The Public Investigative Committee on Gush Katif has begun its second stage of hearings in its probe of the government’s failure to permanently resettle the Gush Katif expellees even now, four years afterwards.
The first four hearings, in which government officials testified, took place last month. Yonatan Bassi and Tzivya Shimon, the two successive heads of the Sela Administration, which was charged with aiding the expellees, testified, as did representatives from the Housing Ministry and Employment Service.
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Now has come the residents’ turn. Doron Ben-Shlomi, Chairman of the Katif Expellees Committee, took the stand on Sunday and said, “The one thing that kept us rational and sane throughout these four years was the fact that we remained together and wish to continue to remain together. This sense crossed all boundaries – religious, secular, farmers, non-farmers – and this was our motto.”
The decision to establish the investigative committee was made by the Knesset Audit Committee back in July 2008.
Residents Contest Gov’t Accusations
Constantly in the background was the accusation that the residents did not cooperate with the authorities before the expulsion. “We had one struggle,” Ben-Shlomi said, “and that was to remain in Gush Katif and cancel the decree. We never talked about how much money we would receive afterwards, and the like. This was our belief and our strength.”
“It is a mistake to say that because of us, the government wasn’t ready to take care of us afterwards. The government knew all along that we wanted to remain together in our communities, but it did not do the minimum necessary… The government was both mean and ineffectual.”
Three Towns are Set
The Disengagement of 2005 saw the destruction of 25 Jewish towns – 21 of them in Gaza/Gush Katif and four in northern Shomron – and the displacement of close to 9,000 people from their homes and towns of nearly 25 years. Nearly all of them spent several months in hotels and other temporary camps before moving to newly-built temporary homes and communities, with the barest of infrastructures – in Nitzan, Ein Tzurim, Yad Binyamin and elsewhere.
Only a small portion of the communities have a definite schedule, more or less, for the coming years. The community of Ganei Tal, currently living in Yad Binyamin, has signed an agreement to build a permanent town alongside Chafetz Chaim, and construction is scheduled to start in September or October. Similarly, some 30 families from Netzer Hazani, currently living in Ein Tzurim, will move into their new town near Yesodot. Finally, several dozen families in Yad Binyamin will remain there and build a new community there.
The others, however, are still up in the air.
Kalfa: Legislation is Required
Another resident who testified was Lior Kalfa, a leader of the struggle against the expulsion and who now serves as the “mayor” of the N’vei Dekalim community in the temporary site of Nitzan. “I am trying to be optimistic,” he said, “that the government will finally take responsibility and provide solutions in the form of genuine legislation. Just like our expulsion was legislated into law, and contractors received exemptions so that they could build our temporary sites as fast as possible, today as well the solutions must be in the form of laws.”
“At the time of the expulsion,” Kalfa summed up after his testimony, “we were all busy with the struggle itself, and we were not involved in finding solutions for afterwards – and we are proud of this – but the Legal Forum, headed by Atty. Yitzchak Meron, was authorized to speak for us. Unfortunately, however, Tzipi Livni, who was Justice Minister at the time, brushed them aside and did not deal with them…”
“In addition,” Kalfa said, “Yonatan Bassi testified that three months after the expulsion, he knew exactly where each community wanted to go – so why is it that now, nearly four years afterwards, we are still in the same places?”
Kalfa is critical of the Supreme Court, which ratified the relevant expulsion laws four and five years ago: “The judges didn’t even bother to come and visit Gush Katif before making their decision. It is too bad that they did not see the unique fabric of life in Gush Katif and its special creativity.”
“The Justice Ministry were able to prepare the legal groundwork for [then-Prime Minister and Disengagement-architect] Ariel Sharon to carry out his plan,” Kalfa said, “but now, when solutions are required, we encounter a wall of bureaucratic obstacles that remain unsolved even now.”
“The expulsion had a clear deadline,” Kalfa said. “If there would be a similarly ‘sacred’ date by which the permanent communities had to be built, things would look different. A timeline can and must still be legislated even now.”
Examples of technical difficulties that prevented resettlement included “two years in which the government simply did not do what was necessary to unfreeze 142 plots of land… a high-tension wire that prevented the marketing of six plots… etc.”