Gov't: Evacuee firms fairly treated

'If the business owner is found to be eligible, the money is allocated to him. This is not given as a loan, and no interest is charged, but there are

'If the business owner is found to be eligible, the money is allocated to him. This is not given as a loan, and no interest is charged, but there are loans available as well' The Sela Administration and the evacuee employment assistance center in Ashkelon reject claims by the settlers that the system is at fault, and say that the evacuees had been less than fully cooperative. Evacuated businessmen actually receive "very intensive assistance" from his office, said Avi Duan, director of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry's Ashkelon facility. The center has been in contact with roughly 270 of what he estimates to be 525 businessmen and agriculturists formerly based in the evacuated areas, and is currently servicing one hundred of them. Solutions have been found for more than 50 settlers so far, and 10 have already began working, he said Thursday. "We didn't wait for them to come to us, we have been going to them," said Duan. "Our staff has been to the evacuation centers - hotels, youth hostels, and boarding schools throughout the country - as part of the center's policy of reaching out to the evacuees. Our mission involves helping them get through the crisis phase, to remove feelings of panic, assist their absorption, and provide assistance building links, in finding a new place, and more." The center pairs up evacuee business owners with MATI consultants, who advise them and help them find an appropriate location, based on individual market studies, Duan said. According to Ami Hamtzani, Disengagement Authority director Yonatan Bassi's assistant in charge of compensation, "the state acts almost as if it were the buyer of the business. An estimation of the business's worth is made, and the business owner is paid the value of the business," Hamtzani said. "But the state leaves the business with all of its equipment, reputation, and clientele." "Several of the businesses that have been paid the value of their business have moved to Ashkelon and are continuing to work from there," he said. As non-agricultural businesses, Ohayon, Gez and Noiman have two compensation tracks - financial or property-based - from which to choose. Either the value of the business is calculated as seven years worth of average net profits (but up to eight or nine years for commerce and services businesses), or the business owner is paid a minimum of NIS 180,000 per dunam of property (determined to be the average value of a dunam in the industrial zones of Ashkelon and Israel's south). But those who bought more expensive land - "Even those who bought land in the Erez industrial zone when prices were at their highest" - will be compensated for the full price they paid, plus indexing, Hamtzani said. "This was attacked at the High Court of Justice, and the court upheld [the calculations for compensation]," he related. "Each business owner can decide which track is better for him. We help by calculating which one would bring him more funding - as much as is possible within the bounds of the legislation, and no less. There aren't two sides with conflicting interests here," Hamtzani said. As of Monday (Sept 5), about 110 business owners - mostly from the Erez industrial zone - had submitted complete requests, including 10 agriculturists, up significantly from two weeks ago when only one or two agriculturists had. "The agriculturists are starting to massively submit requests," Hamtzani said. "Their lawyer told us that there are more than a hundred additional requests in preparation." Non-agricultural businesses have maintained a steady rate of ten to twenty complete requests per week, he said. Seven evacuee enterprises had received advances and three had received full compensation. Sela estimates that there were roughly 100 Israeli businesses at the Erez site, 200 non-agricultural enterprises in the Gush Katif bloc, and 400 Israeli agricultural businesses in the whole of the Gaza Strip. "Right when a request is submitted, we get to work establishing the business's legal eligibility," Hamtzani said. "It is a lot of work that takes a long time. Often essential documents are lacking - from lawyers, accountants, the business owner himself - and these must be submitted before the dossier is complete." The decision must be rendered within 60 days of the request's completed submission, but is generally given before time is up, Hamtzani said. Once the decision is published, payment must be given within another 45 days. During this period, creditors may submit claims for debts to be taken directly from the compensation money. To buoy businesses through the transition period, advance payments on compensation may be collected, following a shorter procedure to assess its eligibility "in principal" - instead of the full calculation - and a "minimal amount" is quickly approved, Hamtzani said. "If the business owner is found to be eligible, the money is allocated to him. This is not given as a loan, and no interest is charged, but there are loans available as well." "People have complained that the process takes a long time, but that is because not all the materials are submitted on time and due to calculations, since the legislation is complex," Hamtzani conceded. All in all, once the file is submitted in full, it takes two or three months for the business to see the money, he said. Yair Gurfinkel presented an account largely concurring with Hamtzani's depiction of the process. Together with his father, Gurfinkel, 29, of Givatayim, had a carpentry shop producing mostly tables and chairs at Erez industrial zone for 14 years - until the site was cut off from its Palestinian labor force and abandoned at the end of 2004, in anticipation of the disengagement. The compensation process "went quite smoothly," he said. "It just required a lot of time and energy, like any bureaucratic procedure. Within two and a half months, it was complete. It all depends on how you work with the [Sela] Administration." He received his compensation two months ago. With a yearly turnover of NIS 1.5 million, Gurfinkel's business employed 15 Palestinians from Khan Yunis and elsewhere in the Gaza Strip. Gurfinkel moved the business to Holon's industrial zone, trimming down his workforce to four and shifting his focus from in-house production to selling furniture, roughly 60% of which is imported and 40% domestically produced. "I didn't wait for August 15. I saw that the area was going to be evacuated, and any time that I would sit there and not submit the forms would hurt me in the future."