Eleven years ago, 2,000 families had their lives uprooted by the Israeli government when they were expelled from Gush Katif in southern Israel and the northern Shomron. About 9,000 hardworking Israeli citizens were told that the government was perfectly prepared to complete this action in one day. Yet over a decade later, many of these families still lack permanent housing and adequate jobs.
“Karmey Chesed has always held that it is a national responsibility to help Gush Katif refugees,” explained Aryeh Weingarten, Founder of Karmey Chesed, to Breaking Israel News. “We cannot forget those who gave everything to the state and lost it all.”
In 2005, the government of Ariel Sharon voted to unilaterally disengage from Gush Katif, which was located in the Gaza Strip, in hopes that the move would bring peace to the region. This August marks the 11th anniversary since the disengagement.
“Not only has Israel not achieved peace, but a terrorist state has risen in the place where 25 thriving Gush Katif communities once stood,” stated Shai Gefen, General Manager of the Museum for Gush Katif, to Breaking Israel News.
“The Israeli government itself sent these families to Gush Katif to develop farms and build homes and their lives. Thirty-five years later, they destroyed all that had been created, yet did little to help these people afterwards.”
Gush Katif was a stronghold of Israelis dedicated to protecting the Land of Israel and helping it succeed. Gush Katif greenhouse flowers and bug-free vegetables brought Israel’s economy $200 million per year and made up 15 percent of its agricultural exports.
Israel Radio recently revealed that 13 percent of the uprooted Jews from Gush Katif are still living in temporary mobile homes. “Many people still struggle physically and emotionally from the expulsion,” continued Gefen to Breaking Israel News. “Who is going to hire a 50- or 60-year-old farmer?”
With no major state efforts taking place to repair the damage, Gefen has come to rely on outside sources, including Karmey Chesed, to help heal this travesty in Israel’s history. “Aryeh never says ‘no’ and always comes through for the victims of the disengagement,” continued Gefen. “He gives money, food, second-hand refurbished furniture and appliances, and even children’s backpacks filled with school supplies – whatever is needed to make lives a bit better.”
Karmey Chesed helps nearly 250 Gush Katif families, some on a monthly and some on a weekly basis. “Each family has its own story and struggles,” told Weingarten to Breaking Israel News. “We cannot stand by as young couples struggle to build new lives or elderly people who were self-sufficient before the expulsion cannot put food on their tables today.”
Though eleven years might seem like a long time, for many who lived through the expulsion, their trauma lingers as if it had happened yesterday. Gefen explained to Breaking Israel News that the Jerusalem Talmud states, “Any generation in which the [Holy] Temple [in Jerusalem] is not built, it is as if it had been destroyed in their times.” Based on this thought, he extrapolated that until the refugees from Gush Katif are properly settled we must all take responsibility for their welfare.
“Although today we cannot rebuild what they had in Gush Katif, we can at least help them live in dignity and show we care,” said Weingarten to Breaking Israel News. “As people continue to face obstacles to rebuilding their lives and little government aid or solutions are in sight, we must help now more than ever.”