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Mainstream American Jewish organizations 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 American Jewish organizations but say they were mostly rejected.
Meanwhile the U.S. Jewish 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 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 (http://www.katifund.org/English/), 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.
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 (UJC) 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.
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] 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 organizations, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. He said the UJC finally pledged last January to raise $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 U.S. Jewish groups, recently announced the formation of a taskforce to raise money and awareness for Israel's Arab population.
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.
Vanunu said one UJC-linked federation in Texas made donations for a playground for expelled Jewish children, and another local U.S. 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 and Christian Friends of Israeli Communities have 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 U.S. 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."
Editor's Note: This is information compiled from various sources.
When the information that the UJC was spending a third of the funds it received on those Arabs who fled their homes in Northern Israel during the Lebanon War, the UJC "explained" that it was just 3%. In this email, Buddy Macy explains why the explanation doesn't wash.
Date: 11/29/2006 9:01:10 A.M. Eastern Standard Time
Last month I had a telephone conversation with Howard Rieger, President of United Jewish Communities (UJC), the Jewish Federation network in North America. I had phoned Mr. Rieger earlier in the day, and he promptly returned my call. It had been a rough week for the colossal Jewish fundraising organization. On October 13th, a front-page article appeared in The New York Jewish Week criticizing UJC for disbursing a significant amount of funds from its Israel Emergency Campaign (IEC) to non-Jews in Israel. Howard Rieger responded to the article by stating that 3 percent of all IEC monies raised to-date had gone to non-Jewish Israelis in the north.
Yet, according to an October 5, 2006 UJC Communications Department email containing an IEC ALLOCATIONS UPDATE, nearly $9,000,000 of the first $50,000,000 SPENT had been distributed to non-Jews. In his calculation, Rieger used the amount of PLEDGES ($300 million) as the denominator, not the actual dollars SPENT, thus intentionally creating the illusion of a much lower percentage of the funds going to non-Jews.
On December 14, 2006, Buddy Macy reported:
"This past Monday, December 11, 2006, at the headquarters of
UJA-Federation of New York, I participated in an extremely positive
meeting concerning the plight of the expellees of Gush Katif and
northern Samaria with the CEO of UJC's largest Federation."
"Representing UJA-Federation of New York were John Ruskay, Executive Vice President and CEO, Dr. Alisa Kurshan, Senior Vice President for Strategic Planning and Organizational Resources, Dru Greenwood, Director of Synagogue Renewal, Rabbi Michael Paley, Scholar in Residence and David Mallach, Managing Director of the Commission on the Jewish People."
"...as to why he and UJA-Federation of New York had not helped the expellees, [Mr. Ruskay] stated, simply: "I thought the [Israeli] Government was doing it." It was curious to hear this from him, in light of the large volume of reports, articles and commentary written about the Israeli Government's failure to help the Jewish refugees from Gush Katif and northern Samaria..."
"...the Federation CEO informed our assembled group that now that he knew that the Israeli Government failed to care for the victims of the expulsions as it promised it would, he and his staff will work to aid financially the expellees. This is an extremely important commitment on the part of John Ruskay and UJA-Federation of New York. And, he acted immediately towards the fulfillment of his pledge, appointing Dr. Kurshan as the contact person for aid to the expelled from Gush Katif and northern Samaria. Mr. Ruskay said that he would report back to us in a month regarding the progress his Federation had made in its efforts to help the Jewish refugees -- our fellow Jews who have been suffering tremendous emotional, mental and physical hardships during the past 16 months."
"At the meeting, John Ruskay said that he would be traveling to Israel in February, and that he would meet with some of the leaders of the expellees for a few hours."[!!! -- BSL]
The publicity on the distribution of Jewish philanthropic funds included the information that while the UJC didn't support Gush Katif Jews, "Israeli Muslims, who were applauding and aiding the attacks on Israel by Hezbollah, were receiving money specifically donated by generous Jews to help Israeli Jews." (Stewart Ain, The Jewish Week)
Helen Freeman of Americans for a Safe Israel (AFSI) wrote this open letter to the UJA-Federation on December 24, 2006, spelling out their commitment):
"In the face of this, UJC President and CEO Howard Reiger said he was "proud" UJC was not treating [Muslim]Israelis and Jews differently in terms of funding. Rieger might have been proud, but I know that many of his contributors were not happy with the situation, assuming that their money was going to alleviate Jewish suffering."
" Now that Mr. Ruskay is aware of the situation, he has appointed Doron Krakow, a UJC professional, to study the needs of the Gush Katif communities and report back to the funding sources. I have no doubt that after doing the fact-finding, Ruskay and other UJC leaders will agree that the Gush Katif evacuees deserve every bit of help that American Jews can provide."
Jacob Berkman's article in the Dec. 22 2006 Jewish Week tells us that Joseph Kanfer is the new top lay leader of UJC. He is quoted as saying, "Our focus has been peoplehood. What do we do to enrich peoplehood and the peoplehood component? How do we define who we are and what our role is?" I suggest that Kanfer start with the Gush Katif evacuees, the Jews in Sedorot and the Negev who are being bombed constantly -- even during this pretend cease fire - and the Jewish communities in the north. Talk to Aaron Klein of World Net Daily, who has been reporting on the failed funding of the Gush Katif evacuees. Talk to Dror Vanunu, public relations contact for Gush Katif. Talk to Rena Cohen, head of Lev U'Neshama in Tsfat. Talk to Uriel Bar, Executive Director of the Yeshiva in Akko. The list goes on and on. There is no shortage of courageous and exemplary Jews in Israel who define what and who is a Jew.
I pray that the rift that has existed between the courageous Jews of Israel, dedicated to holding onto the promised land, and the mainstream Jews of America, who have lost their connection to these Jews, will be closed. I pray that Jews everywhere will be united, so that those in Israel and those in the diaspora, will be as one. And I hope that UJC -- UJA-Fed. will be in the forefront in cementing this achdut -- unity.
This article was published November 10, 2006 in WorldNetDaily (www.wnd.com)
Aaron Klein is WorldNetDaily's Jerusalem bureau chief.
This article was published November 10, 2006 in WorldNetDaily (www.wnd.com)
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