More than 2,000 days – nearly six years – after the expulsion from Gush Katif, the former Gush Katif residents say they are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but that “we have learned from experience that there is still a long way ahead.”
The Gush Katif Residents Committee issued a progress report today, marking one year since the publication of the governmental investigatory committee’s report on the status of the expelled residents
“Whoever comes to the building sites of the new communities,” the report begins, “feels the momentum of building: In N’vei Dkalim, Nitzan, and the Halutza Sands, families are beginning to enter their new homes… But despite the long time that has passed, very difficult issues still have no solution: there is still no concrete plan to suitably compensate the growers; there is no solution for families suffering from the shattering effects of the expulsion who are unable to rebuild homes; there is still no clear governmental timetable for the completion of the permanent communities.”
On the positive side, tractors are busy at work to establish four new communities in eastern Lachish, and in Nachal Sorek, infrastructure construction is being accelerated for the former residents of Netzer Hazani and Ganei Tal.
The residents credit the governmental committee’s report and recommendations for major steps towards the displaced citizens, to lobbying pressure in the Knesset and the work of new Tnufa Administration (former the Sela office under Yonatan Bassi) chief Bentzy Lieberman. “He has delved deeply into the problematic issues,” the residents say, “together with the director-general of the Prime Minister’s office, Eyal Gabai, and there is now an atmosphere of work and definite progress in a considerable portion of the issues at hand.”
Though the economy of Gush Katif was largely agricultural, with some 240 agricultural farms in operation at the time of the expulsion, only about 100 agricultural land owners have begun to farm again. Only 52 growers from farming communities received land, and, largely because of the poor infrastructures, only a small number of them have returned to cultivating at a substantial level.
Due to their age and their post-expulsion condition, many growers are incapable of returning to the workforce – yet they are ineligible for any retirement benefits or pension. In addition, the government compensation for land and greenhouses is not equal to their actual worth. Many of the former farmers are also suffering from legal charges pursued by their former Gazan workers, who are demanding compensation for their abrupt “dismissal.”
Regarding permanent housing for the displaced residents - their most pressing need - the report states that out of the 1,450 families that have continued in a Gush Katif community framework, only some 230 - about 16% - have actually moved in to their newly-built, permanent homes.
The 21 communities of Gush Katif are scheduled to be relocated in some 23 locations, in various combinations of families from different towns. Of the 23, many are new neighborhoods in existing villages; a few are completed, some should be ready later this year, and some have not even begun to be built.
Approximately 180 families have still not begun preparing for building infrastructure for a permanent home. Many of them - the Bnei Menashe community, young families, and those that lost their income sources – found themselves in a financial crisis and are unable to build a permanent home without assistance.
The matter of businesses, their re-establishment and/or compensation thereof, has been a matter of “2,000 days of challenges, debates, endless meetings and discussions with Knesset Members, government representatives, the SELA Authority and the investigatory committee, and various attempts at legislation,” the report states. Some conclusions have been reached, though they have yet not been implemented.
The unemployment rate among the former Gush Katif residents is 18%, and underemployment stands at 20%. This contrasts with the 5% unemployment rate that existed in Gush Katif itself. Currently the only group working to alleviate this is JobKatif, a non-profit private organization that is subsidized at a 50% rate for its expenses. Though it has been very successful, it must deal with objective factors such as the age of the job seekers (many of them are over 50) and their lack of stable home conditions that makes retraining difficult. Problem causes problem, and many families are using their compensation monies for daily living expenses instead of saving them for house construction.