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Nine Months after Expulsion: Status Report

The Gush Katif Committee's report shows that 80% of the expelled families remain united in their communities, but that 98% have yet to find permanent housing.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 5/17/2006, 11:09 AM / Last Update: 5/17/2006, 11:56 AM

The report was written by Dror Vanunu, a former resident of N'vei Dekalim and the International Coordinator of the Gush Katif Committee. This body coordinates all relief efforts, from both private and public sources, for the former Gush Katif communities. It has helped build a social welfare infrastructure to fill the gap left by government cuts, as well as programs for teenage-support, employment, and more.

Excerpts from the report:

Nine months have passed since the terrible crisis befell us, and we struggle to understand that we, who built homes, hothouses and public buildings, have to start afresh. It is a painful process, difficult and complicated, demanding effort and dedication to rebuild our lives after we were certain that we were settled.

After an exhausting process, most of us have arrived at ‘caravillas’ located in four major centers: Nitzan, Lachish, Yad Binyamin and the Negev (Yated and Yevul). These small [pre-fab] structures in the modern refugee camps that have been built for us are uncomfortable, but [our] group unity makes it easier for us to face the new realities.

...High unemployment statistics, combined with delays in compensation payments to those torn from their homes, farms and businesses, have had a devastating effect on those hundreds of families who not long ago were self-supporting and now find themselves forced to use compensation money simply to stay alive.

...Slowly, slowly we are beginning to see, in certain areas, projects that are being developed, hothouses being rebuilt, and the revival of that special spirit that permeated the communities of Gush Katif before their destruction. The process of rehabilitating the expellees is long and complicated, and may continue for years to come. Only if the government views the rehabilitation of the expellees as a desired national objective, and with the involvement of non-governmental agencies, will the Gush Katif communities be restored to their place as a constructive sector among our people and society.

Housing:
118 families are still living in interim accommodations, waiting to move to their temporary homes. Of these, 68 families are still living in the difficult conditions of hotel rooms and guest houses, and 50 from Elei Sinai are living in the tent city at Yad Mordechai. 1396 families out of the approximately 1750 former Gush Katif families decided to remain together with their original communities.

Sample numbers:
Jerusalem hotels - 17 families
Ein Tzurim - 45 from N'vei Dekalim
Ein Tzurim Guest House - 28, mostly from Netzer Hazani
Chafetz Chaim Guest House - 28, from Netzer Hazani and Gadid
Hispin (Golan) - 23 from Netzer Hazani
Ariel - 23, mostly from Netzarim
Yevul (Halutza Sands, south of Gaza) - 55, mostly from Netzarim
Amatzia (Lachish) - 45, mostly from Moshav Katif
Shomeriya - 54, mostly from Atzmona
Yated (Halutza Sands, south of Gaza) - 36, mostly from Atzmona
Ashkelon hi-rise building - 51 from Kfar Darom
Nitsanit (near Ashkelon) - 100
Tene Omarim (southern Judea) - 15, mostly from Morag
Yad Biyamin - 80 from Ganei Tal
Yad Binyamin Gag Anak community - 50 from various communities
Yad Binyamin, Yeshivat Torat HaChaim - 100

The largest concentration of expelled families is in Nitzan, north of Ashkelon, with 240 families from N'vei Dekalim, 90 from Nisanit, and another 143 from six other communities.

Compensation:
According to the Sela Administration data – 4,091claims have been filed, but only in 2,390 cases (58.4%) has all the red tape been worked through and a final decision been issued. Families that asked for a special evaluation of their property have received only down payments on their houses.

Even those who have already been paid are not finished: The Compensation Law evaluated the cost of rebuilding a house at $700-$850 per square meter, but as the expellees start looking into building, they find that the prices are significantly higher: at least $950 (for basic standards)!

Among businessmen, only 25.5% of their cases reached the final decision stage, and among the farmers – only 5.1%!

Employment:
Unemployment was almost unknown in Gush Katif. The great majority of residents were employed in agriculture, industry, education, and local services and they were significant contributors to the Israeli economy. As of now, the percentage of the unemployed among the Katif expellees has decreased, and now stands at about 50%. Due to the intensive work of the Gush Katif Committee, in cooperation with JobKatif and Maavarim, more than 450 people have found work.

1,100 people are still unemployed, and 380 of them live in Nitzan. The large majority of them no longer receive unemployment payments. Only 17.2% of the farmers – 38 out of the 220 who worked in Gush Katif - have resumed their activity, including those who are currently working on rebuilding their hothouses.

Only 150 businesses, out of 700 - a mere 21.4% - have re-opened: 40 of them in Nitzan, and 7 in Yad Binyamin in a new commercial center that was recently built there.

Education:
The teachers, school administrations and the Ministry of Education are all working together with the Gush Katif Committee to reestablish a normal and healthy learning atmosphere in all the schools.

Many of the children of the expelled communities of Gush Katif suffer from a full range of traumatic and post traumatic stress symptoms, including anxiety, depression, regressive behavior, behavioral problems, lack of concentration, and difficulties coping with new or challenging situations. Some children have already been in 2-3 different schools since the expulsion, leading to significant learning gaps among the children.

Five elementary schools serve most of the children, and another one will start operating in a few weeks in Nitzan. Some of them have various technical and bureaucratic problems, and some are in the process of moving to more permanent locations. Three schools receive funding for lunch programs from the Karev Fund.

Most of the high-school pupils attend boarding schools. Many Gush Katif girls study at the Ulpana, formerly of N'vei Dekalim and now located on the campus of Givat Washington, near Yavneh. The site is inadequate and most of the teachers are expellees themselves [with resulting advantages and disadvantages].

Youth:
753 youth are located in 18 “caravilla” sites and 3 interim (hotel) sites. Five locations have no youth counselor and 15 sites have no building for youth activities. Budgets for youth programs ceased at the end of March, though the activity year continues until the end of August and there is an urgent need to plan for the following year’s activities. In addition, now is the time that counseling is needed for 8th graders regarding their high schools plans for this coming September.

Many of the youth meet the definition of "at risk." They are rebelling against parental and communal authority and are having difficulty in finding their place at school and in their new communities with youth who did not experience the traumatic experiences that they did. There is a danger of alcoholism and drug addiction, and experienced and empathetic youth counselors and programs are urgently needed. In spite of all this, the government decided to stop the budget for youth counselors as of the end of May. This means that the adolescents will be left unattended during the most critical period of the year - the summer - when consistent frameworks are most needed.

Welfare:
The number of job slots for social workers in the local municipal councils has been increased. In addition, the Gush Katif Committee itself employs five social workers and coordinates the many volunteers who work on a regular basis among individuals and communities.

Special Assistance to Needy Families:

As a result of the expulsion, hundreds of families are in severe economic straits. This is due to the loss of income of one or more former breadwinners, and the additional costs involved in the relocation. Unemployment allowances are paid for a period of six months, and many salaried workers are no longer entitled to this financial support. Moreover, many salaried workers who chose to enroll for retraining courses did not receive the promised payment for attending classes, or received only part of the allocation.

The Gush Katif Committee has distributed more than 4.7 million shekels NIS in donations to needy families in the various temporary locations. Through the initiative of the Gush Katif Committee, many needy families were 'adopted' by communities which are supporting them on a monthly basis, each family for a delimited period of time.

Passover:
This is the opportunity to thank all the congregations, communities and organization that extended their assistance before the holiday, provided financial help for the needy families, and delivered hundreds of food packages to all of the dispersed communities. Your contributions were distributed to many families and allowed them to celebrate the holiday with joy and dignity.

From receiving to giving:
One of the projects that the youth of Gush Katif wish to undertake is volunteering in day camps in the south, thus contributing of its strength and energies to weaker children.

For more information about the Gush Katif Committee, or to contribute in the U.S. or elsewhere, write to gkatif@netvision.net.il.