The communities of Gush Katif were established in 1970 following a decision by the government of Israel. Twenty-one communities quickly thrived and created a unique chain of rich cultural and religious life for their community members, augmented by a pioneering agriculture industry for the entire region, despite the terror and the hostile Palestinian Arab population. In 2005, the community of Netzarim, along with the 20 other communities of Gush Katif, were forcibly evicted from their homes.
The destruction of Gush Katif is not only the story of the forced transfer of Netzarim and other Jewish communities, or even the heartbreaking story of 8,000 personal tragedies. In retrospect, Gush Katif is the story of how a whole nation was led by a corrupt political leadership down the slippery slope of believing in a false and deceiving agenda that we all know as “land for peace.” The forced destruction of Gush Katif, despite the many warnings by political leaders on the right, resulted in one of Israel’s greatest strategic blunders, creating security challenges yet to be overcome even today.
After their expulsion, the members of Netzarim decided to remain together as a community despite not having a place that they could call home. Whole families were placed in temporary housing in which families were living out of suitcases, with no access to their personal possessions being stored by the government. Many members of Netzarim remember their despair and the sense of injustice inflicted on them by their own government during this extended period.
Yet despite their personal pain and deep sense of unfairness, many former residents of Netzarim elected to establish a new agricultural community in the southern Negev. Many others of the same community decided to establish a new community — a kind of urban settlement — in an area that presented new hurdles no less challenging than what they had encountered in Gush Katif. The late and legendary former mayor of Ariel, Ron Nachman, z’l, offered the families of Netzarim to move into temporary student housing at Ariel University until a housing solution could be found. Land was cleared in the center of the city of Ariel and temporary caravans where placed haphazardly, creating a small settlement within the city of Ariel. So began the humble beginnings of what is now known today as the Netzer Ariel community.
What began with 20 proud former Netzarim families, fortified in their belief in G-d with unbounded energy and resiliency, has blossomed into a community of 60 families, creating an oasis of community spirit reaching out to and interacting with Ariel’s largely secular community, offering religious and communal programs of enrichment and spiritual nourishing for all age groups. The Netzer Ariel Midrasha, The Ariel Bar Mitzvah Institute, The Betzavta Senior Citizens Program, The Netzer Ariel Daycare Center, and the Kiruv Program at Ariel University, with 600 university students participating, are only a few examples of the many communal and outreach programs established by community members to empower others living next door in the city of Ariel.
The Netzarim community is especially proud of its Teens-At-Risk program, which is bringing adolescents and young adults in the surrounding neighborhoods and settlements back from the brink, assisting them in overcoming the challenges of self-destructive behavior. A life-sustaining program has been initiated by the Netzer Ariel community on behalf of Ariel’s large aged population of former immigrants from the Soviet Union who receive packages of food and prepared meals during the week and before Shabbat and holidays.
During the month of February 2019, the director of the Netzer Ariel community, Elai Feldman, along with Motti Isaak, a longtime veteran of the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria, will be visiting the tristate area and are especially interested in connecting and meeting with lay leaders and residents of the Five Towns. Meeting them and hearing their personal story and the story of the Netzarim community of Gush Katif gives meaning to their journey from destruction to redemption. Invite Elai and Motti to speak in your shul and in your home. Their stories deserve to be heard.
Elai Feldman: Mobile: + 972-58-566-2687 (WhatsApp)
Website: netzerariel.org (Hebrew)
Motti Isaak: Mobile: + 972-52-357-1369 (WhatsApp)
Ron Jager is a 25-year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, where he served as a field mental-health officer and as commander of the central psychiatric military clinic for reserve soldiers at Tel-Hashomer. Since retiring from active duty in 2005, he has been providing consultancy services to NGOs, implementing psychological trauma treatment programs in Israel. Ron currently serves as a strategic adviser to the chief foreign envoy of Judea and Samaria. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ronjager.com.