8 Days of Hanukkah, 8 Years Since the Disengagement

For Hanukkah: An overview of what is happening in communities built by Gush Katif expellees.

Shifra Shomron,

Shifra Shomron
Shifra Shomron

Rounded Rectangular Callout: "Gush Katif was more than just a brief flicker of light in the Gaza Strip. . . 
Today, 8 years after they were extinguished, they have been relit: there are 21 NEW Gush Katif communities throughout Israel."

It was the Thursday before Hanukkah, December 18, 2003. At the Hertzliya Conference then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon shocked the nation by presenting his controversial Disengagement Plan. His intention was to unilaterally withdraw from the 21 Gush Katif communities in the Gaza Strip and four Jewish communities in the Northern Shomron:

"The Disengagement Plan will include . . . a change in the deployment of settlements, which will reduce as much as possible the number of Israelis located in the heart of the Palestinian population…"

The residents of these communities refused to realize that their PM had just sealed their fate. They determinedly embarked upon an energetic anti-Disengagement campaign to flood the country with "orange." Little did they realize the dire situation of their communities; that they were already flickering and gasping for air, and soon would be snuffed out.

"[Efrat] gazed intently at the flickering candle flames, her brown eyes mirroring the dancing bright lights of the hanukkiah candles. . . [she]stared at the yellow candle. It had melted down completely. Only a tiny flame remained. . . Efrat rose from her chair in one swift move. 'The candles have all burned out'"

(Grains of Sand: The Fall of Neve Dekalim, pp 89-91). 

Bulldozed community in Gush Katif

Gush Katif was more than just a brief flicker of light in the Gaza Strip; this bloc of 21 Jewish communities existed for 30 years before their August 2005 evacuation and destruction.

Today, 8 years after they were extinguished, they have been relit: there are 21 NEW Gush Katif communities throughout Israel.

Shedding a light on the main projects of these new Gush Katif communities:

Nitzan is the largest new Gush Katif community; over 150 families formerly of Neve Dekalim have built their permanent homes between Ashkelon and Ashdod and another 100 are expected to join them. In addition to the re-established Nitzanei Katif Elementary School, Nitzan boasts Kissufim, an institution of higher religious learning for women's empowerment.

Kissufim's friendly atmosphere, interesting classes and holiday tours draw women from throughout the southern region. Rabbi Yigal Kaminetzky, former chief rabbi of Gush Katif, heads a high yeshiva for men. The Nitzan High Yeshiva involves itself with the Nitzan community elevating the religious tone during festivities and studying with community residents on a regular basis.

Following Disengagement, the former Gush Katif community of Eli Sinai realized that the secular, sea-side kibbutz, Palmachim would be the perfect place to absorb them. Palmachim was founded in 1949 on the coastal plain, south of Rishon LeZion and hadn't built a synagogue. As part of the agreement to become kibbutz members, Eli Sinai asked to be allowed to build one. Palmachim agreed, and today, after 64 years, the secular kibbutz is building a synagogue – and some of the elder members are pleased and excited about the change.

The new Gush Katif communities are eager to build youth centers to provide safe environments for youth during their free time. Currently, only Netzer Hazani and Ganei Tal have such Youth Centers.

Netzer Hazani Youth Center built in memory of Yohanon Hilberg, killed during an IDF operation in Lebanon.

Every new Gush Katif community requires at least one synagogue. Many of these are only partially built due to lack of funds to complete them.

It is said that it's hard to keep a good man down, and certainly Chanuka is the time for believing in the power to shake off the ugly past, and dedicate the bright new future. Eight years after the execution of the Disengagement Plan, we can light a candle on each of the eight nights of Chanuka, knowing that we have rekindled the blaze that is the Gush Katif spirit.



Shifra Shomron is the PR assistant for Friends of Gush Katif (the Gush Katif Committee). She is the author of the novel Grains of Sand: The Fall of Neve Dekalim, Mazo Publishers (2007).

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