Daily Israel Report

Where Banks Don?t Tread the Public Lends Millions to Gush Katif

Who will lend Gush Katif farmers money to plant next season’s crops? Not the banks; it's too risky. But much of the public has jumped at the chance to show their faith and solidarity.
First Publish: 6/22/2005, 3:43 PM / Last Update: 6/21/2005, 4:42 PM

Would a private bank lend money to Gush Katif farmers to buy seeds for next year’s crop, when their towns, farms and hothouses are slated for demolition in less than two months? Of course not.

Would Gush Katif farmers, among the most successful in the country, abandon their lives’ work and let hundreds of acres of hothouses, lie empty simply because they can’t get credit to buy seeds? No way.

Can Gush Katif farmers defy the standard business model that would suggest selling out for compensation, instead of planning to market next season’s flowers and vegetables? Absolutely. But how?

Simply by turning to the public.

Polls show that public support for the expulsion plan has dropped below 50%, and is falling rapidly. But while it’s one thing to wear orange or say no to disengagement, it’s another thing to put your money where your mouth is and invest in Gush Katif hothouses.

But that’s just what the public is doing. Over the past few months, Israelis have invested over NIS 4.3 million (nearly $1 million) in a fund set up to provide credit to Gush farmers to buy seeds for next year’s crop.

Called “Believe and Plant”, the fund started distributing credit after the Shavuot holiday last week. The fund provides credit for up to 50% of the price of each plant for up to 4 acres of land, coming to around NIS 24,000 ($5300) per acre. If unforeseen circumstances prevent a farmer from repaying the loan, the money becomes a grant.

Fund spokesman Yigal Kenan says the fund has received letters from over 3,000 people, “some of them very emotional.” One large investment, the sum of NIS 1 million, came from residents of Efrat, a well-to-do Jerusalem suburb near Bethlehem in Judea.

Most investments, however, are coming from ordinary people, in small amounts. Yeshiva students and families of modest means invest monthly by postdated checks.

One Israeli investor with meager resources, Jonathan Pollard, sent in $18 from federal prison in North Carolina. “He’s got a limited budget,” said Kenan. For Pollard, being free and in Gush Katif by next harvest would be the greatest payout possible payout for his investment in the fund.

For more information, see "www.katifund.org" (click the green box on the right for a Hebrew explanation), or call 08-684-0879 (from abroad, +972-8-684-0879).