US Jewish groups refuse aid to evacuees
Residents evacuated from Gaza settlements in summer of 2005 face 'humanitarian crisis'
Mainstream American Jewish organizations largely have refused to aid the thousands of Jews evacuated last summer from the Gaza Strip, the majority of whom, 15 months later, are unemployed, and none of whom received permanent housing promised by the Israeli government, WND has learned.
Aaron Klein, WND
The former Gaza residents have appealed for help multiple times to major American Jewish organizations but say they were mostly rejected.
Meanwhile the US Jewish groups, most of which supported Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, raised over USD 300 million for northern Israeli communities battered by Hizbullah rocket fire in July and August, including large sums of money for Arab villages.
Also the American Jewish organizations recently initiated a major task force to raise money for underprivileged Israeli Arabs.
"With few exceptions, we have received almost no help from the mainstream Jewish American groups, which grant billions of dollars per year," said Dror Vanunu, a former Gaza resident and the international coordinator for Friends of Gush Katif,
a major nonprofit organization representing the Gaza Jewish refugees.
Vanunu said the US Jewish groups "supported the Gaza withdrawal, telling Americans it would help bring peace. They see us in a political light, but it shouldn't be this way. There are now thousands of Jews who are without permanent homes and whose children are having major problems.
"We are a humanitarian case, not political. Where is the Jewish brotherhood? The people who say they will not allow Jews to be in need? We are expecting them to become deeply involved in the restoration of our lives and hope they respond," Vanunu said.
Israel in August evacuated its nearly 10,000 Jewish citizens from Gaza. Successive Israeli governments over the years had urged thousands of Israelis to move to Gaza and build communities there. Israel promised the expelled residents compensation packages and new permanent housing, employment, farm land and institutions of education.
A status report by Friends of Gush Katif found not a single Gush Katif family was provided permanent housing.
Ninety-eight percent of former Gush Katif residents are living in temporary structures, mostly in the Israeli Negev desert in small-government-built prefabricated "trailer villas." Residents there live largely in crowded conditions, in many cases lacking enough bedroom space to accommodate their families.
"You can punch through my wall," a resident of Nitzan, the largest Gush Katif trailer community, 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."
In some cases, including 50 families living in two Negev communities, former Gush Katif residents were given notice they must vacate their trailer villas within six months. The families, who were expecting permanent housing, say they will have no where to go.
Most families received compensation for their Gaza homes, although many say their compensation packages were far less than the value of the houses they were made to vacate. They say they are using their aid packages to pay expenses associated with their temporary housing until permanent units promised by the government are constructed.
Prior to their evacuation from Gaza, the vast majority of Gush Katif residents lived in large homes in landscaped communities. Many were farmers, tending to the area's famous, technologically advanced greenhouses that supplied Israel with much of its produce. The Gush Katif unemployment rate was less than 1 percent.
Now, 51 percent of Gaza's Jewish refugees are unemployed, and only 21 percent of former Gush Katif businesses have re-opened.
Residents of the Negev trailer camps mostly are former farmers, many of whom now say they are not sure what they will do.
"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."
According to the most recent Gush Katif status report, many of the Jewish children expelled from Gaza suffer from a full range of traumatic and post-traumatic stress symptoms, including anxiety, depression, regressive behavior, general behavioral problems, lack of concentration and difficulty coping with new or challenging situations.
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 teenagers either failed to integrate to new schools or failed their final exams.
Social workers said the teenagers have been finding it difficult to develop relationships and increasingly have been abusing alcohol and drugs. Some have been admitted to psychiatric hospitals.
Yet many refugee sites lack youth counselors and activity centers. Budgets for youth programs expired last March.
"The situation is extremely grave," said Vanunu. "It is at emergency status in many cases."
Almost no assistance for the former Gush Katif residents has been offered by any mainstream American Jewish organization, most of which publicly supported the Gaza withdrawal.
Until he resigned in February, New Jersey resident Buddy Macy served as a member of the board of trustees and a recording secretary for the Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton-Passaic in New Jersey which belongs to the United Jewish Communities charity network, the most financially endowed Jewish charity group in the US.
The UJC reportedly raised over USD 850 million last year.
Since July the UJC has garnered some USD 330 million in pledges from federation members to help Israel's northern communities battered by Hizbullah rocket fire during the Jewish state's military confrontation against the Lebanese militia.
The UJC is known to set the tone for thousands of Jewish charity organizations nationwide.
Macy told WND he quit his position after more than 25 years of service to protest the UJC's refusal to initiate a campaign fund to help the Gaza Jewish refugees.
"There are thousands of Jews in dire need and the UJC and other mainstream groups with huge endowments are deliberately ignoring the crisis. The situation is absolutely unacceptable," Macy said.
In an e-mail to UJC President Howard Rieger that has been widely circulated among Jewish circles on the Internet, Macy called the UJC leadership "heartless with regard to the Jews who live and lived in Judea, Samaria and Gaza."
In an e-mail reply also widely circulated after it was posted by Macy, Rieger retorted, "I am not heartless. Read many of the comments which I have made publicly (sic) on this subject. On the impact that dislocation has on individuals. And I have visited many of those who are now living in the Sinai and feel genuine concern for their plight."
Former Gaza Jewish residents do not live in the Sinai, which is located in Egypt.
Rieger in the e-mail went on to blame the Gaza Jewish refugees for their current situation:
"I do believe that in the end that the priority must be the rule of law," he said. "That many of those who found themselves without assistance after having to be uprooted also refused to engage with the system which was offering compensation."
The vast majority – 1,450 of Katif's 1,800 families – did not apply for government compensation ahead of Israel's August evacuation deadline, some stating they feared if the withdrawal were allowed to be implemented in Gaza, it would lead to other evacuations in Judea, Samaria and parts of Jerusalem.
After the Gaza withdrawal, the Israeli government reoffered aid packages and said all residents would be fully compensated.
Almost all Gush Katif families applied.
Rieger was unavailable for comment. His spokesman, Glenn Rosencrantz, did not return several messages left by WND at his office and on his cell phone the past three weeks.
Vanunu said he has appealed to the UJC, Hadassah, Bnei Brith and other major American Jewish ogranizations, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. He said the UJC finally pledged last January to raise USD 400,000 for the Gush Katif evacuees, but only about $40,000 of that money actually arrived.
"Unfortunately this support is not nearly enough," said Vanunu. "We really need significant support to help Gush Katif evacuees build permanent homes, get back to business and be productive people."
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told WND his organization has been pressing the Israeli government for more assistance and more effective outreach toward former Gaza Jews. He said his group does not raise money.
But the Conference of Presidents, together with the Anti-Defamation League and other major US Jewish groups, recently announced the formation of a taskforce to raise money and awareness for Israel's Arab population.
Later this month, major US Jewish groups are meeting in Los Angeles to coordinate fundraising and awareness activities for the upcoming year. Gush Katif refugee leaders say they petitioned to speak at the event. Event organizers told WND the issue of Gush Katif refugees is not on the agenda, but that a small forum may allow a former Gaza Jewish speaker.
Vanunu said one UJC-linked federation in Texas made donations for a playground for expelled Jewish children, and another local US group provided funds to an employment office in a regional site housing former Gaza Jewish residents. A federation in Ohio sent small donations to assist in summer programs this past summer.
The Jewish National Fund, which leads efforts to populate the Negev, has offered select assistance programs to Negev-based refugees. Also the One Israel Fund has provided some assistance.
"But there has been no real response from any of the main groups," Vanunu said. "They are ignoring this major humanitarian problem. And the small assistance we received, which is greatly appreciated, went for temporary solutions, like clothes and summer camps. What is ultimately needed is permanent solutions to rebuild communities and get our lives on track."
Some other smaller American Jewish organizations have been helping. The Orthodox Union, the largest American Orthodox Jewish organization, helped provide for evacuees' short-term needs immediately after the Gaza withdrawal and continues to support certain activities.
The National Council of Young Israel, an American synagogue organization, provided funds for specific campaigns under the leadership of the Council's executive vice president, Pesach Lerner.
Some private donors, such as Irving and Cherna Moskowitz of Miami, have helped. Vanunu said some mainstream Canadian groups and philanthropists, largely located in Toronto, including David and Rachelle Bronfman, have been providing aid. The Bronfmans, whose extended family of well-known Jewish billionaire philanthropists largely supported the Gaza evacuation, also provided assistance last summer to help stop the withdrawal from being carried out.
"The Toronto community has been enormously receptive," he said. "I would really like to apply that model to the American organizations."
Young Israel's Lerner last September led a fact-finding commission to Israel to assess the situation
among the former Gaza Jewish residents. He authored a letter urging American Jewish groups to help the expellees.
"The mainstream groups are not responding," Lerner told WND. "They supported the Gaza evacuation. So they are not going to turn around now and offer assistance to the expelled Jewish residents."
Lerner returned to Israel today to bring Chanukah gifts to Gush Katif refugees. He urged major US groups to help.
"I hope the mainstream groups come to see things differently. There is a Jewish humanitarian crisis. It's time to put politics aside and help our own people."
Reprinted by permission of WorldNetDaily