(photo credit: )
The Bardas did not wait for a building permit, and consequently they are streets ahead of their neighbors, possessing something unique for Gaza evacuees: a new house.
Indeed exactly two years after disengagement, only the Barda family, out of the 1,400 evacuees who opted to resettle together with their communities, have successfully built and now live in a permanent home.
Otherwise, only the 200 families who moved individually, without their communities, have permanent homes, according to the Sela Disengagement Authority.
The majority of the evacuees - some 87 percent - chose to relocate with their communities. Far from already living in permanent accommodation like the Bardas, just 30 or 40 of these families have even begun construction.
The Bardas, formerly of Pe'at Sadeh in Gush Katif, are so far ahead of that communal curve that they moved into their new home last Rosh Hashana. Next in line are their neighbors then and now, the Hemo family, who plan to enter their large gray-and-stone home next month.
"Yes, we're the criminals," joked Shay Hemo, who was also only able to begin building early because he didn't wait for final legal authorization. Both families have since received the permits.
Looking out at the temporary yellow home that still sits on their lawn next to their new stucco-and-stone one, Havazelet Barda said she felt vindicated in not having waited for the bureaucratic green light; for the Bardas, the Hemos and the 24 other families who moved together to Moshav Mavki'im, near the northern Gaza border, that formal authorization to build only came through a few months ago.
The trauma of the enforced move, exacerbated by the shift from their former 360-meter house to the 90-meter "caravilla" in Mavki'im was too much for Barda, her husband and the four of their five children still living at home.
"I felt like I was choking," she recalled, holding her hand to her throat. "I told my husband: 'Build fast.'"
But what really galvanized Amos Barda was the barrage of mortar shells that fell only a short distance from their lawn in the moshav just weeks after they arrived in the fall of 2005. "We had them in Gush Katif, as well, but there, the house was protected. Here, it wasn't," said Havazelet Barda.
The story of the small Pe'at Sadeh settlement differs from that of the other 24 communities evacuated from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria. It was the first settlement to agree to leave, and therefore had already come to an understanding with the government by December 2004.
There was no need to hand out evacuation notices; the families had all gone by the time the soldiers arrived to pull residents out of the other Gush Katif settlements on August 17, 2005. When the soldiers entered Pe'at Sadeh, all they found was dead silence and orange graffiti spray-painted on the empty houses by the departed residents.
The Pe'at Sadeh families moved to a site where much of the pre-planning and utility work had been done. Even more significant, their modular homes were placed on the same lots where their permanent homes were slated to be built.
Even then, the process took a long time. The site was ready for construction a year and a half ago, according to the Disengagement Authority, but an ongoing dispute with the moshav's veteran residents delayed the process for over a year.
The time-consuming affair of communal resettlement is even more complicated for evacuees who, unlike the residents of Pe'at Sadeh, did not choose a site for their new communities until after disengagement. The evacuees, in turn, say the process has been fraught with unnecessary bureaucracy.
But the tide on that is turning, according to the authority, which predicts that most of the families will have homes in the next two to three years.
Some 160 families now have permission to build, says Sela, adding that most of those began the process prior to disengagement.
At the beginning of September, the authority plans to hold a lottery to get some 250 families in Nitzan started on the construction stage.
Barda said she was lucky: She hadn't had to wait for a green light, because she already owned her new moshav property and her husband was a contractor. Also, she said, they built relatively small: 160 meters.
Initially, she said, they received threatening letters from the government, ordering them to stop the work. They ignored them because the worst had already happened when they'd lost their Pe'at Sadeh home, she said.
"You should have seen it," she said sadly. "I would open the windows and see the sea." Now, she looks out on a landscape of fields dotted with electrical wires.
So while she is glad to be in a new house, Barda said, "it doesn't feel like home. I don't know why, I don't connect to it."
Her heart is still in Gush Katif, she said. "If [the government] would let me return, I would. Three of my children were born there. I miss it very much. Each time I see it on television, I start to cry."
What has helped, she said, is that she still lives with all her friends. So when she walks outside, she sees familiar faces.
Hemo, whose new home towers above the Bardas' on the other side of the road, said that what helped him was the construction work on his home, which he began within half a year of leaving Gaza.
What he had most wanted to do after being forced to leave Gaza was to return to normal. "You need a home," he said. "How much can you live in the shadow of the evacuation?"
He hadn't built in Pe'at Sadeh. He and his family had moved into an existing 160-meter home there. In Mavki'im, Hemo said, he had built a 360-square-meter structure for himself, his wife and their four children. And unlike Barda, he is most certainly houseproud: "It is the most beautiful home," he said.