Yossi Dahari, director of youth activities at the community center in Nitzan, says he has high hopes that he will be able to provide a wide range of activities this summer to former Gush Katif teenagers.
"I am looking at the program right now," said Dahari in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post on Monday. "We have hikes, a trip to Superland, an MDA course, horse riding, scuba diving, an army call-up party, concerts and many more activities planned for this summer."
"However," he continued. "As of this moment we have no budget for anything."
Pnina Hakmon, Nitzan's representative in the Ashkelon Beach Regional Council, confirmed to the Post that as of Monday, none of the budgets for summer programs had been finalized. "It is a real problem, we have been trying to secure funds for activities since January 2006, but so far we have received nothing," she said. "The camps are meant to start on July 4, but we cannot guarantee any discounts to parents until we know how much we will receive. We also need to factor funds for transport, as many of the children live on moshavim dotted around the area."
"If the money does not come through, then starting [Tuesday], when high schools close for the summer, we are talking about 450 youth who will have nothing for the next two-and-a-half months," said Dahari. "So far, we have not received a single shekel for youth activities in Nitzan. All our funds come from private donations."
The picture was equally grim for summer camps aimed at younger children in the makeshift town, said Anat Yaakov, coordinator of cultural activities. "We have not even started signing children up for camp," Yaakov told the Post. "At the moment the price of the camp stands at NIS 800 a child for a 14-day camp. We hope that if the budget comes through we can provide a 50 percent subsidy, but even NIS 400 is a lot of money for families that are not working."
According to figures released earlier this year by the Committee for Gush Katif Communities, 51% of former Gush Katif residents, roughly 1,360 people, are still unemployed. In Nitzan, unemployment stands at 70%.
Yaakov said many of the problems facing the community would be exacerbated this summer when all the children - many of whom study at yeshivot or boarding schools during the academic year - would return home. "The caravillas are far too small for all the family members to be at home at once," said Yaakov. "There need to be activities so that we can get the children out of the houses, even if it is only for the morning hours. If not, the situation could be explosive."
"In Gush Katif, there were plenty of summer activities such as hikes and water sports, separate beaches and swimming pools for boys and girls," continued Yaakov. "Here we have nothing, the children can't even go to the beach."
Yaakov and others who work with children from the former Gush Katif bloc say that the lack of activities, twinned with the proximity of cities such as Ashdod and Ashkelon, have contributed to a rise in alcohol abuse and smoking among the teens, as well as growing cases of youth failing their matriculation exams or dropping out of school.
Amazia Yehieli, who served as director of youth services in Gush Katif and now directs the youth department of the Committee for Gush Katif Communities, said there was a serious problem with boredom among the youth in the new towns.
"The residents of places such as Nitzan and Atzmona were promised all different types of programs and I really hope that it will all work out," Yehieli said, estimating that there are upwards of 700 youth living in the caravillas and many more who had still not been settled by the government. "At the moment, however, it is all still up in the air."
"Israel has to take responsibility for this problem," he said, adding that so far the government had not provided funds for extra-curricular activities, and the programs currently running were all thanks to donations.
Haim Altman, spokesman at the Disengagement Authority, said last year the organizations funded summer programs for the children because of the problems facing the community around the time of the pullout from Gaza. This year, however, the funding was meant to come from the regional council, he said.