Gush Katif home prior to Israeli withdrawal
TEL AVIV – Two years after Jewish residents of the Gaza Strip were evacuated by Israel, the uprooted Jews are preparing to make small trailer communities – which were supposed to be temporary living quarters until Israel found them long-term solutions – into permanent homes, according to a report released this month.
The report, by the Gush Katif Committee, the main humanitarian organization representing the Gaza Jewish refugees, also cited a near double increase in heart disease, high blood pressure and other major health problems among evacuated Jews the past two years and found the uprooted youth are suffering from a wealth of emotional problems.
“The situation is extremely grave,” said Dror Vanunu, a former Gaza resident and the international coordinator for the Gush Katif Committee.
Israel in August 2005 evacuated its nearly 10,000 Jewish citizens from Gaza’s Gush Katif slate of Jewish communities. Successive Israeli governments over the years had urged thousands of Israelis to move to Gaza and build communities there. Israel pledged the expelled residents compensation packages and new permanent communities.
Prior to the Gaza evacuation, the vast majority of Gush Katif residents lived in large homes in landscaped communities. Israel promised to find the uprooted Katif Jews permanent housing solutions within two years.
Exactly two years later, about 92 percent of the Gush Katif refugees out of the 1,667 evacuated families still live in temporary housing, mostly in the Israeli Negev desert in small, government-built prefabricated “trailer villas.” The other 7 percent have set out on their own to begin building houses, but of those, only 12 homes have been constructed.
Residents in the Negev trailer communities live there in crowded conditions, in many cases lacking enough bedroom space to accommodate their families. Some families used shipping containers as improvised additional bedroom space.
“You can punch through my wall,” a resident of Nitzan, the largest of about a dozen Gush Katif trailer communities, told WND. “My friends come to visit me in coffee shops because there is not enough room in my living room for them to be comfortable.”
The committee report states the trailer residents are preparing for a stay of a least another four years.
Lior Kalfa, chairman of the Committee, said, “It won’t be long before this (trailer community) becomes a permanent community, so the people here are trying to create a more permanent reality.”
Shipping containers have been used to help house uprooted Gaza refugees
Prior to the August 2005 evacuation, the Gush Katif unemployment rate was less than 1 percent. Many Gaza Jewish residents were farmers, tending to the area’s famous, technologically advanced greenhouses that supplied Israel with much of its produce. The Israeli government pledged it would provide new land to the uprooted Katif farmers.
The Committee report states only 33 out of 400 farmers have received farm land from Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture, and only a small number of those have been able to resume farming at the new locations due to agricultural difficulties.
“The land is much different here than what Gush Katif farmers are used to,” explained Anita Tucker, one of the pioneer farmers of Katif. “Most of the techniques used in the greenhouses in Gaza were specific to the land and environment. Now farmers will have to develop new ways for these new lands and the different kind of soil.”
The report states some 37 percent of the Gush Katif evacuees are still unemployed and that some 400 people aged 50 and over have given up looking for work. It said of those who are re-employed, their overall average family income has decreased 40 percent since the Gaza evacuation.
Suicidal thoughts, failing exams
The Committee report cited a study by an Israeli municipality –the Ashkelon Regional Health Bureau in conjunction with a local hospital – showing Gaza’s former Jewish residents are suffering from a range of increased health conditions. The rate of high blood pressure and heart problems nearly doubled the last two years, while those suffering from diabetes since the Gaza evacuation are up by about 50 percent, and asthma and other respiratory illnesses increased by 45 percent.
The report said the evacuated Gaza youth are “living today in a reality of constant uncertainty and in a situation of educational, family, social and community instability. This influences the youth and causes many to enter a state of worry and fear.”
The report said many students have had to switch schools numerous times and that the instability is causing difficulty in concentrating on studies.
The Forum for Israel, a nonprofit group also working with Gush Katif refugees, recently outlined for the Knesset major problems facing Gush Katif refugee teenagers. The group pointed to an elevation in suicidal thoughts and eating disorders. The report also said 30 percent of former Gush Katif teens either failed to integrate to new schools or failed their final exams.
Social workers said the expelled youths have been finding it difficult to develop relationships and increasingly have been abusing alcohol and drugs. Some have been admitted to psychiatric hospitals.
Yet four refugee trailer sites lack youth counselors and activity centers, while budgets for other existing youth programs expired last year.
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