'Gaydamak City' is like being on vacation

By PAULA SLIER
July 31, 2006 21:35
2 minute read.

 
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A small patch of beach in Nitzanim has been turned into an idyllic summer camp. Israeli flags draped across potted trees line the main pathway. A big cinema screen broadcasts movies every two hours. A handwritten placard next to it advertises the day's events: a day trip to the zoo, a yoga class, free laundry services and several jumping castles. Nearby, children scramble to get their faces painted. In the next tent, giggles of delight erupt while a puppet show is performed. Relaxed parents recline on garden furniture, enjoying free lemonade in the shade of outdoor cafes as the sea surf splashes a few meters away. This is "Gaydamak City," as it's been dubbed by the grateful seven thousand Israelis who now live here. It's the furthest thing from a refugee camp possible, but that's precisely what it is. The F16s circling above are the only reminder of the current war. "I will continue with the camp for as long as it's necessary," says Arkadi Gaydamak, the Russian-born millionaire who's putting up $250,000 a day for the camp. He built it within 48 hours as a temporary shelter for evacuees from northern towns with nowhere else to go. "If necessary I will double its size," Gaydamak says. "This is the basis of Jewish solidarity. I regret the difficult conditions these people are in and I will do what I can to help them." Smadar and Isaac Hatuel moved here a week-and-a-half ago with their two children after eight Katyusha rockets fell near their home in Hatzor Haglilit . "It's like being on vacation," Isaac admits, sitting on a mattress at the far end of a tent in which 190 people sleep. Huge air-conditioners blow from every few meters. "The children love it. There's so much to do. We get five meals a day and every night singers come and put on a show. But while my body is here, my head is in the North. My brothers and parents are there. It's difficult." Women walk around in bikinis and shorts. Shirtless men relax, beer in hand. David Sol, a chef from Kiryat Bialik, has been here for two weeks with his wife and three children. "We support the operation into Lebanon," he says, "but we worry about our finances. How will we cope after the war? I hope the government will give us some kind of compensation." It's a sentiment expressed by everyone here. So too is praise for Gaydamak, which echoes from every corner. "He's our Robin Hood," some people chuckle; "Our Messiah." One woman, though, has a complaint. "I'm used to eating breakfast at seven," she moans, "and here it's served at ten!" At one end of the camp, security guards stand watch. A Magen David Adom office and police station line the opposite side. The only reminder of the war that's being fought some 250 kilometers away is the underlying anxious chatter behind the laughs, and the massive television screen broadcasting nonstop news.

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