Last-Minute Rescue Work for Gush Katif Property

Efforts to help the people of Gush Katif focus also on property, with thousands of volunteers working furiously to salvage agricultural and other infrastructures from vast acres of abandoned land.

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Hillel Fendel, | updated: 17:07

Though nothing remains of the thousands of houses in Gush Katif except for piles of rubble, much valuable equipment still stands intact, waiting only to be salvaged and brought back to mainland Israel. The question is, will there be enough time before the government's arbitrary deadline to save it all? The answer, quite clearly, is no. This, despite the token extention granted by the government until Thursday at midnight (Friday, 3 PM, in Atzmonah). After those hours, no civilian presence will be allowed into the area.

Two days later, on Sept. 11, the army plans to destroy the bridge leading directly from Kisufim to what was Gush Katif. The bridge provided a separate road for Jews to travel north-south, while east-west Arab traffic traveled unhindered below. The army built the bridge in 2002 despite the protests of the Gush Katif residents, who warned it would make them easy prey for Palestinian terrorist snipers. In fact, more than ten people were murdered by terrorists on or near the bridge, and one - Ettie Fahima of Netzer Hazani - was murdered by terrorists who took advantage of the bridge construction to prepare their ambush.

At present, many volunteers are working furiously to try to empty the area of greenhouses and other equipment. Araleh, the man responsible for the work in Atzmonah, which has the largest amount of materials to be rescued, said that much has been done, but that the work will not be completed. "We have saved 30 dunams (7.5 acres) of pepper greenhouses," he told Arutz-7 today, "2 new chicken coops, and another several dunams of greenhouses in the large plant nursery. All the plants have been taken out, but from now on we will be left with 40 dunams out of what used to be 75."

Araleh said that though there is not enough time to remove everything that must be removed, "the amount of volunteers we have is sufficient - because we don't have enough machinery to help us take down all the greenhouses."

Efforts were made in various quarters to try to have the deadline extended, but mostly to no avail. The government is bent on handing Gaza over to the Palestinian Authority next week, apparently in time for PM Sharon's appearance at the United Nations.

Moshe Ohayon of the Negev city Ofakim is responsible for much of the dismantling work in Kfar Darom and N'vei Dekalim. He says he's currently concentrating on the heavy-duty work involved in trying to rescue some of the pre-fab concrete structures in Kfar Darom. "Most of the greenhouses in Gush Katif were either taken down or sold [to the World Bank]," he said, "except in Kfar Darom, Atzmonah, and Netzarim."

Unbelievably, though all the houses have been destroyed, 154 public structures are to be left intact for Arab use. These include schools, community centers, the regional council office building in N'vei Dekalim ,and the like.

Ohayon agreed that the sight of only rubble where row after row of beautiful houses once stood is horrific, but "we're busy at the moment rushing against the clock to try to save what we can. I assume that once I leave here for the last time, my nightmares will start."

An untold number of volunteers, both religious and not, have been arriving over the past few days to carry out the salvaging work. Yoel Marshak of the secular United Kibbutz Movement, who has been overseeing the operation since its inception, said, "It's not 2,000, like some reports say - it's 6,000 volunteers, over the past six weeks! It didn't start only after the actual disengagement, but even before, for those farmers who were willing to start packing up then. We've been sending people from all over the country, of all stripes and ages, to help out in whatever needs helping - packing up private homes, moving equipment from schools and synagogues, and mainly dismantling greenhouses."

"But don't think it's only dismantling," Marshak said. "We've also had 2,000 volunteers involved in rebuilding the greenhouses." Those of Atzmonah which can be salvaged are being rebuilt in Moshav Shachar (west of Kiryat Gat), while the hothouses of Ganei Tal are being taken to Mavkiim (south of Ashkelon), and northern Gaza's Nisanit are being relocated in Hodayah (east of Ashkelon).

Marshak emphasizes, and others vouch for it, that the entire operation is for the benefit of the former residents of Gush Katif. "We are one people," Marshak says with great enthusiasm, "and this campaign is to show solidarity and love of Israel, and to provide help for the families so that they can re-establish themselves. They have been through a lot, and they need and deserve the help. Just like in Channah Senesh's famous poem, which states, 'Fortunate is the match that was consumed while kindling flames,' I lit the match, and it ignited 6,000 people of all types. This is a farmer-help-farmer campaign." Marshak said that the Religious Kibbutz movement has also had a major part in the operation.

Ray Rublin of Karnei Shomron, one of the volunteers, agrees. "The kibbutz movement has moved in a huge way to benefit the people of Gush Katif," he said, "and to save Israeli agriculture. This is a tremendous movement to benefit the people and also save the markets that Gush Katif has built up around the world... There are acres of greenhouses from which materials can be salvaged from."

Marshak said, "We have been involved in dismantling and transporting the dairy farm [that boasted some 500 cows - ed.] in Moshav Katif, as well as 14 housing units in Kfar Darom, and much more. We saved tremendous amounts of saplings from the giant nursery in Atzmonah, as well as from Ganei Tal."

"In Gan-Or," Marshak said, "one man had 100 date tree saplings outside his house, and he refused to come out of his house even when the bulldozers came. He said that he would not come out until the saplings were saved. So we came - it was Friday afternoon, two weeks ago, at about 2 PM - and we removed all the saplings, and asked him where he wanted them taken to. At 2:30, the house was destroyed."

Some of the rescue work involves digging and pulling up electric cables. "There are enormous electrical infrastructures that can be reused," Rublin said. "Tractors have been taking down electric poles, and the work also involves taking out all sorts of materials from the greenhouses, including the fabric and mats on the floors, the roofs, the sunscreens inside, engines that open and close the sunscreens - and loading up trucks with tremendous quantities."

Rublin himself was working, among other things, in taking apart the milking station at the dairy farm jointly owned by Atzmonah and Moshav Katif.

Rublin related that Kibbutz Be'eri, a secular community in the area, offered to house hundreds of volunteers for the night.

Though some Gush Katif residents might wonder where they were a few months ago, there is no question that thousands of Israelis from all walks of life have now come to their rescue, in an operation termed by organizer Yoel Marshak to be one of "Ahavat Yisrael" - love of Israel.