Katif greenhouse
Katif greenhouseIsrael news photo

No relief in sight for the 400 Gush Katif farmers. Not only are 70% of them still out of work, but their former workers – Arabs from Gaza – are suing them!

Nearly five years have passed since the Disengagement-Expulsion from Gush Katif, and yet the 400 farmers who all but carried Israel’s agricultural economy on their backs for years have not been rehabilitated. To add salt to their wounds, Arabs from Gaza are suing them for dismissal indemnities and other employee benefits that they claim are owed them as a result of the termination of their employment.

The counter-claim that “we didn’t fire you, the government simply liquidated our farms and businesses” does not impress the Arabs.

“One might have thought," Dror Vanunu of the Gush Katif Committee says, "that after the uprooting from Gush Katif, the destruction of the greenhouses, the hardships in restoring their farms, the poor compensation, and the foot-dragging in the rebuilding of their homes, the farmers of Gush Katif have suffered enough and do not need any more challenges." 

“But no... The Gazan workers who once made a living and sustained their families from their work in the Gush Katif farms, and who learned from their Israeli employers the secrets of the most advanced agriculture in the world, decided with the gracious help of Israeli lawyers - apparently funded by anti-Israeli organizations - to file a law suit against their former employers.”

“Yes, they are suing the same farmers who are themselves unemployed and who are striving for the past five years to restore what was vandalized, desecrated and destroyed in the blink of an eye.”

What began several months ago as two “test case” lawsuits against a handful of farmers has swarmed into a deluge of over 80 lawsuits, with claims totaling hundreds of millions of shekels.

Aharon Hazut, coordinator of the Gush Katif Farmers' Lobby, told Israel National News that the Knesset Audit Committee has taken up the cause and will meet with the appropriate government figures – but that no answer should be expected in the coming days.

The Gush Katif Committee and the Gush Katif Farmers Knesset Lobby are trying to fight back by raising funds for their legal defense. "We requested that the government find proper solutions for this issue and bear the responsibility for the consequences of the dismissal of the Arab workers following the expulsion," Hazut said. "In the meantime, however, the farmers are required to respond to the plaintiffs complains within weeks. They need to appoint lawyers, file countersuits, and the like, and it is a costly endeavor. We desperately need NIS 250,000 ($65,000) immediately to help pay part of the farmers' huge expenses to lawyers!”  

The question is whether the government will step in and assume responsibility for the Arab workers whose jobs disappeared together with the liquidation of the Jewish presence in Gaza.

“So far the government has not offered to help at all,” Hazut said, “and some of the farmers have already had liens placed on their property because of  the suits against them. MK Zevulun Orlev, who chairs the Knesset committee, as well as MKs Uri Ariel, Ze’ev Elkin and others, are taking this very seriously and are helping us – but so far there have been no results.”

"We were not the ones to dismiss our workers,” Hazut said. “The government did - and fired us together with them! The situation of my former Arab workers is even better than mine; they at least still live in their homes, whereas I have been living for the last five years in a 'transit camp.'”

Hazut said that of the 400 farmers in Gush Katif, “only 39 have returned to work. Another 80 or so have found other types of work – but 70% of them are still unemployed! At age 50 and up, who can expect people who know only farming to find some other type of work? They’re looking and they’re trying, they volunteer with the police or learn in a Kollel – but they need work!”

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