Daily Israel Report

Comptroller´s Report Scathes Disengagement Executors

Now it's official: "The State and its institutions failed in their treatment of the expelled citizens of Gush Katif," according to the State Comptroller's just-released detailed report.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 3/8/2006, 9:24 AM / Last Update: 3/8/2006, 11:34 AM

State Comptroller and former Judge Micha Lindenstrauss concluded that the Sela (Aid for the Expellees) Administration, the Prime Minister's Office, the State Service Commission and the Finance Ministry were all at fault.

In sharp language, Lindenstrauss described the culture of decision-making that led to the crisis: "One thing dragged along another, and things got stuck. Everyone worked with the approach of 'Trust me, it will be OK' - until it was too late... The Prime Minister [Ariel Sharon] and Finance Minister [Binyamin Netanyahu] did not steer their workers properly. The relevant ministers should have used all their influence to push things forward...

"We are aware of the fact," Lindenstrauss writes, "that the bodies that were established for the evacuation and absorption of the residents had to work in non-routine conditions, but this report shows that there were grave mistakes in their preparation, which caused harm to the evacuees and caused them unnecessary and very painful suffering."

The report states that it is not yet too late, calling to "give top priority to the re-settlement and rehabilitation of the those who were evacuated. Every delay in this matter is a clear expression of an ongoing failure. The evacuated residents deserve immediate help, and the sooner, the better.

"Many months have passed since the Disengagement, and many families are still in temporary housing, with no employment. There is no doubt that the residents - children, adults, elderly and babies - suffered a difficult trauma because of their evacuation and the way in which they were removed from Gaza. They paid a very heavy personal price due to the withdrawal... It is obligatory to investigate in depth the failures described herein."

Lack of Preparation
Lindenstrauss outlines in detail how the Sela Administration, headed by Yonatan Bassi, did not prepare in advance to absorb the nearly 9,000 expellees immediately after their uprooting. On the very day of the expulsion, August 17, 2005, Sela suddenly realized that its previous predictions had been wrong, and that over 1,000 families were expected to leave Gaza within a 2-day period. The Prime Minister's Office abruptly asked to rent hotel rooms on an emergency basis.

The Prime Minister's Office later claimed that it had been operating based on Defense Ministry assumptions that the expulsion would take 4-5 weeks, when in fact it took only 8-9 days.

It was also known two months before the expulsion that the temporary housing would not be ready in time, and that many families would have to be housed in hotels for "relatively long periods." The ministerial committee headed by Prime Minister's Office Head Ilan Cohen decreed in July 2005 that no one should remain in a hotel longer than 7-10 days - but at the same time, Sela knew that this period would have to last more than two weeks. On August 14, the ministerial committee extended the expected hotel stays by an additional two weeks.

In the event, of course, hundreds of families were forced to remain in hotels and dormitories for several months. Currently, nearly seven months later, 104 families are still in hotels, and another 150 families are still in other make-shift homes such as dormitories and caravans.

Not Enough Employees
Lindenstrauss also concluded that the Sela Adminisration failed in other ways to prepare for the expellees. These included not recruiting a sufficient amount of employees and not filling critical positions. Bassi was "alert to this problem, and even sent a sharp internal memo about it," the report states, "but it was not found that he raised the issues in all their sharpness before his superiors."

Sela also did not prepare temporary housing centers as it should have. It prepared for only seven such centers, when in fact, the amount that were actually used was 31. Sela allocated employees to only 25 of these. Five educational facility dormitories were not assigned any Sela workers at all.

Sela explained this by saying that the communities in which the dormitories were located "provided the necessary manpower for the treatment of the expellees."

Seven administrative directors were each responsible for more than one center, and many of the workers were "recruited hastily, without the proper training... Sela did not receive proper reports from the centers - some of them did not report at all, some of them reported only once, and most of the reports were lacking in critical information that could have helped improve the work in the housing centers."

Suffering From the Very Outset
The report gives a negative citation to the police for the way in which it handled the busing of the residents out of their homes in Gush Katif to their first stop in exile. Many residents complained of great suffering during these trips, including long delays amidst great uncertainty, rides of up to ten hours, drivers who refused to make bathroom stops, and the like. The police said that the long rides were due to "changes in destination and difficulties on the roads."

Sela was not exempted from criticism in this area as well. The report states:
"Sela documents show that in July 2005, it planned to have a social worker on each evacuee bus leaving from Kisufim, but in the event, each bus was accompanied only by a police representative. Sela responds that it changed its mind on this issue, but no documents attesting to this change were found, and therefore no explanation for this change was found."

No Access to Their Property
The painful problem of the residents' property - an issue that was assigned to the Defense Ministry - is still far from solved. Some 210 containers containing the property of expelled families are still standing at the Kastina junction, untouched by their owners for the past nearly seven months. The Comptroller's report concludes that hundreds of families were cut off from their property for many months, and that many complaints of damaged or stolen property have still not been addressed because of an unresolved dispute between Sela and the Defense Ministry.

In July 2005, the Defense Minister told a Knesset committee that the families would have access to the containers - but in August, a Cabinet decision overturned this. The government decided that the families would only be able to access their containers once, and that they would then have to move them to their permanent homes - which did not exist.

Comptroller Lindenstrauss concludes, "Under these circumstances, it would be fitting for the Defense Ministry and Sela to reconsider whether the families can remove some of their belongings from the containers, and if they decide affirmatively - they should inform the government so that a new decision can be made."