An Overview: The people of Gush Katif, Summer 2015 By Shifra Shomron
After 35 years of life in Gush Katif, the Israeli government implemented the Disengagement Plan and the 21 flourishing communities were destroyed in one week (August – 2005). The courageous campaign to stop the expulsion had failed. The Gush Katif residents were carried out of their homes by their own brothers in arms, dearly loved IDF soldiers. They were taken to buses that drove them for hours… to where? Here’s where this carefully organized operation ran into its first problem. There weren’t enough hotel rooms reserved or caravillas (temporary pre-fabricated housing units available in 60 (102 family members), 90 (3-7) and a few 120 sq. meters for families with 7 or more children.) prepared. At the time of the expulsion, the government had only started work on the Nitzan caravilla site, and it didn’t have enough caravillas for the dispossessed residents of Gush Katif.
So the majority of former residents of 21 Gush Katif communities were initially scattered in hotels throughout the country, in Jerusalem, Be’er Sheva and Ashkelon. These weren’t prepared properly as many hotels weren’t made aware of the huge inundation of families. This was no holiday vacation. Families were separated onto different floors within the same hotel. Mothers longed to cook meals for their children and couldn’t. Children used to carefree community life couldn’t play unsupervised. Wonderful civilian volunteers helped out with laundry services, clothes, and provided much needed basic supplies as the expellees’ personal belongings were all in storage. Not all families went to hotels. Some communities were welcomed by high-school dormitories. Others were temporarily placed in high-rise apartment buildings. Many families with young children, mostly religious, were now unexpectedly in urban, secular, not child-friendly environments and an end was nowhere in sight.
During that first year following the expulsion, communities were scattered at hotels throughout the country, high-school dormitories, IDF vacation homes, high-rise apartment buildings, a tent city at the Yad Mordechai junction, etc. The community of Eli Sinai went no further then the Yad Mordechai Junction. There, they set up a tent city, determined to stay together and find a community solution. Their perseverance eventually bore fruit, and they were allowed to become residents of kibbutz Palmachim. But the bureaucratic hassle took years, and only now (2014-15) are Eli Sinai families finally moving into their new homes.
Eventually, everyone ended up at caravilla sites dispersed throughout the country: Nitzan, Ein Tzurim, Yad Benyamin, Ariel and in the north. The largest was in Nitzan, home to 500 Gush Katif families. These temporary homes were not originally intended to be used for more than several years, but the people of Gush Katif were intent on community solutions. They learned the hard way how difficult and time consuming it is to navigate government bureaucracy.
Ten years later, a third of the expellees remain in these temporary homes. The others have moved into their new permanent homes in the new communities they’ve established – or strengthened. Yes indeed, Gush Katifnics now reside throughout Israel – from the south to the north. From the Halutza sands by the Egyptian border to Avnei Eitan in the Golan Heights. Several new communities even kept their original name, while others hint at their Gush Katif origin. Some communities are wholly comprised of residents from their former community, while others are a composite of several communities, and some have absorbed residents from throughout Israel.
These communities can be divided as follows:
- Be’er Ganim – just north of Ashkelon, this large community is divided into clusters according to the Gush Katif community of origin. It is a mixed community with both religious and secular residents. These hail from B’dolach, Gadid, Gan-Or, Morag, Neve Dekalim, Nisanit and Rafiah Yam and there’s also a cluster for the second generation. Be’er Ganim is home to some 130 families out of 260 and has planning permission for approximately 1,000 lots. It will eventually become the largest new community. Educational institutions include a growing elementary school and a religious boys’ high school.
- Bnei Dkalim – located in Lachish is home to former Neve Dekalim families. This community hopes to create a buffer zone between the Hevron hills and the Kiriat Gat region. Its educational institutions include gender separate elementary schools, an infant day care and a kindergarten.
- Bnei Netzarim – located in the Halutza sands, this community is a blend of former Netzarim families and families from throughout Israel. The community originally was housed in pre-fab caravillas in Yevul. They later moved their caravillas to their actual community of Bnei Netzarim. The majority of former Netzarim families have moved to permanent homes. Educational institutions include gender separate Talmud Torah elementary schools.
- Ganei Tal – the only former Gush Katif community that didn’t split up, Ganei Tal kept its former name and re-established itself in the Nahel Soreq regional council near Hafez Haim. They allocated lots for their second generation, many of whom have since also moved into permanent homes.
- Karmei Katif – this Lachish community is a mixture of former families from the Katif moshav and new families from throughout Israel. They have not yet completed the infrastructure for their new community, and live in the nearby caravilla site. The latter includes an infant day care center, after school activities and a Bnei Akiva youth group. Elementary aged children attend the schools in Yad Benyamin, Shomria or Kiryat Gat. The community’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Noah Vijanski, has guided them since the original Katif moshav was established – some 25 years ago.
- Maskiot – this small community in the Beit She’an region was established by former Shirat HaYam families and families from throughout Israel. Several families have moved into their permanent homes, and educational institutions are in the planning. In the meantime, the children learn in nearby kibbutzim. Employment: agriculture (olive trees and palm groves) and educational institutions.
- Neta – this Lachish community is comprised of families from Tel Katifa and Kfar Darom. Nearly all have moved into their new homes.
- Netzer Hazani – like Ganei Tal, this community kept its former name as it re-established itself in the Nahal Soreq regional council by Yesodot. Netzer Hazani allocated housing lots for the second generation near their parents. The community has a beautiful synagogue, and a youth center and community center in memory of community members: victims of Arab terror and fallen soldiers.
- Neve – located in the Halutza sands near Bnei Netzarim, Neve was established by former Atzmona families and many families from throughout Israel. Neve has a religious elementary school, a girls’ religious high school (ulpana) and the prestigious religious pre-military academy “Otzem”. The main areas of employment are agriculture and education.
- Shavei Darom – the Kfar Darom community has been waiting for the past 10 years to break ground. Following the expulsion, the Kfar Darom community spent six years in an apartment building in Ashkelon, before moving to the Nir Akiva caravilla site in the Merchavim regional council. Nir Akiva is adjacent to the area where they intend to establish the Shavei Darom community. Their educational institutions include the Kfar Darom Talmud Torah School for boys and girls and the Torah and Land Institute.
- Shomria – the Atzmona community and additional families from throughout Israel bought out the Shomria kibbutz in the Lachish region and rejuvenated it. Many families are still in temporary homes, and as soon as a family moves into their permanent home, their caravilla is free for to absorb a new family. The community bought the caravillas from the State to help them absorb new families. Educational institutions include gender separate Talmud Torah schools, a religious boys’ high school, a kolel (Torah learning for married men). Employment: agriculture and education.
Existing communities that were significantly strengthened:
- Avnei Eitan – located in the Golan Heights, Avnei Eitan was strengthened by residents from Gadid, Kfar Darom, Neve Dekalim, Netzer Hazani and Tel Katifa. Families seek employment in small businesses, such as art galleries, guest houses, ceramic studios, stores. The community boasts a branch of the Gush Katif Heritage Center. Children learn at schools in the nearby communities of Hispin and Keshet.
- Bat Hadar – 25 families from the Northern Gaza Strip communities were absorbed by the Hof Ashkelon regional council community of Bat Hadar. All 25 have moved into their permanent homes.
- Bustan HaGalil – This Galilee community was strengthened by some 25 families from Nisanit and Dugit. Most of these families have moved into their permanent homes. The children are educated at the local kibbutz school.
- Mavki’im – this community in the Hof Ashkelon regional council was strengthened by families from Pe’et Sadeh. The children learn in educational institutions outside the community, and the parents are employed in agriculture and other fields.
- Neve Yam – a group of eleven families from a variety of Gush Katif and Northern Shomron communities seek to build their new homes in kibbutz Neve Yam, south of Haifa. They finally broke ground, March 2015. The infrastructure is not yet complete.
- Nitzan – this religious community north of Ashkelon was strengthened by over 200 families from Neve Dekalim in addition to over 100 second generation families. Families in the building process, as well as those who haven’t yet begun, continue to reside in the Nitzan caravilla site. Educational institutions include nursery schools, kindergartens, the State religious torani elementary school Nitzanei Katif, the religious girls’ high school “Ulpanat Neve Dekalim,” a women’s religious learning center “Kisufim,” and a men’s higher Yeshiva. Employment: various professions.
- Palmachim – this secular kibbutz established by the Shomer HaTzair movement is located on the coast, north of Ashdod. Several families from Eli Sinai have moved there and others are still in the process of building their new homes. Although the kibbutz is secular, it has agreed that a synagogue should be built for the Gush Katif families. In fact, some of the kibbutz old timers are looking forward to its completion as well. Eli Sinai families are still fundraising for their synagogue.
- Talmei Yafeh – this community in the Hof Ashkelon regional council was strengthened by 22 families from Eli Sinai, all of whom have moved into their permanent homes. Children attend educational institutions in nearby communities.
- Teneh Omerim – this southern Hebron community was established in the 1980s. It was strengthened by Gush Katif families from Morag. This growing community is led by Rabbi Itzik Edils.
- Yad Benyamin – nearly 100 families from various Gush Katif communities including Gadid, Gan-Or, Neve Dekalim, Netzarim, Azmona and Katif strengthened Yad Benyamin. The majority have moved into permanent homes. Educational institutions include a religious Broier’s elementary school, a religious boys’ Tzvia high-school, Rabbi Tal’s kollel and midrasha.
- Ashkelon – More than 100 families from the northern Gush Katif communities have moved to the Herzog neighborhood in Ashkelon and additional families are still building their permanent houses. The streets are named after the Gush Katif communities and the synagogue is named after the Nisanit community. Institutions include a community center, a sports center, a golden age club, and a Gush Katif memorial room is being planned.
- Netzer-Ariel – some 25 families from Netzarim chose to accept the kind invitations extended by Ariel’s mayor and the Ariel University head and move there following the Disengagement. These families were joined by many others from throughout Israel. After many years of living in pre-fab caravillas, the first families have recently moved into their permanent houses near Ariel University. Netzer-Ariel does a lot of social outreach and its educational institutions include the single sex Neve Ariel Talmud Torah (established 2012), the Netzer Ariel – Ariel University midrasha, the Netzer Matai’I High Yeshiva, and the Derech Aya Kolel. Their charity programs include late night counseling for at-risk youth and weekly food distributions for needy families.
Shifra Shomron is the author of “Grains Of Sand The Fall Of Neve Dekalim” which tells the story of Efrat, a teenage girl living in Neve Dekalim, one of the Jewish communities of Gush Katif, and how she and her family and friends handle the realities of the impending expulsion, summer 2005. Shifra Shomron, herself a teenage expellee, relates the events leading to the expulsion, based on her experience, in historical fiction novel form. Shifra has since graduated from the Givat Washington teaching college (B.Ed) and Bar Ilan university, receiving her MA degree in English Literature. Shifra works for The Gush Katif Committee as PR Assistant, keeping the story of Gush Katif alive in her adult life.