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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Former Gaza farmers rallied on Sunday to demand that the government fully reimburse them for the land and money that they lost when they were evacuated from their homes two years ago.
Saying the government has failed to keep promises to fully compensating them for the loss of their farms, hundreds of protesters gathered outside Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office in Jerusalem.
Olmert, they said, should wake up and focus on his own people instead of the Palestinian terrorists. Some demanded his resignation. They called on the government to help them rebuild their homes and livelihoods.
A Palestinian choice (editorial)
According to the May State Comptroller's Report, some NIS 2.3 billion has been paid in personal compensation to the 8,800 people who were forced to leave their homes in the Gaza Strip and four northern Samaria communities in August 2005.
But the evacuees said this was not enough to replace their losses, and that this was particularly true of the farmers, of whom only 10 percent have returned to work.
Those who have rebuilt their nurseries have done so with their own resources, they said.
"The government is acting inhumanely toward the residents of Gush Katif," said MK Zevulun Orlev (National Union-National Religious Party), who marched alongside the protesters.
"Just as the government enacted a new law to allow for the disengagement, they should pass a new law to help these people now. They are only refusing to do so for political reasons, but I am working very hard on their behalf."
"We are only trying to get back what is rightfully ours and what we deserve," said Aharon Hazut, one of the event's organizers, and a former resident of Gan-Or.
"But the government is sleeping. They don't care about us and they don't give us answers," he said.
About 400 of the Gaza families owned plots of land. Their lifestyles, like those of their neighbors, were severely affected by the evacuation and the loss of the income from that land.
Now that two years have passed and many of the evacuees lack jobs and permanent homes, it has become apparent that the government did not fulfill its promises, the evacuees said.
"Everything that they told us was a lie," said Yaakov Bar-Shalom, formerly of Ganei Tal.
Bar-Shalom has started growing his geraniums once more, in Ashkelon, but since his temporary home in Yad Binyamin is far from Ashkelon, it is difficult for him to monitor their progress. He is not turning a profit, because he has only half the land and plants that he did when he lived in Gaza.
Many protesters expressed anger at the government for only partially compensating them.
"I only got 60 percent of the value of my hot houses, and it took a very long time to get that money because of the bureaucracy," said Aviva Cohen, who used to live in Gadid.
Cohen now lives in Nitzan, one of the places being used as a temporary refugee camp.
"I used to grow green vegetables, but now I can't because the land that I was given is not good and I am not allowed to build on it," said Cohen.
The crowd was addressed by Orlev, as well as by representatives from different areas in Gaza.
"We will succeed in this struggle," Orlev assured the participants. "We are fighting back and we will not be ignored."
The protesters wore white shirts adorned by green letters identifying them as farmers from Gush Katif.
One man drove a blue tractor to symbolize the plight of his fellow farmers.
Many held signs appealing to the government to return "our sustenance, our respect and our homes."
The protesters chanted, "There was no solution provided for any resident," in a mocking echo of the government's original pledge in 2005 that there would be a solution provided for everyone involved in the evacuation.
The demonstrators have erected a tent where they plan to have representatives rallying continuously over the next few days, until Tisha Be'av next week.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.