The arrival at the Yulis Tournament, Gush Katif's basketball tournament, feels like a journey back in time. A cheering sign for the settlement of Netzarim hangs on the wall, and the words "Gush Katif" float in the air, as if the evacuation never happened. Two finals took place in the tournament last Friday, with Atzmona winning in the adults' category and Be'er Ganim in the youth category.
The Gush Katif basketball tournament has been taking place continuously for 30 years (except for the year of the coronavirus), and despite the dispersal of the evacuees throughout the country, and the time that has passed since the evacuation, it continues to be popular. Around 400 fans from the various settlements of Gush Katif attended the finals (youth and adults) last Friday, filling the sports hall of the settlement Netzar Hazani.
Shlomo Yulis: "We expect this to be the last tournament away from home"
Already at the entrance, you can feel the excitement as dozens of children come to greet us, proclaiming, "We'll take the Yulis!" When the founder of the Yulis tournament, Shlomo Yulis, enters, he says to us, "We are excited and look forward every year to this being the last tournament outside of Gush Katif. God willing, next year, just like in Gush Etzion, who returned after 19 years, we will also return, and the tournament will be held at home, in Gush Katif."
Another milestone in the tournament this year is that, for the first time, all the youth players were born after the expulsion. Yulis acknowledges this and says, "It's an amazing achievement that this youth, born after the expulsion, is so connected to each other thanks to the tournament."
The outstanding shooter: "I feel connected to the Gush thanks to the Yulis tournament."
Shortly after that, the first final begins, the youth final. The final takes place between Bnei Dekalim, the reincarnation of Neve Dekalim from the Gush, and Be'er Ganim, a settlement whose name is an acronym for nine settlements that left Gush Katif. From the beginning of the game, it seems that Be'er Ganim has a physical and height advantage over Bnei Dekalim, and they utilize it well to lead the game from the start.
In the first half, Bnei Dekalim manages to stay in the game, but they break down in the second half, leading to a loss of 41:28. Be'er Ganim's fans fill the court and pour water on the jubilant players.
Yonatan Eli'az, one of the outstanding players and the MVP, said in an interview to Srugim at the end of the game: "It's been several years since we won, and I'm happy. I was born a few months after the eviction, but I feel connected to the Gush mainly because of the tournament. The feeling of the Gush residents coming to the tournament is a tremendous connection that will help us return to there."
Coach of Netzer Hazani: "We have players who play in the tournament from day one"
After the short break, the hall begins to fill up again for the adult final, and I take the opportunity to talk to Itzik, the coach of last year's champion, Netzer Hazani, who is competing in the final this year as well. Itzik, who has been involved in the tournament since its inception, shares his feelings about the tournament with Srugim: "The tournament gets hotter and stronger each year. We have many players over the age of 40, with one of them playing from the first day of the tournament." He emphasizes, "We do it in memory of Itai Yulis, after whom the tournament is named."
Regarding the memory of the expulsion, he added: "It's one of the things that preserves the memory of Gush Katif more than anything else, and the youth who fill the hall here warm the heart. The game itself develops into a close match, as the first half ends 16:14 in favor of the surprising Atzmona. Just like in the youth final, towards the end of the game, Atzmona escapes to a victory of 26:35. At the end of the game, Shlomo's father speaks to the crowd excitedly about his son Itai, and he adds and speaks about preserving the memory of Gush Katif: "We will return to there again." Regional Council Head of Nachal Sorek, where the game takes place, joins the prize distribution ceremony and wishes, 'With the help of God, next year, we will be hosted by you in Gush Katif.'"