The Gush Katif Employment Model

Thousands of Jews once made their homes in Gush Katif, located in Gaza. They were productive and loyal citizens, whose greenhouses alone produced 65% of the organic vegetables exported from Israel on what had once been barren sand.

Israel's unilateral exit from Gush Katif (Katif Bloc) in 2005, turned these 8000 Israelis into "homeless" individuals who were to spend several months in hotels until things could be sorted out. The government had promised to provide them with a place to live and a way to continue making a living by the end of that period.

On the 10th of Av, 2005, the eve of the "disengagement", volunteers who checked the hotels to which the refugees were about to be sent reported that there were no laundering facilities and a host of other problems. Hundreds of volunteers then spent the ensuing months helping the good people of Gush Katif, who had simply been abandoned in these hotels. 

The best face of Israeli society combated the worst face of Israeli bureaucracy.

The most difficult problem was finding a way to earn a living.  When decent people who have worked hard all their lives are forced to accept handouts, they begin to lose their self-respect. Something had to be done.

The bureaucratic response to queries about employment was that "they still do not know where they will live, so it is a waste of time to find work for them." Except that this could take years – and in fact, did. was established as a volunteer organization whose goal was bringing the people of Gush Katif back into the work force without delay.

No list of the residents' occupations existed and it had to be done by volunteers. Another volunteer created a database and a website. Newspaper ads began listing people's qualifications, asking employers throughout the country to match available jobs to those appearing on the list.

That is how Jobkatif worked. Job-hunting had to be made user-friendly and efficient for these people, who found themselves unemployed through no fault of their own, lost their homes, and could barely manage their lives.

As is often the case when a spouse is unemployed, expellees were suddenly having marital difficulties (more than a few of which ended in divorce), their self-image was damaged, the children uprooted.  In many instances, the parents' return to work rehabilitated entire families.

A central issue was age, with forty apparently the cutoff date. Some of the older unemployed were highly experienced professionals, some had owned their own successful businesses, but they were not being hired.  

These people were encouraged to open independent small businesses.  Experts provided advice and financial aid, got businesses started or rehabilitated existing ones. The businessmen often hired those who had worked for them before, providing jobs for other expellees.

A unique project called "The Toolbox" dealt with hands-on placing of highly trained people whose age prevented them from finding work. It also helped place those suffering from trauma. 

A glowing governmental investigative committee report and the award of the President's Prize for Volunteerism led to the decision to use the same proactive methods, with necessary adjustments, to find employment for other populations with special problems.

Of these, the most exciting project is the Ethiopian Nurses Initiative. A generation has passed since the Ethiopian aliyah, but although statistics are improving, too many bright young people, born and educated in Israel, are working at the menial tasks their immigrant parents had no choice but to accept. 

It is easy to point an accusing finger at alleged "prejudice," but that is a superficial response to a complex problem.  Analyzing the job market's available opportunities and correlating them with the desires and abilities of those in need of work, as was done for the Gush Katif residents, is the proactive way in which Jobkatif took on the challenge.

When a large number of young women of Ethiopian origin were asked what fields interested them, a significant proportion expressed interest in training to become hospital nurses.  None had applied to nursing schools as they had not attained the required minimum psychometric (Israel's SAT) examination score of 520. It seems that the average score among students of Ethiopian origin is closer to 425. The reason, after delving into the exams, became obvious.

Professionals identified the young women who had the interpersonal and academic abilities necessary to be good nurses, and a research institute examined their psychometric exams. It was discovered that their low performance was in subjects that had no connection with nursing, but were negatively affected by their having immigrant parents, such as possessing an advanced Hebrew vocabulary.

Test groups were placed in several nursing schools and today, as the second year of the three year program draws to an end, all these young women have completed their studies successfully and several have been cited for outstanding achievement.

A nursing student described her father, who had taught mathematics in Ethiopia, but is working as a cleaner here. He would tell her: "It's not easy, but it is worth it to me to know that you will be doing something else." The only problem, she said, was that at the time, he didn't know that she was also working as a house cleaner!  That reality has now changed.

A precedent has been set, and a relatively large number of Ethiopian young women will become nurses, a field that is has many job openings available in Israel. A by product is that these young women have proven that the psychometric exam, considered all-knowing in Israel, is not the only predictive measure of educational and professional success, certainly not for children of immigrants.  The terrific marks this group achieved make that clear.

Another hoped-for result is the motivation of other Ethiopian and unemployable young people, who, upon seeing the nurses' success, will want to give Jobkatif a try.

The goal of tikkun olam is not only helping people survive but giving them back their dreams, helping them do what they are capable of doing, discovering their strengths and thereby elevating the world. Israel must continue to work to create this new reality, and to effect lasting change.

Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon of Alon Shvut received the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism in 2014 for founding Jobkatif, is Rabbi of the Jerusalem College of Technology and is a prolific author of halakhic works.


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