Despite 18 years having passed since the expulsion from Gush Katif, the Gush Katif Basketball Tournament, known as the Yulis Tournament, continues to be held and marks its 30th anniversary this year. On the upcoming Friday, the 11th of Av, the Yulis Tournament's finals for the year 5783 will take place in the community of Netzer Hazani.
The tournament, established in the summer of 5753, in memory of Neve Dekalim resident Itai Yulis, has not ceased despite the expulsion. On the upcoming Friday, the 30th tournament finals will take place. The tournament was founded in memory of Itai Yulis, a resident of Neve Dekalim who passed away from cancer on the 21st of Adar, 5753.
About a month after Itai's passing, two young boys suggested to his parents, Udi z"l and Shlomo Yulis, to establish a basketball tournament in his memory. Shlomo, who loved basketball very much, liked the idea, and that same summer, the tournament set out on its way for the first time.
Also on the day of the expulsion, the finals of the Yulis tournament took place
The tournament was held throughout the summer, with the finals scheduled for the day after Tisha B'Av so that the winning team would not celebrate during the days of mourning for the Temple. The tournament quickly became a beloved tradition throughout Gush Katif, connecting the communities and serving as a summer attraction.
In the summer of 2005, when the expulsion date was announced to be the 11th of Av, the Yulis family decided not to give up and proceeded with the finals as planned. The expulsion was scheduled for the next day, and Gush Katif was already under closure. Shlomo Yulis submitted a request to allow the buses to reach Neve Dekalim, where the finals were scheduled to take place. The approvals arrived only at 6:00 PM on the day of the game, and the buses set off towards Neve Dekalim.
In the arena that accommodated 900 seats, an incredible crowd of about 1,600 people squeezed in to watch the final game. One of the journalists outside described the scene as surreal, with soldiers ready for evacuation outside while inside the arena, the people of the Gush were playing basketball as if nothing else mattered.
Hundreds of residents of Gush Katif: "The people of eternity are not afraid of a long journey"
In the game itself, described by Shlomo Yulis as an amazing experience, Neve Dekalim emerged victorious, but no one really cared about the outcome. All the participants started dancing and singing, "The people of eternity are not afraid of a long journey," and many other songs.
Yulis, who was moved by the sights, took the microphone and promised that the tournament would take place even in the years to come, in Gush Katif or beyond. The promise was fulfilled, and to this day, 18 years after the evacuation, the tournament continues to be held.
After several months, Shlomo turned to the Gush Residents Committee called "Lema'an Acheinu" (For the Sake of Our Brothers) and engaged in assisting the evacuees. He requested to organize a match of the Champions of Champions, which would connect the tournament held within the Gush to the one held outside of it.
With the help of a resident of Ma'ale Adumim, the Yulis tournament continued outside the bloc
The committee hesitated as the residents of the Gush were busy with their new work realities. However, one of the committee members, who was a resident of Ma'ale Adumim, heard his request and promised to help. He mobilized a vibrant community called "Ha'Minyan HaChadash" (The New Gathering), and Shlomo organized a hall in Jerusalem where the match took place.
Around 500 spectators attended the game, with Tal Brody among them. After a few years, the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council took responsibility for the event, and the games are now held there and in Netzer Hazani. Youth teams that participated in the tournament wanted to continue playing, so adult teams were formed, representing the residents of the Gush to this day.
In response to the question about the meaning of the tournament, Shlomo Yulis answered: "The tournament unites all the settlements of the Gush until today and provides hope that maybe after 19 years, we will return as in Gush Etzion. It also commemorates the memory of our beloved Itai. Besides the tournament, we also established a library in his memory."
The Gush Katif basketball hall was filled with thousands of spectators
In a letter sent from Shlomo Yulis to the people expelled from Gush Katif, he described the development of the tournament and the memorable finals on the day of the expulsion: "The most memorable game for most of us is the final game of the tournament in the year 5765, the year of the expulsion, a game that took place on the evening before the day when it was decided to start the expulsion of the residents of Gush Katif.
"The basketball hall of Matnas Katif on the Gaza beach was filled with thousands of spectators who witnessed an exciting game, and it didn't matter who won. Everyone burst into song, expressing their faith, 'The people of eternity are not afraid of a long journey,' even if there are obstacles and hardships on the way, we will rise again and settle."
"Journalists, soldiers, and police officers were astonished by the sight of how people who would be expelled from their homes the next day, who had invested years of labor, were playing a game inside the hall, ignoring those who sought to harm them. Not everyone knows the power of faith."
Shlomo described the power of that evening: "On that evening, when I saw the community of the settlers in their joy and unity, I turned and said that until we return home, this tournament will continue. Indeed, even today, eighteen years after that difficult moment, the tournament continues."
"Like Gush Etzion, we will return"
He continued: "The tournament continues to take place and serves not only as a memorial for Itai, may his soul rest in peace, but also as a special day of unity for the community, youth, and adults, in memory of Gush Katif. It is an emotionally charged evening that connects the adults and participants from Gush Katif, along with the youth who grew up in the communities established after the disengagement."
"As someone familiar with memorial tournaments, in my opinion, there are no memorial tournaments held for such an extended period. This year, we mark 30 years since the tournament's establishment and 18 years since the expulsion from our homes."
Shlomo concluded: "As people of faith who waited two thousand years for the redemption of our people and yearned for Jerusalem, 19 years since the reunification of Jerusalem and Gush Etzion, may we merit the return of the Gaza Strip and its restoration to the people of Israel. May it be God's will, and with His help, we will soon return to hold the tournament in the community center of Katif."