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Who Will Pay for Construction Freeze Losses?

What of the financial losses suffered by ordinary citizens because of the construction freeze in Judea and Samaria? A Knesset committee is onto it.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 1/12/2010, 3:52 PM / Last Update: 1/12/2010, 3:36 PM

What of the financial losses suffered by ordinary citizens because of the construction freeze in Judea and Samaria? The Knesset Finance Committee is onto it.

The committee held a stormy session Monday morning regarding the financial losses suffered by ordinary citizens as a result of the construction freeze in Judea and Samaria. Several MKs were up in arms upon learning that the Defense Ministry has put away 30 million shekels for compensation - without telling anyone.

A Ministry spokesman said that the money was not publicized because only five requests for compensation had been submitted. “How do you expect people to know where to submit their requests, and under what criteria, if you don’t publicize the information?” several enraged MKs asked.

Losses are being suffered by construction companies, apartment-buyers, and many more; see below.

Shomron Regional Council chairman Gershon Mesika, who also participated in the session, said afterwards, “The Finance Ministry says they will set the criteria for compensation according to the complaints that are received. No one knows where to turn to, and they say the spokesman was supposed to do it. Totally sloppy and amateurish. They prepared the freeze at great speed, but whatever has to do with compensation – they take their time."

“The freeze orders were prepared weeks in advance, yet they did not prepare appropriately how they would compensate those who would be hurt,” Ariel said. “This is cruel abuse in the full sense of the term.”

Ariel and Mesika both noted that the Defense Ministry has promised to approve the construction of necessary school buildings and classrooms – but in fact, approved only 28 out of 116.  “Where do they want us to put our school children next year," Mesika demanded, "in bomb shelters? In refugee camps?  This is total abuse and mockery of an entire population sector.”

Committee chairman MK Moshe Gafni said that he would convene a session again next Wednesday, and demanded that the Finance and Defense Ministries set clear criteria for receiving freeze-related compensation by then.

Real Estate Agent Speaks Out
Jerusalem-area real estate agent Shelly Levine told Israel National Radio’s Yishai Fleisher that the freeze harms not only “religious settlers,” but also young couples, construction companies, real estate agents like herself, Israel’s demographics, and more:

“Since I’ve begun working in Maaleh Adumim, for instance, I’ve always had dozens of apartments for sale at any one time; I would be halfway through a project and then another tender would come out. But now, there hasn’t  been a tender there for 3-4 years. So we started working on something nearby in Mitzpeh Yericho, in which a lot of money was invested, and then the government suddenly froze it. We were working, for almost a year, on a beautiful project in Hashmonaim for 60 apartments and an assisted-living center; the investor invested a fortune of money in buying the land, architectural plans, etc. – and we were just about to get the permit and then the gov’t stopped it…  

"I have ten employees working for me, but now I have no way to support them; I don’t have enough apartments to sell...

"This does not only affect religious people; there was a woman at the committee session who paid a million shekels for a plot of land in Har Adar, just barely over the Green Line – and now she’s stuck, crying that she can’t afford to pay mortgage on the land, together with rent, and the other costs – and she didn’t even know Har Adar was over the Green Line! …

“And construction companies are very hard-hit, and it will raise prices all over the country. There are not enough places to build, and many companies don’t know how to stay afloat. There’s going to be a tender in Modiin in a few days, and it’s obvious that all the builders are going to participate, because they have nowhere else - and since the highest bidder wins, the price will go up there as well, and everywhere else. So it doesn’t only affect Judea and Samaria; it’s a problem for the whole country.

"In short, young couples who would ordinarily buy in outlying areas outside Jerusalem now have nowhere to buy; young American couples might simply leave the country. So this freeze is a disaster for me, as I have nothing to sell, and for builders, who have nowhere to build, and for young couples, who have nowhere to buy, and for Aliyah as well.”

Looking towards the future, Levine said,
“I don’t see how we will ever be able to resume construction; Israel has essentially admitted that we did something wrong by living in Judea and Samaria, even though we have done nothing wrong, and if we try to resume when the ten months are over, then the world will impose such sanctions upon us that it will be very hard for the government to overcome them.”