Hotel Cuts Utilities to Katif Refugees Just Before Sabbath

The expulsion aftermath has brought out the best in many, but the worst in some. An Ashkelon hotel turned off water/electricity on its 50 Gush Katif guest families just 3 hours before the Sabbath.

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Hillel Fendel, | updated: 13:49

The management abruptly turned off the utilities due to a financial disagreement between the management of the Shirat HaYam Hotel and the Disengagement Authority. Some people were caught in mid-shower, while the thoughts of others turned to the fast-approaching Sabbath. Guests who called the hotel desk to inquire about the situation were told, "Yes, the electricity and water have been turned off. You have to leave."

It's not that the guests had no idea that trouble was brewing. A week ago, just over a day before the onset of the Rosh HaShanah holiday, the 50 families received notice that they had three hours to evacuate the hotel. An arrangement was reached later in the day, enabling their continued stay until at least later this week.

The agreement apparently did not hold up, however, and the expellees - from Elei Sinai and assorted other Gush Katif communities - were informed via their electric plugs and water faucets that they had outlasted their welcome.

Tzuri Genish, formerly of the northern Gaza community of Elei Sinai, confirmed the above facts, and added, "When I left the hotel at 7 AM this morning [Sunday], there was talk of possibly moving into the King Saul Hotel in Ashkelon as early as today."

Another expelled Elei Sinai resident, Avi Farhan, who has chosen not to live in a hotel as he searches for where to build his future, related the following:
"On Friday afternoon at 4 PM, Rabbi Yishai Bar-Hen - the rabbi of the three northern Gaza communities of Elei Sinai, Dugit and Nisanit - told me that the hotel had just turned off the electricity and water on all the guests. At first I told him that this simply couldn't be, that it was impossible that they would do such a thing. When he assured me that it had in fact happened, I called my friend Shai Hermesh, the treasurer of the Jewish Agency, who proceeded to call the whole world, including Disengagement Authority head Yonatan Bassi. Bassi sent over many representatives from the Authority to negotiate with the hotel owners, who said that they had a contract with the government for 100 rooms, but that only 80 rooms remained occupied. There were negotiations to take the 22 Elei Sinai families [currently staying in an encampment outside Yad Mordechai] to the hotel, but the families refused. In the end, some agreement was reached, and - get this - two minutes before the onset of the Sabbath, they turned the water and electricity back on."

Farhan himself is a veteran of two expulsions. A resident of Yamit in the Sinai up until 1982, he and his neighbors were thrown out to make way for the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. Farhan, with the encouragement of the government and then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, founded the Elei Sinai - "Towards Sinai" - community in northern Gaza, from which he was expelled two months ago in the framework of Sharon's Disengagement Plan.

Chaim Altman, spokesman for the Disengagement Authority, told Arutz-7 his version of the events:
"We originally had a contract with the Shirat HaYam Hotel until the end of September for all of the hotel's 130 rooms. Beginning this month, we simply don't need that many rooms - but the hotel demanded that we renew the contract under the same terms. Last Sunday, we reached a verbal agreement that the guests would stay until today, Oct. 9, under the terms demanded by the hotel. Then suddenly on Friday, they did what they did, and held the guests as hostages - and we had no choice. On Friday afternoon, we agreed that the guests will remain, again under the same terms, until Saturday night, Oct. 15. We expect to find other arrangements for all the families involved by that date."

Arutz-7's correspondent attempted to reach the Yam Suf Hotels chain that owns Shirat HaYam, and was referred to a public relations agency that no longer represents the chain. In a follow-up call, and in one to the hotel itself, the respective secretaries said that a spokesman would "get back to you." No response had been received by the time this article was published.