A ministerial committee decided on Monday that the government can increase the price of land designated for Jews who were expelled from Gaza under the 2005 “Disengagement” plan. The price hike was approved despite previous agreements fixing a lower price.

According to an earlier agreement, those Gaza residents who did not own their own home and wished to join their Gush Katif communities in the Lachish region would be required to pay NIS 148,000 for half a dunam of land (approximately 1/8 of an acre). They will now be forced to pay NIS 225,000 for the same land.

Former residents of Gush Katif said the new price was unrealistically high. When representatives of the communities planning a move to Lachish first toured the area, they said, they were told each plot of land would cost approximately $10,000, at that time NIS 40,000. The communities planned to move to Lachish, a sparsely-populated area between Hevron and Be'er Sheva, in order to remain united and to continue their mission of settling barren spaces in the land of Israel.

Despite the initial offer, the government later demanded NIS 148,000 per plot. A government appraiser said at the time that the land was worth between NIS 125,000 and NIS 150,000, but no more.

Gush Katif expellees who had been planning to move with their neighbors and friends to Lachish filed a petition to the High Court, with the help of attorney Yossi Fuchs, demanding that the government honor its original agreement. The High Court ruled that before increasing the price, the government must hold a ministerial meeting to discuss the matter.

The price hike was easily approved during the poorly-attended ministerial session. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who supported the increase in price, told Gush Katif expellees they were getting a good deal. Land in the Lachish region costs NIS 410,000 per half dunam on average, he said.

Expellees pointed out that the new price was linked to the 2005 index, meaning it would actually be approximately NIS 250,000—a 60 percent increase. Some suggested that the price hike was part of a deliberate attempt to force Gush Katif communities to break up by making it impossibly difficult for former neighbors to build their new homes together.

Despite the committee's decision, attorney Fuchs was hopeful, saying the High Court had not looked favorably at the price increase when addressing his initial petition. The court may overrule the government and require it to abide by its previous commitment, he implied.

$2 Million to cover government shortfall

A similar story was reported by Jews from the Gaza town of Netzer Hazani. Residents of Netzer Hazani, a farming town, planned to move together to an area between Jerusalem and Ashkelon, near Moshav Yesodot.

Government officials obtained permits to build on the land and began building infrastructure—and then came to the Netzer Hazani expellees with a new demand: $2 million to cover a gap between the planned price of the project and its actual cost. Government attorneys sided with the officials, and expellees were left scrambling to find donors to cover the NIS 7 million gap.

The community managed to find the money, but many are unsure how they will afford a home once the land is ready. Members of the community have been without land for the more than three years since the expulsion from Gaza, and so have been unable to rebuild their farms. Without farms, many have been left with no income, and have been forced to use the compensation money they received following the Disengagement to pay for basic necessities.

Jews from other Gaza towns tell a similar story. With unemployment among expellees still high, many have used much of their compensation money and have no way to afford the new houses that the government has promised to offer. The crisis has hit older Gaza expellees particularly hard, as those who had planned to retire in another five or 10 years have no way to pay off a 15 or 20-year mortgage.