only three are under construction.
What about the families? The expulsion destroyed the fabric of daily lives. The divorce rate increased, as did illness and mortality rates.
This year, fifth-anniversary commemorations will be taking place throughout the world. The Gush Katif Committee has launched the Katif Od Chai campaign. Chai means life – Gush Katif will live on – but it also represents the number 18, for the 18 locations throughout Israel where new communities will be built. Eighteen prominent rabbis have lent their names to the campaign, and here in the U.S. commemorative programs for the anniversary have been planned on at least 18 different sites.