Rivlin: I Learned Zionism from Gush Katif Evictees

President Reuven Rivlin joined residents of Nitzan, thrown out of their homes in the disengagement for Chanukah lighting.

Yaakov Levi ,

Reuven Rivlin lights candles in Nitzan
Reuven Rivlin lights candles in Nitzan
Marc Neumann/GPO

President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday joined residents of Nitzan in southern Israel who were among those thrown out of their homes in the 2005 disengagement for a Chanukah candle lighting ceremony. “Despite the long time that has passed since that event, my heart still aches when I remember Gush Katif – its productive workers, its youth, its children,” said Rivlin at the ceremony.

“I am sad when I remember the towns of Gush Katif that were full of life, the synagogues full of worshippers, the kindergartens, the sports facilities, the hothouses flourishing with produce, and yes, the cemetery that held those who sought to rest in peace,” said Rivlin. “A whole world of settlement, activity, building, and dream realization was destroyed before our eyes. And we stood there, seeing but not believing. We are allowed to have a different opinion on the 'positive results' of the disengagement.

“But the images of our people, who were sent into exile in their own lands when they were evicted from their homes, were very hard for those who saw them. Soldiers and residents stood looking at each other, together, to prevent the State of Israel from falling victim to violence. From you, residents of Gush Katif, I learned what Zionism is,” said Rivlin. “How to start over after the great trauma, who youth who were removed from their homes by IDF soldiers themselves took upon themselves the defense of their country.”

Since that terrible time, Rivlin said, “I believe the state has taken steps to alleviate the suffering of the victims, and laws were passed to remove bureaucratic blockades that stood in the way of those who need assistance. But we must remember that the solutions are dependent not just on the state, but on ourselves,” he added.

Gush Katif refugees still face significant problems finding employment and housing, though more than 8 years have passed since the Disengagement. Last July, figures revealed 50% of the 9,500 Jews expelled remain homeless16% of the community also suffers from unemployment; when they were still in Gush Katif that rate was a mere 4%.