Eleven years ago, the Israeli government forcefully removed nearly 10,000 Israeli citizens from 21 neighborhoods in the southern region of the country with hopes that this act would bring peace to the region. At the time, Gush Katif was a thriving farming region with significant exports of fruits, vegetables and flowers which significantly aided Israel’s economy.
“Gush Katif had no less than 400 farms in its heyday,” explained Aryeh Weingarten, founder of Karmey Chesed charity organization to Breaking Israel News. “With great effort, bravery and hopes to return to what was, some evacuees tried reestablishing 50 farms in their new locations. Of these, 50 percent have already gone bankrupt, leaving just 25 still active ‘Gush Katif’ farms.”
Though the unilateral disengagement was achieved in the course of one week, for many, their lives have never recovered from the pain, shock and trials of being removed from their homes, jobs and communities.
“Gush Katif was settled in 1968 by young, strong and idealistic Jews,” Dror Vanunu, head of development for Gush Katif evacuees, told Breaking Israel News. “Thirty years later, many of the evacuees are in their 50’s or older. Rebuilding their lives has been incredibly challenging.”
Vanunu shared with Breaking Israel News a few of the many heartbreaking stories that have come out of the disengagement. “When the Weiss (pseudonym) family lived in Gush Katif, they made a good living through farming and were known for their generosity and the chesed [help] they gave to others.
“Following the expulsion, both the husband and wife lost their jobs. In their 50’s, they couldn’t start a new farm. The husband now works very hard but only receives a minimum wage. The wife got cancer and is undergoing treatments. She works part time and is exhausted from all they have gone through and her treatments.”
The Weiss family is now facing tremendous debt. “They were a self sufficient and thriving family with a wonderful life in Gush Katif,” continued Vanunu. “Now they are forced to accept charity to get through the day.”
That charity often comes from Karmey Chesed. “Just today Aryeh brought assistance to some of the Gush Katif refugees,” said Vanunu. “Karmey Chesed has helped to ensure that families suffering from the effects of the disengagement live in dignity.”
In another story, Vanunu said that the Schwartz (pseudonym) family were independent in Gush Katif as they used to work for the Gush Katif municipality. After the disengagement they both lost their jobs. “Mr. Schwartz became depressed and got very ill with cancer and diabetes. He just had both of his legs amputated,” he said.
Vanunu told Breaking Israel News that a study made by US researchers found that Gush Katif refugees have a disproportionate rate of illness, most likely caused by the distress and sorrow at losing their incomes, their homes, their communities, their friends and their self sufficiency.
“The people from Gush Katif were known for their strong Biblical ideology, faith and values,” he noted. “We pray that Karmey Chesed will be able to continue to help Gush Katif families. It gives them hope to continue and helps them maintain a relatively normal life.”
Karmey Chesed has provided furniture, appliances, food, financial and emotional support for Gush Katif refugees. “So many of their lives fell apart along with their communities,” shared Weingarten with Breaking Israel News. “Karmey Chesed recognizes that the needs are great. We have been helping Gush Katif refugees for years and will continue to as long as we have the resources.”