10 business owners in the Southern Jewish village of Nitzan recently received eviction orders from the Treasury Department telling them to close shop and evacuate the premises.
In the letter, which was written by a lawyer representing the administration, the caravillas have been deemed as having been built illegally on state-owned land. While the letter also allegedly promises to replace the structures with offices in a shopping center in a different part of the yishuv, officials say that the eviction notice is uncalled for.
"To understand the absurdity of issuing such a letter, let's go back eight years ago," said a representative of the board of Gush Katif Refugees. "When we came here [after the Disengagement from Gaza in 2005], after six months of moving around, we met with representatives from the Ministry of Housing and were told that a strip mall would be built within the next 3 months," the representative said. Obviously, that center has not yet been built, leaving business owners at a loss for office space.
Nitzan accepted a large number of Gush Katif refugees, who have attempted to rebuild their homes, their lives, and their livelihoods in the beachside village. "They promised us that all of our businesses would have offices in the new center," adds Yosef Gross, one of the business owners sent an eviction notice. "We were forced to build temporary structures because the commercial center project kept being delayed." The Ministry even elected a sign marking a plot of land for the center's building site soon after the refugees' arrival, which has since disappeared.
In the meantime, Gross says, now new center has been erected - not on the proposed site, and not in the new neighborhood of Nitzan, Nitzan B. "Our customers are here," adds Gross. "If they could just give us a normal office center, with decent conditions, we would be fine [with the decision]."
After receiving the notice, the Gush Katif refugee community sent a letter to Housing Minister Uri Ariel, who is officially responsible for their welfare. The committee attached a mandate written at the time of the Disengagement dictating that the government was to build permanent residential and commercial structures on the caravilla site.
"To date, no one has established a commercial center in Nitzan, despite government promises, allocations in the budget, etc." the committee wrote. While the government even erected a construction caravan and began to lay the groundwork, the project was never finished. "We have demanded throughout the ensuing period that the building be finished to meet the needs of hundreds of displaced families," says the letter.
The letter continues, "to evict the business owners from their offices without providing them with replacements is to deprive them of their only way to make a living. Our suggestion is to build a commercial center in a temporary site that could be moved to a permanent place at a later time."
The committee also points out that for 8 years, "the business owners worked from the temporary structures without permits, but still paid property taxes, and even electricity to the municipality because that was the only way they were able to make a living. It makes no sense now (when families will hopefully be moving to the permanent structures in the village) to prevent families from making a livelihood."
The Ministry of Finance has responded that the structures were built illegally, and that buildings without proper permits present a variety of safety hazards, including fire, electrical, water, and other problems, and could "pose a danger to the public." The Ministry also emphasized that the letters were not sent out at random, only being issued after investigations with law enforcement officials and the Department of Justice.