Whoever never visited the flourishing Jewish towns and settlements of Gush Katif and northern Samaria can scarcely imagine the scale of the human tragedy and crying injustice of the expulsion of the almost 10,000 residents. Encouraged by Israeli government policies, over the course of over thirty years, to settle on land that was typically empty, barren sand dunes, they courageously labored to make the desert bloom into dozens of beautiful communities with an enviably high quality of life. Vast hothouses and orchards supplied Israel, Europe and even North America with high-quality, insect-free flowers, herbs and spices, fruit and vegetables, providing gainful employment for hundreds of family breadwinners, There were yeshivos and Torah-schools, exquisitely designed synagogues and attractive mikvas. The residents were all industrious, peaceful and law-abiding.
But then came the barrage of missiles from Gaza. Dozens of these courageous Jews were killed and wounded in these and other terrorist acts. Suddenly politicians decided, for reasons never adequately explained, that these Jews had to leave and their towns destroyed. Mercilessly, all residents were forced out of their homes, which together with the synagogues and Torah schools were destroyed. Even the dead, of whom many were victims of Arab terror and unspeakable cruelty, were torn out of their graves. Any compensation belatedly given did not recoup the financial losses, let alone heal the psychological wounds the families endured as their lives were broken. Hardest to digest was the fact that all this was deliberately perpetrated by their own Jewish brothers.
At the time, a handful of compassionate Jews in Israel, with help from a few from abroad, toiled to avert the calamity. Unfortunately, their intensive efforts were unsuccessful. While the flames of the destroyed shuls and homes still burned, they resolved to perpetuate the memory of those once-flourishing towns to ensure that such a tragedy should never recur.
It took three years before the Gush Katif Museum became a reality. Since then, over 100,000 people have visited. Most Israelis had no understanding of what had happened there; many thought just a few extremists living in tents and huts had been swept out of Arab-owned land. As Israelis from all segments of the political and religious spectrum started visiting the Museum, they realized how wrong they had been. Even long-time leftists changed their thinking entirely after a visit there, and now oppose further concessions.
The Museum conducts activities to assist the deportees materially and emotionally. Many are still unemployed to this day, while still trying to pay off mortgages for their long-destroyed homes. So the Museum’s Kindness Center brings them food and assistance before Shabbat and Yom Tov. It holds special “entertainment days” at places like the Luna Park amusement park for deportees’ children and their parents to get a chance to forget their troubles for that day, at least.
In order to move public opinion to ensure that it never happens again, the Museum is also at the center of the campaign to show the Israeli and world public why establishing an Arab state in the very heart of the Holy Land constitutes a mortal danger to the lives of all its five million Jews. Such a state would place all Israel’s population centers, its airport and strategic infrastructure and military bases at the mercy of its worst enemies, who are sworn to destroy the Jewish people (G-d forbid). So the Museum issues a highly popular, multicolored, bi-weekly newsletter that presents the issues with great clarity and is grabbed off the newsstands. Occasionally, large demonstrations are held in Jerusalem and elsewhere to protest against further concessions to Israel’s foes. Already all these and other activities have contributed to a strong swing in Israeli public opinion against such concessions.
Recently, Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpo, the Museum’s founder, was in New York in preparation for the Gush Katif Museum’s first Dinner to be held in Brooklyn this February 22. He told us that the Guest Speaker will be the distinguished diplomat, Mr. John Bolton, the outspoken U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under the George W. Bush administration. Other important speakers will include Mr. Lee Raymond Terry, congressman from Nebraska, who has discovered that he is Jewish, and Mr. Glenn Beck, the popular radio and TV commentator. Jackie Mason, who, besides being a popular entertainer is also a perceptive analyst of American politics and the Middle East situation, will speak live from London, England, where he will be performing at the time. There will also be a performance by the famous Jewish-Irish violin virtuoso, Mr. Daniel Ahaviel.
The Guest of Honor will be the renowned philanthropist, Mr. Sholom Ber Drizin, and awards will be given to Mr. Shlomo Marcovich of Mexico City and Mr. Ephraim Julius of Israel. Rabbi Wolpo calls on all Jews who cherish this vital cause to participate in the Dinner and in marshalling financial support for what could well make the difference for the future safety and security of what is now the world’s largest Jewish community, the Jews of the Holy Land.
To participate in the Dinner ($250 per person) or to contribute, please send your check to “Friends of Gush Katif Museum”, 383 Kingston Avenue, #155, Brooklyn, NY 11213, or e-mail to GushKatifMuseum@hotmail.co.il , or pay by credit card at: www.sos-Israel.com, or call to 718-989-2767.