Two years have passed since the disengagement plan was implemented, and still, despite much assistance from the government, nearly 9,000 Gush Katif settlers are struggling with a difficult reality as a result of the evacuation.
On July 22nd I met in my office in Jerusalem with members of the Friends of Gush Katif, headed by Lior Kalfa. This was the latest in a series of meetings that I had with the settlers, as well as visits that I conducted at their temporary housing sites.
This specific meeting, however, was unusual and particularly significant. At this meeting, the Jewish Agency announced a special assistance package for the psychological, educational, and professional rehabilitation of the evacuees, in the amount of $2.5 million.
This distinctive plan is intended, first and foremost, to enable the evacuees to return to their routine, and to give them skills for coping with the trauma of evacuation and terror that they have experienced in recent years. Within this framework, we will offer student scholarships, operate summer camps for the children, establish a community social club in the settlement of Nitzan, purchase equipment for schools that were relocated to the new settlements, and offer the children therapy.
In the area of employment, we will assist evacuees in integrating into professional life through job placement and retraining programs and initiatives that encourage business entrepreneurship.
This extensive program would not have been possible without our wonderful partnership with the United Jewish Communities of North America and the generosity of many donors.
It saddens me that you, our partners, were not with me at this moment, in order to receive the words of appreciation, acknowledgement and gratitude of the Gush Katif evacuees. For them, this support constitutes a shining light of hope after two years of homelessness. During that time many of them lost their sources of income under circumstances that undermined the stability of family life, caused tremendous distress to children, and forced people to abandon their familiar surroundings for which there is still no stable alternative.
In his words of thanks, Lior Kalfa, Chairman of the Friends of Gush Katif, noted the generosity of the United Jewish Communities of North America through the Jewish Agency and said that the assistance package will be a significant contribution to the preservation of the communities and their rehabilitation and transition into permanent settlements.
I am delighted that we now have this opportunity to open our hearts and offer a helping hand to the citizens of Israel who, despite the evacuation, chose to preserve their community frameworks and to embark on yet another pioneering journey of settling the Lachish region in southern Israel. On their behalf, I thank you, our friends and partners, for your open hearts and your commitment to the Jewish people and the State of Israel, which have enabled us to take on this vital work.
Finally, I would like to thank the employees of the Jewish Agency, especially those from the Israel region, who are standing at the forefront of action on behalf of the evacuees in their difficult struggles. Congratulations to all!