20 Months Without a Home: Gush Katif Report

Over 1,400 Gush Katif families are living in 26 temporary sites - and for most of them, permanent homes are still a far-off dream.

Hillel Fendel,

House Destruction in Gush Katif
House Destruction in Gush Katif

Over 1,400 Gush Katif families are living in 26 temporary sites - and for most of them, permanent homes are still a far-off dream.

A report issued by the Gush Katif Residents Committee this month tells the sad, though slowly improving, story:

Out of 1,667 families expelled from Gush Katif in August 2005 by the Ariel Sharon government, 1,405 are living together in 26 temporary sites.  Not one permanent home has begun to be built.


In order to turn a temporary site into a permanent one, a contract must be signed between the government, the residents, and the permanent community already there or the owners. Out of 26 sites, only 6 such agreements have been signed.


Infrastructures have begun to be prepared for a third of the families - those living in Nitzan (north of
Ashkelon), Bat Hadar (just southeast of Ashkelon), and the Halutza Sands (Yated and Yevul, due south of southern Gaza along the Israel-Egypt border).


"The reasons for the lack of a contract," the report explains, "differ from place to place - but the bottom-line fact that the State is not finding solutions causes great difficulties, and leads to a great lack of confidence, directly influencing other areas of life."


"It is now clear that the caravan sites will be home for the uprooted residents for at least five years."

The problems encountered by the government and the residents in their attempt to rebuild their communities are so complex, varied and time-consuming that they increasingly put the lie to the government's 2005 promise "A [housing] solution for every resident."


For instance, Nitzanim, north of
Ashkelon, is now home to 460 families who mainly hail from five former Gush Katif communities.  An agreement to turn the area into fa full-fledged town in the framework of the government's flagship project to resettle ex-Gush Katif residents has been signed, but its implementation has been held up by several issues. Chief among them is the fact that the land was only recently purchased by the government. The government has also reneged on promises to grant the area preferred status.  No solution has yet been found for a packing plant to serve the residents' agricultural industries, an agreed-upon price for land for expellees who are now coming of age [known as the "next generation"], and the transfer of the municipal area from Ashkelon to the Shikmim Regional Council.


Other would-be communities are waiting for the government to order the Defense Ministry to free up areas used for firing ranges, to purchase the land, budgeting of infrastructure connections, access roads, and more.


Unemployment

Unemployment was almost unknown in Gush Katif, yet now,
20 months after the expulsion, joblessness is still high and stands at 37%.  Before the expulsion, the great majority of residents were employed in agriculture, industry, education, and local services, and contributed significantly to the Israeli economy. Of 2,200 who were employed, some 400 people of age 50 and over have essentially given up looking for work.  These 400 were not taken into account when the Employment Bureau recently announced that 75% of Gush Katif's employees had returned to the work pool.


Eligibility for unemployment payments and adjustment funds has long expired. Self-employed workers were never eligible for these funds, and most of them have had no income for the past 18 months... Some 80 non-agricultural businesses have returned to operation, out of 180, but many of them are in dire straits... The State decided on a one-time grant to small business owners, but over 85% of them are not eligible...


Farmers

Some 30% of the families of Gush Katif ran 400 agricultural businesses, raising tomatoes, celery, flowers, and much more.  Only 33 of them have received land to resume operations.

 

The upcoming Shemittah year, when many religious farmers do not work the land, will lead to a situation of four consecutive unproductive years for many of them, from 2004 (when the Disengagement was announced) until 2008.


Emotional Difficulties

Families face hardships and psychological pressures caused by financial difficulties, forced unemployment, an uncertain future, loss of community and friends, tight living quarters, bureaucracy, and the like.  The financial compensation provided by the government for new housing - only 30% of the families have received the full amount; almost all have received partial compensation - is being used by some for day-to-day living.  Some 500 families are aided by welfare organizations.  Of late, an increasing number of families are receiving help from government-provided psychological services.


The implementation of the Evacuation/Compensation Law has shown that it includes many injustices and unfair restrictions. MKs Uri Ariel (National Union) and Avigdor Yitzchaki (Kadima) are leading a drive in the Knesset to legislate changes and improvements to the existing law.  It appears that there is a willingness in the Prime Minister's Bureau to go along with most of the proposed changes.


Conclusion

"The situation is wretched, and the State has failed tremendously.  Despite this, the communities of Gush Katif continue to work and accomplish, and it is clear that once they receive the necessary tools once again - progress on their permanent communities and improvements in the Evacuation/Compensation Law - they will once again be an asset to Israel - active, productive and giving.


"The communities of Gush Katif are a paradigm of mutual responsibility and concern for the collective.  Most of the expellees have remained in the communal framework, hoping to perpetuate their values, ideals and vision that existed in Gush Katif.  Their support for each other is something to be admired.  With the understanding that the community is made up of its members, they are not willing to give up on any one of their members who are considered "ineligible" for whatever reason by the government. They also are concerned for their "next generation," make sure to maintain rich communal life in their temporary sites, and work to ensure the existence of public buildings in their new communities. 

"The communal strength has greatly enabled them to struggle with the various difficulties - but there are no guarantees.  The continuing uncertainty seeps through, and makes every aspect of life more difficult.

"The Gush Katif Residents Committee posits that the rehabilitation of the expellees is largely dependent on the granting of national-priority status to the treatment of the expellees, including detouring the various bureaucratic wrangles that are involved.  The government must make a comprehensive change in its approach to these problems in order to bring an end to this sad chapter as quickly as possible and ease the difficulties of this sector that has suffered greatly."





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