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Christian Living

ChrisM 08/16/07

The Disengagement: Two Years After

Two years ago today, August 15, 2005, CBN News covered the story of the eviction of more than 8,000 Jewish residents from the Gaza Strip. We, along with news organizations from around the globe, broadcast live from Kissufim, one of the main crossings in and out of the Gaza Strip. What we saw resembled a scene out of John Steinback's "The Grapes of Wrath." Cars, pick-up trucks and trailers piled high with belongings formed a long caravan on the hot, dusty road. Many Jews left for the last time the only home they'd ever known.

It became known as the "disengagement" but for many who were being forced to leave their homes, they preferred to call it eviction.

The idea of the disengagement first became public 21 months earlier, in December of 2004. Then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proposed the disengagement at an annual conference for Israeli leaders in the town of Herziliya. The idea was that if all the Jews left the Gaza Strip, it would give the Palestinians both the land they wanted and an opportunity to prove they could build a state for themselves. The Jews who had settled portions of the Gaza Strip -- some for more than 30 years -- would make the "painful sacrifice" for peace.

But two years later, peace seems even more remote. The Israel Project, an organization providing journalists with information about Israel, released a sobering summary of the both security situation following the disengagement and what's happened to the thousands of Jews forced to leave their homes. Following is part of that summary.

Security Situation

In return for this painful sacrifice, which Israel carried out August 15, 2005, Gaza has been converted into a launching pad for rockets. Since the withdrawal, more than 1,500 Qassam rockets have been fired into Israel's southern Negev region. The attacks have killed six civilians and injured hundreds more and hit areas where Gaza evacuees were relocated.

Iran-backed Hamas has been chiefly responsible for the Kassam attacks, but other Palestinian militant groups also have taken credit, such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Fatah party's al-Aksa Martyrs' Brigades and the Popular Resistance Committees. These groups, along with Hamas, have continued to launch Kassam rockets and mortars at Israel on an almost daily basis since disengagement. During a particularly violent period -- May 15 to May 31, 2007 -- more than 300 Kassam rockets were launched from Gaza at Israel.

Since Hamas took over Gaza by force in mid-June 2007, the Iran-backed terrorist group has consolidated its military and Islamic authority over the Palestinian people. Examples of Hamas's militarily growth include the following:

· Importing sophisticated technological weapons into the Gaza Strip

· Smuggling in more than 20 tons of explosives

· Increasing militant manpower to 13,000

· Sending more than 20 militants to Iran for training and instructing 400 more in Gaza

The Israel Project noted the past two years have also been marked by a dramatic increase in internal Palestinian violence in the Gaza Strip.

After Hamas was elected to run the Palestinian Authority government, infighting among the Palestinian people increased. According to the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights, more than 600 Palestinians have been killed in infighting since Hamas's rise to power. Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by the European Union, the United States, Israel, Canada and Australia, openly seeks Israel's destruction.

Overall, Palestinian internal violence has dramatically increased in the past two years. During the first seven months of 2007 alone, 415 Palestinians were killed, including 28 children, and another 2,022 Palestinians were injured -- all at the hands of other Palestinians.

What Israel hoped for was a moderate Palestinian government. What they got is "Hamastan," a group now in charge of the Gaza Strip committed to establishing an Islamic entity and destroying the state of Israel.

For those who had to make the "painful sacrifice" for peace, as the Israel Project summed up, the last two years have been tragic.

Two years since Israel carried out its Gaza disengagement plan, the nearly 9,000 Israeli residents who were living in the region continue to suffer from immense psychological, physical and economic distress.

Psychologically

· Gush Katif evacuees, subject to continuing financial and social difficulties, are increasingly seeking mental and emotional support

· The youth of Gush Katif are at greater risk, living in an environment of uncertainty and social and communal instability that has impaired their scholastic education, with some even dropping out of school

· The divorce rate of Gaza evacuees has noticeably increased

Physically

· Research at the Ashkelon Regional Health Bureau and Ashkelon's Barzilai Medical Center has shown a notable rise in deaths among the evacuees

· Their findings also show that former residents are suffering from a significant increase in medical maladies including cancerous growths, heart problems, diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma attacks

Economically

· Evacuees continue to be affected by a very high rate of unemployment, currently 37 percent , according to the SELA Disengagement Authority

· The family incomes of former Gaza residents have decreased by 40 percent since the disengagement, according to the Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry

· Of the 180 nonagricultural businesses that once flourished in Gaza's Gush Katif community, evacuees have reopened about 80 of them and most face bankruptcy

· In agriculture, from which 30 percent of Gush Katif families earned a living, 33 out of the 400 farmers have settled on new lands and only a few are back in business

· The once successful and profitable farmers of Gush Katif, who had produced 15 percent of Israel's agricultural exports and 70 percent of Israel's organic produce, have lost their overseas markets, buyers and distributors

· Over 500 of the families are in serious financial straits, with many requiring support of welfare agencies and food packages

· Due to the high rate of unemployment, many of the families are forced to use their state compensation funds for daily expenses rather than to build a house, as was intended

Housing

· 85 percent of Gush Katif families, or 1,405 out of a total of 1,667, continue to live in temporary housing sites scattered over 20 different locations around Israel

· The construction of permanent residences has barely begun. Fewer than 1 percent of evacuees having begun construction, resulting in a total of 12 houses

CBN News covered the actual disengagement and the events leading up to it for the 21 months up to August 15, 2005. We got to meet and know some of those Jewish residents of the Gaza Strip. They formed remarkably tightly knit, close communities. They also literally made the desert bloom.

When many of them moved into the Gaza Strip decades ago, the local residents scoffed. The land was cursed, they said. But Jews like Anita Tucker, who grew celery heads by the tens of thousands, helped establish a multi-million dollar agricultural industry. Others like Rachel Saperstein and her husband Moshe helped establish the close knit community of Neve Dakalim. Many others like Debbie Rosen, the liaison to the foreign press, believed they were fulfilling the call of the ancient Hebrew prophets to once again settle the land of the Bible.

Two years ago, those supporting disengagement promised it would bring peace; instead, it spawned Hamastan. Many Israelis consider the disengagement a sad chapter in Israeli history. As current Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert contemplates giving up large portions of Judea and Samaria many others hope that history will not repeat itself.

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