Home construction for three expelled Gush Katif communities has begun in three locations - but many other families are now in an even worse situation than they were after the expulsion. Some of the latter, living in Kibbutz Or HaNer and nearby Miflasim, have been told they must leave by August 15.

First the good news: Eight families in Nitzan - the site of the largest concentration of families expelled by the Sharon-Mofaz government from Gush Katif nearly three years ago in the Gaza Disengagement plan - have finally begun building their new, permanent homes. Though the government promised, three years ago, speedy housing solutions for the nearly 1,700 dislocated families, including the rebuilding of the tight-knit communities in new locations, these promises remain nearly entirely unfulfilled.

Dror Vanunu of the Gush Katif Residents Committee reports that Nitzan's families hail mostly from N'vei Dekalim, the largest community in Gush Katif. About 210 of them plan, in the first stage, to rebuild their destroyed homes in the nearby established community of Nitzan, and well over another 100 plan to join them in the second stage. Work on the first handful of houses began last week.

"It's a welcome start," Vanunu told IsraelNationalNews, "but the fact is that about 25% of the families can simply not afford to build. This is because of the low compensation they received in the first place, and because of the fact that the price of building has increased greatly." He added that the construction cost index of three years ago, when the compensation rates were set, is much lower than it is now, and that a court suit demanding linkage to the current rates is being considered.

"The fact is that if the government had not dragged its feet and caused so many delays, construction could have begun earlier, when the prices were closer to what they originally were," Vanunu said.

In Yad Mordechai and Ashkelon, too, groups of former Gush Katif communities have also begun building their houses.

Other Families: Thrown Out, Nowhere to Go
However, most Gush Katif families are still out of luck, not sure where and when their permanent houses will ever be built. Some have even received yet another set of "get out" orders.

The Barda family, for instance, from the former northern Gaza community of Elei Sinai, signed an agreement with the government over three years ago - even before the Disengagement - together with many of their neighbors. Despite this, and despite the three years that have passed, no work at all has begun for their new houses. Not only that, but the Bardas and other families have been told that they must leave the temporary house in which they currently live.

As if that was not enough, they have also been informed that the agreement they signed to build their homes in Talmei Yafeh (5 kilometers southeast of Ashkelon, 10 kms north of Sderot) has expired, as it was signed three years ago!

The Knesset Audit Committee discussed the matter last week, called on the Israel Lands Authority to solve the problem immediately, and scheduled a follow-up meeting for two weeks from now.

One Mother's Story
Mrs. Sigal Barda, mother of three, has written up her harrowing story. Excerpts:

"We lived in Elei Sinai for 15 years, and after the expulsion, we moved with a group of other families to the temporary-housing site in Or HaNer [near Sderot]. We belonged to that [very small] group of families who, despite our absolute opposition to the Disengagement, decided to cooperate with the State and to plan ahead [i.e., consent to leave their houses with no struggle - ed.] in order to minimize the damage and speed up the rebuilding process.

"But looking backwards, we now see how naive we were to think this way, and how much fury it arouses today! We never thought for a moment that we would meet up with such difficult bureacracy and lack of understanding by the State towards law-abiding citizens whose world suddenly collapsed upon them one bright day - through no fault of their own.

"Three years later, we still live in temporary quarters with no hope in sight, struggling every day with Kassam rockets fired upon us directly from the ruins of our homes. We pray and hope that someone will wake up and decide to end our suffering. We have fulfilled our part of the agreement - but what about the State?

Kibbutz Receives House, Family Must Leave
"On Israel's 60th Independence Day, we received from the Kibbutz [Or HanNer] a letter instructing us to leave our caravilla [pre-fab home, designed to last ten years, of the kind allotted to all the expelled families - ed.] by August 15th [the 3rd anniversary of the Disengagement]. Is there no limit to the chutzpah?! I was thrown out of my house and the Kibbutz received a caravilla - and now I have to leave it, to who knows where, in favor of a Kibbutz member?! Where are we to go?!

"I am ashamed to look my children [who objected to our early agreement] in the eye. I promised them a quick rehabilitation, at the price of a quiet and passive departure from our home. But they knew then what I understand only now!

'Don't We Deserve Better?'
"Even if I wanted to rent a house independently [without the rest of my community which we are trying to sustain], the State is allotting us only 2,050 shekels a month [enough for an average apartment building residence, Vanunu said - ed.]. This, after they threw us out of our 160-square-meter (1,722 square feet) house in Elei Sinai and we now live in 90 square meters (970 sq. ft.). Don't we deserve to live, after three years, in something better than that - especially in light of the long way off we still are from our permanent home?!

"We are in total despair, disappointment, and loss of strength... We are raising a new generation, but the values on which we grew up and educated our children have not withstood the test of reality. For our children's sake, we must change things and restore their hope, and I therefore want to call your attention to the national importance in enlisting in the cause of finding ways to solve these problems - with the same 'determination and sensitivity' with which we were thrown out of our homes three years ago."