It’s been 30 months since 1,81′ Jewish families in the Gaza Strip were expelled by the Israeli government in a failed quest for peace. The sites of their razed houses, synagogues, cemeteries, and schools are now launching pads for terrorists’ missiles. Most of them remain without permanent living quarters or jobs.
Teaneck resident Mike Roth at a construction site in Nitzanim, which will house Gaza evacuees.
Because the refugees of the expulsion are in such dire straits, frustrated by the government’s lack of assistance, Dror Vanunu is headed to the metropolitan area next week to seek help from American organizations and individuals.
Vanunu was formerly a municipal official in Neve Dekalim, a community of Gush Katif (the evacuated bloc of ‘1 Jewish villages in Gaza). Now he is the international coordinator for the Gush Katif Committee, the official fundraising and coordination body for relief efforts from private and public sources. Like the vast majority of his fellow expellees, he and his family live in a trailer just miles from their old house.
"For many people, the disengagement is history," said Vanunu in a phone interview. "But for almost 8,500 people it is a daily struggle of rebuilding and starting a new life. So far, not more than 40 families have started to build their future homes. This is a disaster."
Vanunu will explain to sympathetic audiences in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Toronto that although the Israeli government legislated compensation packages for residents of Gush Katif and four small towns in the northern west bank in June ‘004 more than a year after these areas were evacuated they were not adequate on paper and even less so in practice.
"We assume the gap between what is needed and what the government will provide is about 1 billion shekels," said Vanunu, whose committee has been working to secure additional government funds. Last April, a ministerial committee approved the addition of nearly $1’5 million to the compensation budget. It’s still not enough, said Vanunu.
"Around $40 million less than the cost [to build] one school in New Jersey would take care of the refugees’ basic needs for synagogues, day-care centers, cultural centers, and employment and health services," said Vanunu. "Our people are planning to build ‘4 villages around the country. We need the resources and a small push to start." He related that homeowners were compensated for a fraction of what their homes were worth, while farmers received 40 percent of the real value of their businesses. Agriculture was one of the main sources of livelihood in Gush Katif.
"That’s why only 10 percent of the farmers went back to work [as farmers]," said Vanunu. And even that portion has not prospered on the land near Ashkelon that was offered them by the Israeli government. Last year, the crops of 1′ former Gush Katif farmers were ruined by frost because there was no electricity provided for field heaters and insulation. The same thing happened again this year, yet the farmers were turned down when they requested agricultural insurance.
Aside from high unemployment, studies show that the evacuees suffer from increased mental and physical infirmities, a higher divorce rate, and major gaps in the education of their 3,500 children.
Vanunu noted that many Teaneck and Englewood donors have supported the Gush Katif residents before and after the disengagement. "We are proud of this special partnership, and one day when these people make aliyah we look forward to having them as neighbors in our communities."
Mike Roth, president of Teaneck’s Cong. B’nai Yeshurun, works closely with Friends of Gush Katif, the American branch of the Gush Katif Committee. "Individuals are coming forward with small and large donations, and that’s been helpful in getting people jobs and building some temporary synagogues and nursery schools," Roth said.
As of press time, Vanunu’s schedule was not confirmed. For more information, see www.katifund.org The local address for donations is Friends of Gush Katif, PO Box 1184, Teaneck, NJ 07666.