GUSH KATIF BLOCK, Gaza – Breathtaking beaches. Rolling sand dunes. Sun-splashed orchards and flower nurseries. Well-appointed museums. Athletic facilities and water sports. Seafront hotels. Welcome to Gush Katif, the Jewish neighborhoods of Gaza.
When many Americans think of the area, images of violence, Jews in caravans and military occupation usually come to mind. But tour Katif – the largest block of Jewish communities in Gaza slated for evacuation this summer – and find an area ripe with vacation possibilities for adults and children.
Jewish kids play on Gaza beach. All photos: WorldNetDaily.
Gush Katif is home to Palm Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. On any given day, the beach is teeming with Jewish kids playing in the sand, teenagers body surfing and residents jogging with their dogs.
Visitors can relax on a hammock, throw a barbeque using one of many public stone pits, or borrow an ocean kayak and head out to the Mediterranean for a quick aquatic adventure. Or walk along the sea and explore Katif’s two other beaches, Shikma and Hof Ashalim, both of which have daytime lifeguards.
Afterward, vacationers can dry off and relax at the waterfront Palm Beach Hotel, a long, white structure that features unobstructed Mediterranean views from almost every angle.
Palm Beach Hotel in Gush Katif.
But don’t expect a room. The hotel, parts of which are undergoing extensive renovation, is booked through the summer. Hundreds of Israelis have been moving to Gush Katif to express solidarity with residents and protest Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to withdraw settlements from Gaza and parts of the West Bank in August. With a shortage of housing in most Katif areas, the hotel is being renovated to accommodate an influx of new residents that is expected to continue throughout the next few months.
“We are running out of housing, so we have to put people in the hotel,” explained Debbie Rosen, a Gush Katif spokeswoman. “But I would still recommend to everyone that they come here for vacation. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world.”
Feeling cultural? Visit Gaza’s Jewish museum in Kfar Dorom, which contains works by both local and international artists, with motifs mostly focusing on the Katif land and its biblical history.
Synagogue in Neve Dekalim, Gaza.
Jewish patriarchs Abraham and Isaac are believed to have lived in Gerer, a Gaza town next to Katif. And Gaza in the fourth century was the primary Jewish port for international trade and commerce. Many works in the museum reflect these periods.
Next take in the architecture and design of the two main synagogues in Neve Dekalim, the largest of the Katif communities. Both the Ashkenazi (European) and Sephardi (Middle Eastern) synagogues have famous prayer rooms.
When meal times arrive, vacationers can select from several Dekalim restaurants. A quaint, palm tree-lined strip mall features a deli, a fish and dairy restaurant and a cafe.
Gush Katif Activity Center.
Visitors can work the meal off with some exercise in the nearby Katif Activity Center that offers fitness and sports facilities. As well, the center features regular jamborees, music lessons, a large theater for dramas, and daily cultural and educational activities.
Tennis enthusiasts can enjoy the many courts in Gush Katif, including a new court in Gadid, a three-minute drive from Neve Dekalim, or the seafront tennis center outside the Palm Beach Hotel.
For those who like views, vacationers can drive to the tip of Rafiah Yam, a Jewish community that borders Egypt and provides a close look at the international border.
Patrons in Gush Katif cafe.
“Visitors get really excited when they see the border,” said Dror Vanunu, director of the Katif Regional Development Fund. “They can take a look at everything they hear about in the news. Rafah. Egypt. The Philadelphia road. It’s all here. And the Jewish section is relatively peaceful. You can look without having to worry about anything.”
In Gaza’s Jewish neighborhoods parents will find endless possibilities to keep their kids entertained. Neve Dekalim has a large zoo that is open most weekdays and on Sunday, and houses several kinds of monkeys, horses, a camel, peacocks, foxes, rams and hundreds of exotic birds. Netzarim, the most isolated Jewish settlement, also has a small petting zoo that doubles as a therapy center for children.
Ostrich in Gush Katif Zoo.
“These zoos are really amazing. Kids come here all the time and just have a blast,” said Rosen.
Every Gaza Jewish community has at least one large playground, usually crowded after school and on weekends.
Lovers of nature can visit Israel’s largest flower nursery, located in Katif’s Atzmona community, or tour Katif’s many famous greenhouses, which provide Israel with nearly 70 percent of its produce and feature some of the most advanced agricultural technology in the world, including high-tech temperature regulation and insect-free produce.
Flower nursery in Atzmona.
The Israeli government has been conducting negotiations about handing over the Gaza greenhouses to the Palestinians as part of the disengagement plan.
But Gush Katif isn’t all beaches and barbeques. Hamas regularly fires mortars and Qassam rockets at the Jewish towns. The past two weeks, Hamas fired three Qassam rockets and over 40 mortars. No one was killed or injured. Most explosives landed in empty fields.
Said Rosen: “The rockets are very serious, but still we are not afraid. People come here all the time, and they are shocked at how peaceful it is and how relaxed they feel. Unfortunately, the Palestinians try to ruin our spirit sometimes with the mortars, but it isn’t working.”
Gush Katif is slated to be evacuated this August, postponed from June because of logistical concerns. The plan has drawn criticism from many in the Israeli government, with several ministers of Sharon’s Likud Party, including Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, opposing the evacuation.
Critics worry the withdrawal will be seen as a reward for Palestinian terrorism and argue territories evacuated by Israel will be used by Hamas to stage attacks against the Jewish state.
Tennis court in Gadid, Gaza.
A confidential Hamas memo written by Dr. Mahmoud al-Zahar, Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, and obtained last summer by WorldNetDaily, stated the terror group views Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal as a capitulation to terror and is planning to continue its “armed struggle” against the Jewish state until “all territories” are in Palestinian hands.
“The withdrawal, if it is implemented, is an important achievement by the Palestinian people, its intifada and armed struggle, its determination and great sacrifice, and confirms the willingness, correctness and usefulness of employing an armed struggle and its ability to attain political objectives,” wrote al-Zahar.
Still, people are flocking to Katif.
Yishai Fleisher, an Israeli radio host, said he vacationed there last month: “My wife and I had a wonderful and relaxed time. I would recommend that people go, but only if they enjoy beautiful beaches and wonderful people.”
Mort Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, who visited Katif for the first time last month, said, “By spending the weekend in Gaza, every false stereotype promoted by the media and the Israeli left has been shattered. These include that the Jewish section of Gaza is a hell hole and a slum, not the gorgeous suburban beachfront community that we see with normal, hard-working physically and spiritually beautiful people. Also, these areas are not in the middle of Arab towns at all. Any American would be delighted to spend a weekend here.”
New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind, D-Brooklyn, who led a mission of 40 Americans to Gaza in March and is bringing over 100 in June, said, “Of course I would recommend people vacation in Gush Katif. I felt completely safe while I was there. The people are world-class. And the beauty of the place is like nothing else.”