“For I desire steadfast loving kindness.” (Hosea 6:6)
Ten years ago, the government of Israel made a unilateral decision, now widely criticized, to disengage from the Gaza Strip, forcing approximately 9,000 Jews to leave their homes with the intention of calming tensions in the Gaza area and giving Palestinians a place of their own. The move has since been condemned both in terms of the security issues that arose, including three armed conflicts, and in terms of how the government treated the evacuees.
Eitan Shimoni, son of the former head of Gush Katif regional council Avner Shimoni, told Breaking Israel News about some of the struggles that the evacuees faced in the aftermath of the expulsion. “The government took a lot of very pro-state, pro-Israel people out of their homes and simply left them by the wayside, with nothing,” he said. Some of the examples Shimoni gave are heart-rending stories describing the disenchantment of a generation.
“The majority of the population of Gush Katif were farmers, people who lived on the land and by the land,” Shimoni said. “We were all very pro-Israel, our children went to elite combat units, and we served our country with pride. People had homes, farms, built families and set down roots in the ground. We were told that we would be there to stay. After the disengagement, that all changed.”
Following the disengagement, the young evacuees saw no point in serving in a military that had kicked them out of their homes. The farmers had no houses to live in, let alone land to work. The government, for its part, gave out compensations and built temporary houses, and paid for families to stay in hotels for a few months after the disengagement. But the money ran out, permanent homes were never built, and people were left without farms or work. Most of them had to fend for themselves.
A decade later, most of the families have managed to pick themselves up and move on, but many have not. Organizations have stepped in to help fill the gap left by the mismanagement of the government. Karmey Chesed is one of the leading organizations helping evacuees of Gush Katif get back on their feet. “When you lose everything, it can be a long process,” Shimoni said.
Karmey Chesed helps the evacuees financially, and provides them with furniture, appliances, and money to pay their bills each month, keeping them out of debt. “When people aged 50 and older are suddenly left without an income, it is very difficult for them to start again. No one wants to hire them,” said Shimoni.
“We are now 10 years later, there are still plenty of people who are still living in temporary housing that was set up for them, and cannot afford to buy or even rent a house,” he added.
Karmey Chesed is making a difference for these people. “I know of one friend from my previous town of Neve Dekalim who Karmey helps continually. They help him find furniture for his family, they help him pay his bills, and they help with whatever else he needs. Aryeh (Weingarten, Director of Karmey Chesed) is always just one phone call away,” Shimoni said.
What separates Karmey Chesed from other organizations is not just the amount of help that they provide, but also the way in which they do it. “Aryeh doesn’t wait for people to come to him,” said Shimoni. “He goes to them. He looks for people whom he can help and he goes out to help them. He is very connected to the land of Israel and the people of Israel, and in the past 10 years he has put a strong emphasis on helping the evacuees of Gush Katif.”
Shimoni seemed to not be able to praise Karmey Chesed enough. “They help people get over the pain and trauma of the issues that are taking place here in Israel, and help them to rebuild their shattered lives. It is through the holy work that they do, God’s work, that we are able to take this terrible situation and hopefully begin to put it behind us,” he said.
Noting how a few of the Gush Katif evacuees have begun to return to farming, Shimoni concluded with a message of hope for the future. “Together, we can work to make this desert bloom again,” he said. “We are rebuilding the Torah institutions that we lost, and Karmey Chesed is a big part of both of those things. They are helping people that the state put aside and abandoned. And they are making a difference.”