Meir Muller, a resident of Neveh Dekalim for seven years, currently housed in the Jerusalem Gold hotel, received a phone call on Sunday evening from a Jerusalem representative of the Disengagement Authority (Sela), telling him to go to Nitzan the following day to pick up the key for his caravilla. Muller made the hour-long trip to the mobile-home site, only to be informed by the Sela representative that a mistake had been made and he was not entitled to a caravilla because he had rented his home from a private party.
In a perplexing discrepancy, the Disengagement Law gave full compensation rights to public renters (those who rented from government agencies), including the value of the property they lived in, but very limited compensation to private renters. Most notably, private renters are not entitled to move to the caravilla communities together with their neighbors, which essentially cuts them off from their support structure, even if they lived in Gush Katif their entire life.
Says Muller, an educator, "When we first moved to Neveh Dekalim seven years ago, I was offered the choice of renting from the local council, but in the end I chose to rent from a private individual - I never imagined that my decision would have such drastic ramifications."
David and Ella Hoffman, good friends of the Mullers, were shocked to hear of his latest indignity, "Two weeks ago Meir was told he was being thrown out of the hotel within the week because he was just a private renter and they had been doing him a 'favor' letting him stay until now. Where is he supposed to go? He's lived with us for years. So far they've let him stayâ€¦but to offer him a caravilla and raise his hopes and then say it was all a mistake is adding insult to injury."
Among those refused caravillas are resident's adult children who had established their own homes in Gush Katif communities. Yisrael Golan, 25, moved to Neveh Dekalim as a toddler with his parents, Chavi and Yitzchak Golan, who helped found the community. When Yisrael married a few years ago, there were no available public rentals available so he rented privately until a public rental became available. But according to the letter of the law, which only takes into account his years as a public renter, Golan falls under the category, "Not Eligible." "If he had been able to move in to his public rental home six months earlier, he would be fine," says his pained father, Yitzchak, speaking from the Shalom Hotel, "Even though Yisrael has lived in Neveh Dekalim almost his entire life, the Authority will not allow him to move with us to Nitzan. Our community council declared him eligible for a caravilla, yet the Authority says he isn't and they are the landlords. If they don't allow my son to move to Nitzan, we won't move there either!"
Golan adds that it's not as if the issue is a lack of space. The young couple could move into one of the small caravillas that none of the other families fit into and are hence standing empty. He says, "Instead of showing understanding and trying to help, it seems that Sela is being deliberately cruel."
The Neveh Dekalim Council has been negotiating to allow all the renters to remain with the community, and Muller holds onto hope that he will eventually be assigned a caravilla. He adds, "My 15 year old daughter has lived in Neveh Dekalim since she was young, her friends are from there, she goes to the local Ulpana [currently relocated to Givat Washington]. It would be a disastrous blow to her to be told she cannot live together with everyone."
Head of the Neveh Dekalim Council, Lior Kalfa was himself a private renter, but because he had purchased a piece of land and begun building a home in Neveh Dekalim, he is considered eligible and received the key to his new, temporary home in Nitzan on Tuesday. Kalfa too is hopeful that they will find a solution for all the renters. He also sheds light on the reason for Muller's futile journey which was apparently not an isolated instance, "Before allotting the caravillas to our residents, we held a lottery so that it would be decided fairly. We included all the members of our community, whether they owned or rented. We gave the list to the Sela representative, who apparently just went down it calling people up without checking their status according to their own records."
Disengagement Authority spokesperson, Haim Altman, responded that the Neve Dekalim representatives had asked to oversee the allotment of the caravillas to the families. Sela agreed to their request, with the understanding that the homes would only be allotted to those eligible according to the law. Adds Altman, "If something different was done that caused distress to an evacuee, the responsibility for this does not lie with Sela." Regarding the future of the private renters, Altman said, "We are making progress in finding a creative solution for these families."