An Overview: The people of Gush Katif, Summer 2015

 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:

New communities:

  • 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.


New neighborhoods:

  • 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.

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War journal, entry 1

Monday, July 28, 2014

We’ve just had a siren. Six short syllables that contain so much! The 30 second frantic dash to the security room, the panicked glance to make sure every family member is there, the tense listening for the boom, and the uncontrollable rush for news. Having described the symptoms, I ought to give the untenable situation a Latin name. One could say: I’ve just had an admonitio sirenis, or there’s recently been an outbreak of et annuntiabis sirenarum, and we’d all nod our heads knowingly, say we understand, tell you how brave you are and ask you if you perhaps you’d like some chocolate or an alcoholic drink. And then we’d settle down to chat comfortably about similar cases and narrow escapes we’ve had or, depending on your state of nerves, delicately change the topic.

An amusing chat would be Things I’ve Seen in my Security Room. Throughout the weeks of sirens, at the most tiresome hours, various barriers have broken down in my family. Nothing will ever be quite the same after seeing one another rushing through the security room door at 2:00 a.m. in ludicrous pajamas, or with shampoo suds still in one’s hair and wearing a toga-like towel. Since we’re all incredibly mature, we know that life comes before dignity and try not to make too big a deal of how anyone looks at these unfortunate times. Who am I kidding? We have a hearty laugh and tease each-other mercilessly. We’ve stopped short of taking pictures and spreading them on social media, though that might actually help Israel’s case in the world press. But then again, why humiliate ourselves for the anti-Semites?

Sadly, our dogs don’t always make it to the security room in time. They’re the first to hear the siren, but often their response is simply to stand still and howl. We call their names and urge them to rush with us to the protected room, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking if, after closing the heavy door, we discover that one of the dogs isn’t with us. Throughout the next 10 min. that dog will bark, whine at us and scratch the door from the other side. Much as we’d love to, we harden our hearts and keep the door closed. 10 horrible guilt ridden minutes. When the time is up and we open up, the dog comes to greet us, wagging its tail, nosing and licking us. Such a very happy reunion.

While in the security room this evening, my brother read the tragic news that a mortar killed several people in the Eshkol region. Israel doesn’t, and never did, have any defense against mortars. To protect its civilians from mortars, Israel will have to ensure that no mortars are fired from Gaza. Will it do this? Considering the years Gush Katif suffered from mortars, as have all communities in mortar range, I’m not holding my breath.


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New article in ESRA magazine :)

So cool! I recently stumbled across my name in the article “Whatever Happened to Gush Katif” by Marsha Stein in the Esra Magazine  as she vividly discusses her tour of the Katif Heritage Center in Nitzan.   Reading it made me feel as though I were once again conducting that tour, it’s spot on!

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New Permanent House Project – a Success!

Dear Friends and Supporters,

I am very pleased to be working with Friends of Gush Katif, keeping in touch with all the communities, and doing my small bit to help former residents improve their future, and keep the Gush Katif spirit alive.  I am currently pursuing my MA in English Literature at Bar Ilan University.

And now, enough about me… time for the news!

We are delighted with the success of the first stage of helping those families who haven’t the financial means to build a permanent home! Thanks to your generous donations together with financial aid from the State, 20 carefully screened families are in the process of moving their Caravillas to the community’s permanent location, and transforming them to nicer homes. By adding an exterior stone facing for decoration and a mandatory security room for safety, these Caravillas become cozy abodes. We are very thankful to have found, with your help, the promised “solution for every settler;” one that allows every family to live with its Gush Katif community. It’s important to note that this is only the first stage; there might be some more families who need to avail themselves of this option of transferring a Caravilla to the permanent site.

This has been an action-filled month with many families moving into their new homes in Nitzan, Be’er Ganim and Palmachim, and ceremonies marking the yearly ending of some programs – while other projects steamed ahead! Additionally, this month is packed with organizing important ceremonies and Gush Katif commemoration events reminding us – and the many wonderful people who care – that the spirit of Gush Katif still lives, and we draw strength from our past.


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Yair Stern – A Light from the Past

Yesterday, the 25th of Shvat, I went on many different websites expecting to find coverage of Yair Stern’s 71st memorial. I was saddened to find that it wasn’t mentioned on any site – all were busy covering the induction of the new Knesset members. While the present and future are important, it is vital not to forget our past. On the advice of a Facebook friend, I contacted Israel National News (INN) and they asked me to write an op-ed. Click here to read. Feel free to share and post comments on the INN site.

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Purim: learn your booms

As usual, Purim this year was ushered in with firecrackers, cherry bombs and larger, more powerful fireworks. They were noisy, loud and … they took me back to Gush Katif. At night, lying in bed and hearing the booms, I sleepily wondered whether it was mortars causing the windows to rattle. Mortars – shouldn’t that be Neve Dekalim, I wondered. And if so, then shouldn’t my bedroom window be on this wall? But there was no crackling announcement after the booms, so I concluded that they weren’t mortars. Wait! I’m in Nitzan, I realized. Perhaps it’s Kassams. But there were no sirens. Then again, maybe the loudspeaker system just wasn’t working. Thankfully, a few scattered picas infiltrated the sudden silence. Just children playing, I realized, and returned to sleep.  

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When the dog crossed the road…

Yesterday I had just gotten to the bus stop on the main road when I spotted a big, brown dog. To be more accurate, it spotted me and came over wagging its tail, sniffing me and everyone else at the stop. I noticed it had on a choke collar. How terrible, I thought. Some family must have tired of the dog, and just dumped it here. And it was such a friendly creature. To think humans could be so cruel!

The dog decided, like the famous chicken, to cross the street. I shut my eyes in horror. Horns beeped furiously, and the dog swerved this way and that, but couldn’t seem to figure out that it should return to the stop. It wasn’t hit yet, and a soldier and I waved our hands at it and called. Such a stupid creature! It must have never been loose before. It took it ages before it figured out it should return to us. Once it did, I tried to tie it up with a piece of rope I found, but it wouldn’t let me. Then I decided I should make sure it has water. So, spotting a cup, I was going to pick it up and pour water in it, when the dog realized I wanted the cup, and decided to beat me to it. It grabbed the cup and ran around with it, crushing it in its mouth. Oh, dear. And soon my bus would come and I’d have to leave it behind.

Suddenly a man approached whistling. The dog took one look at him and started barking. This was surprising. Upon questioning the fellow, it turned out the dog belonged to his aunt. Well, the dog had no intention of letting the man get him. For whatever reason he really didn’t like him. I don’t know why – the dog was well-fed, and didn’t show signs of beatings. And if he wasn’t returned home he would starve or be run over. So I caught the dog, and then the man was able to grab him (the dog registering protest), and I slipped a rope on it (the man hadn’t brought a leash).

As they headed off the dog was still upset. But once they entered the orchard the dog cheered up.

And I boarded my bus with a feeling of relief.



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Rabin Memorial

And so another Rabin Memorial Day has passed. My problem with these RMDs is the way they’ve been twisted. Instead of being about Rabin – the Man (and then you could talk about the long stretch of his life, the pros and cons, what you admire and what you disapprove of), they are about Rabin – the Peace Process, or about Rabin – the Murder. Any ceremony that talks about the Peace Process is bound to be held by fanatic Leftists who won’t let anything change their world view, and won’t let anyone say something against it. You must be careful, for the ground which they step is holy and the people of whom they speak are angels. And if you are a stranger in their midst you must declare yourself: are you for them or against?

A memorial talking about the murder is the more common. These memorials stress how terrible the act of murder is; how deeply we deplore it, and how we are one people and should be unified. I don’t like these memorials because I don’t feel the need to announce that I’m against murder, or a specific murder that was committed 16 years ago. I had nothing to do with it, nor did the National Religious camp in general (much as some disliked the PM), nor have I any plans of committing murder. Or robbery, or breaking and entering, or drugs.

As for unity, while I identify with my nation in general, I don’t like to sing hymns to unity. I like differences, and I like people having their own uniqueness. It shows individuality, freedom of thought and action, and it makes life more interesting. And after all, it is very difficult to answer the question: what are we all supposed to unite around? I mean, for a successful unity, we’d all have to agree on that. I don’t quite see that happening. But I don’t think that’s bad. G-d didn’t like the Tower of Babel and they were wonderfully united.  

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Noah – not a metaphysical chap.

Noah was a man Who Got The Job Done. Not only that, but he Didn’t Ask Questions. If this were in Ankh Morpork, Sam Vimes would have approved. The question is, do we approve? And did our commentators approve? It seems that they didn’t really. They would have preferred it if he had spoken up for his wicked neighbors and argued with G-d a bit. Avraham did, they all say, and seem to think that clenches the argument. But does it? And was Avraham in the right when he supposedly wanted to save the Very Wicked Cities of S’dom and Amorrah?

I always thought it was possible, perhaps probable, that Avraham wasn’t seeking to save those places, but merely trying to understand the way G-d thought and worked. Wait, so let me understand this, if there are a lot of good guys there, you’re still going to kill everyone? Oh. But what if there aren’t a LOT of good guys, but only a little bit of good guys – do you still kill everyone (including the good guys)? Once Avraham understood the way God worked he never ‘argued’ again – not even when G-d had him take his son to sacrifice. Noah, obviously, just wasn’t a metaphysical sort of guy.

But he did know about Symbols. He understood the rainbow all right. And he knew to sacrifice to G-d after they all stepped on dry land again. And where would we be if he hadn’t given us the dove? And the olive branch?

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We bring them together

The four Succot species are very different from one another.

The lulav is strong and straight; the type that will break in a fierce wind. Which is, perhaps, why it grows in the very center of the palm tree, protected by many fronds. If you don’t know the correct art for taking it, you will kill off the tree’s growth.

The etrog is completely different in shape. Yellow, round and sweet smelling, this is a citrus fruit; the ‘off-spring’ of the tree, and not just another branch.  It is also a feast for the taste; if you know how, after Succot you can turn it into jam or preserves.

Aravot are supple willow branches. Since they bow to the wind, they’ll weather any storm – but they certainly haven’t the dignity of the palm tree…. Also, they have their own weakness: they need a close by water source.

Last is the hadas (myrtle). It has a lovely fragrance, but does not have a good taste. These branches aren’t from a tree but rather from a bush, generally grown as a hedge.

It is only by combining these four different plants – three varied shades of green and one yellow, some with scent and flavor and some without, some straight and others round or supple, etc – that the Succot set is complete. Unity is created by variety, and the same is true for people as well. Therefore, aren’t we glad it only comes once a year?

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