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Friday, November 10, 2006

Refugees face 'humanitarian crisis'

The UJA Federation's General Assembly will be meeting this coming week in Los Angeles, and it seems that every day the Anglo press here in Israel is telling us about another Israeli who has been invited to speak to them. The GA, as it is called, will discuss aid to 'refugees' facing a 'humanitarian crisis' in the Gaza Strip - 'refugees' who have been created and sustained as refugees by the Arab world. Unfortunately, there is another group of real refugees (no scare quotes) who are facing a real humanitarian crisis for which there are no hidden slush funds in European banks, and the Federation is distinctly uninterested in them. These refugees are the responsibility of the Israeli government that expelled them from their homes with the enthusiastic support of the World Jewish community. They are Jews. The Jews who were expelled from the Gaza strip in the Summer of 2005. The Federation refuses to help them.

I have raised this issue before. Recently, I updated you on the status of the Jewish refugees from the Gaza Strip. But in light of the GA meeting this week, the story I am about to set out below from WorldNetDaily, which is not a Jewish publication, is particularly timely.

Normally, when I want to make sure that a story gets wide exposure, I forward it to several other blogs. It's two and a half hours before the Sabbath, and I just don't have the time for that today. So I'm going to ask each of you to either forward this post to another blog, or to post a link to it in the comments section of another blog. If you're a blogger, please link this post. Not because I want the traffic. But because I want to make sure the muck-a-mucks in the Federation see it before they get on their planes to LA on Sunday. The people of the Gaza Strip, who put up with around-the-clock shelling for four years before being expelled from their homes and communities, deserve better than this.
Mainstream American Jewish groups largely have refused to aid the thousands of Jews evacuated last summer from the Gaza Strip, the majority of whom, fifteen months later, are unemployed, and none of whom received permanent housing promised by the Israeli government, WND has learned.

The former Gaza residents have appealed for help multiple times to major Jewish organizations in the U.S. but say they were mostly rejected.

Meanwhile, the U.S. groups, most of which supported Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, raised over $300 million for northern Israeli communities battered by Hezbollah rocket fire in July and August, including large sums of money for Arab villages.

Also, the American 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 U.S. 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.


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 nowhere 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 forced 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 reopened.

Residents of the Negev trailer camps are predominantly former farmers, many of whom now say they're not sure what they'll do.


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 teens either failed to integrate to new schools or failed their final exams.

Social workers said the 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 many refugee sites lack youth counselors and activity centers. Budgets for youth programs expired last March.


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 U.S.

The UJC reportedly raised over $850 million last year.

Since July, the UJC has garnered some $330 million in pledges from federation members to help Israel's northern communities battered by Hezbollah 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. [I discussed the Macy letter at length in the first post linked above. Clifton-Passaic is the area where we lived for eight years before we made aliya. CiJ]

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 publically [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. [In other words, Rieger is full of you-know-what. CiJ]

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.


Later this month, major U.S. 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.
Read it all. And think about it when the Federation calls you for money this year. If the Federation won't clean up its act, give your donation this year to some of the organizations mentioned in the article instead.

The Jews expelled from Gush Katif and other Gaza communities deserve better treatment than this.


At 11:01 PM, Blogger Lois Koenig said...


It will be posted. Too angry to say what I am thinking over this disgrace.

Why am I not the least bit surprised? I still wear my orange band...


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