JERUSALEM – Hurricane Katrina, which some say bears striking similarities to recent events in Israel, was punishment from God for President Bush’s support of the evacuation of Jews from the Gaza Strip, a senior Israeli rabbi announced.

“”It was God’s retribution – God does not short-change anyone,” said Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef during his weekly sermon.

Shas is the largest Orthodox Jewish political party in Israel.

“[Bush] perpetrated the expulsion [of Jews from Gaza],” Yosef said. “Now everyone is mad at him. This is his punishment for what he did to Gush Katif, and everyone else who did as he told them, their time will come, too.”

One week before Katrina made landfall, Israel carried out the evacuation of 9,500 residents from Gaza’s Gush Katif slate of Jewish neighborhoods and four Samaria communities. Residents were forced from their homes by Israeli troops, some dragged away kicking and screaming and placed on buses that took them from the area. The majority of former Katif residents are homeless while the Israeli government struggles to find permanent housing solutions.

The Gaza withdrawal was backed by the U.S. government. Some Middle East analysts and senior Israeli politicians entirely attributed the evacuation plan to pressure coming from the American establishment.

Several Israeli leaders blasted Yosef’s comments. Knesset Member Ronnie Brizon of the leftist Shinui party said, “What, God is cross-eyed? He metes out punishments at the wrong place? We’re sick and tired of Rabbi Ovadia’s primitive worldview. He already did his part; he can remove himself from public life.”

Yosef is no stranger to controversy. He recently declared God would strike dead “the evil one” responsible for the Gaza evacuation, referring to Sharon. He also once called on the Israeli army to “joyfully” annihilate Arabs with rockets, and prompted calls for his resignation in 2000 when he stated the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust died because they were reincarnations of sinners in previous generations.

But Yosef is not alone in highlighting what some are calling eerie similarities between Katrina and the evacuation of Gush Katif.

As WND reported, parallels in the two events’ repercussions, names and numbers have started a firestorm of speculation on the Internet and even in some synagogues. Similarities pointed out include:

  • Close to 10,000 Jews were expelled from their homes in the Gaza Strip and parts of northern Samaria. Katrina’s death toll is now expected to reach at least 10,000.

  • America’s population ratio to Israel is about 50:1. Ten thousand Jews who lost their Gaza homes is the equivalent of about 500,000 Americans who are now reported to be displaced as result of Katrina.

  • Gaza’s Jewish communities were located in Israel’s southern coastal region; America’s southern coastal region now lies in ruins.

  • The U.S. government called on Louisiana residents to evacuate their homes ahead of the storm. The Israeli government, backed by statements from U.S. officials, demanded Gaza residents evacuate their homes.

  • Katrina, written in Hebrew, has a numerical equivalent of 374, according to a biblical numbering system upheld by all traditional Jewish authorities. Two relevant passages in the Torah share the exact numerical equivalent: “They have done you evil” (Gen. 50:17) and “The sea upon land” (Exodus 14:15).

  • Bush, from Texas, and Rice, from Alabama, were the most vocal U.S. backers of the Gaza evacuation. Hurricane Katrina hit the states in between Texas and Alabama – Louisiana and Mississippi.

  • Similarity in scenes: Many residents of Jewish Gaza climbed to their rooftops to escape the threat of expulsion, while residents of the Gulf Coast climbed on their own rooftops to protect themselves from the rising waters. Jewish Gaza homes described as beautiful and charming were demolished this week by Israel’s military. Once beautiful homes in New Orleans now lie in ruins.

  • The day Katrina hit, Israel began carrying out what was termed the most controversial aspect of the Gaza withdrawal – the uprooting of bodies from the area’s Jewish cemetery. There have been media reports of corpses floating around in flooded New Orleans regions.

  • Citizens of Israel were barred from entering Gush Katif; people were only allowed to leave Jewish Gaza. As Katrina was making landfall U.S. authorities barred citizens from entering the affected areas. People were only allowed out.

  • Gush Katif was an important agricultural area for Israel, providing the Jewish state with 70 percent of its produce. A New Orleans port that exported much of the Midwest’s agricultural production was destroyed by Katrina.

In a Jerusalem Newswire op-ed discussing the similarities just before Katrina made landfall, writer Stan Goodenough commented, “Is this some sort of bizarre coincidence? Not for those who believe in the God of the Bible and the immutability of His Word. What America is about to experience is the lifting of God’s hand of protection, the implementation of His judgment on the nation most responsible for endangering the land and people of Israel.

“While the ‘disengagement’ plan was purportedly the brainchild of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the U.S. has for more than a decade been the chief sponsor and propeller of a diplomatic process that has dangerously weakened Israel in the face of an overwhelming, growing threat to annihilate her. … Can’t you see the link, America? Won’t you see the link?”

Another Newswire piece quoted a Christian Louisiana resident in Katrina’s direct path as stating, “[The hurricane is] a direct ‘coming back on us’ [for] what we did to Israel: a home for a home.”

A blog on TheRaphi.com by Mideast pundits Paul Eidelberg and Israel Hanukoglu linking Katrina to the Gaza evacuation warned, “We urge the American people to remind their president that the evil the nations do to Israel always strikes them. Pharaoh, Haman, Hitler and all the leaders of nations that have opposed the will of God for His people have perished or ended on the ash heaps of history.”

Billye Brim, a Christian prayer leader and founder of Billye Brim Ministries who had visited Gush Katif weeks before its evacuation, noted on her website: “Is there a connection between [Katrina and Gush Katif]? I believe so. Is this judgment? I believe so. And I must say it. Outright! Many won’t like to hear it. Many won’t agree. But I believe America is in danger and something has to be done. … America needs to repent. From Bush, Rice and the State Department on down. America must repent for actively opposing God’s plan for Israel as revealed in His Word.”

WorldNetDaily the past week has received numerous letters from readers urging a Katrina-Gaza connection.

One letter stated, ” I think you all are dancing around the real cause of the hurricane. Let me suggest to you that it is the wrath of God on our nation because President Bush pressured Sharon to take the homes from the Jews. … I knew we would be punished on a large scale. I faxed letters and contacted Bush every way I could begging him not to go forward with that plan to evacuate Gaza but he did so anyway, and as a result we were hit in a week with a hurricane that will make history.”

Perhaps the first to publicly connect Katrina to the Gaza evacuation was famed Israeli conspiracy theorist Barry Chamish, who sent a mass e-mail noting, “GUsh is like GUlf, and KATif is like KATrina. If you take ‘KAT’ from KATif and KATrina, you are left with ‘IF’ and ‘RAIN.’ If you support Gush Katif evacuation, it will rain.”

Chamish told WND yesterday: “Simple human beings cannot fully understand what is going on, but the events certainly must be connected. It’s statistically impossible to have two such great natural disasters like the recent tsunami in Asia and Katrina right after each other. This is the hand of God. He is saying something.”

Jerusalem Kabbalist Rabbi David Batzri also drew the parallel: “Divine retribution is meted out according to the principle of ‘measure for measure,’ just as the Jews were forced out of their homes as a result of U.S. pressure on Israel, so too are Americans being forced out of their homes.”

But Rabbi Mordechai Greenwald, leader of a Jerusalem synagogue, said connections between the Gaza evacuation and Katrina should not be made.

“No rabbi can tell you why such a disaster struck,” Greenwald told WND. “Doing so, making these statements, is dangerous and counterproductive. There have been debates the past 50 years for the reason of the Holocaust, and we still don’t know what it was about. Some things we are not meant to know.”

Greenwald said the religious leaders who publicly blame Katrina on U.S. support of the withdrawal “do not speak for the majority of rabbis. We cannot say who is being punished for what.”

Related story:

Did God send Katrina as judgment for Gaza?

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