30% of Gaza evacuees still homeless

Six months after evacuation, settlement committee, SELA disagree on figures.

settler on couch 88 (photo credit: )
settler on couch 88
(photo credit: )
Six months after the Gaza disengagement, around 30 percent of the approximately 8,000 people who were forcibly evicted from Gaza are still living in hotels and dozens are being housed in dorms and even tents, according to figures provided by the Committee of Gaza Settlements and by the Disengagement Authority. But aside from those numbers, it is difficult to paint an overall picture of the evacuees' status, as the data issued by the two sides were widely divergent, with the settler committee saying that the basic needs of thousands of people have not been met while the government claimed to have offered reasonable solutions to nearly everyone. The two sides were specifically at odds over their assessments of the two most substantive issues: the housing situation and the compensation packages that the government committed to providing the evacuees upon their withdrawal from Gaza last summer. There was some agreement on the progress toward finding permanent sites for the 21 Gaza communities to rebuild the towns they lost in August, but there was frustration from settlers in that they were not provided greater assistance in finding new jobs. "The biggest problem is that [the government] didn't realize that we are not only 1,800 individual families, [but] communities that had established our own wonderful way of life," said Dror Vanunu, the international coordinator for the Gaza committee. According to a report issued by the Gaza committee and information gathered by The Jerusalem Post from settler spokesmen, 1,027 families that were removed from Gaza now have at least a temporary home, 479 of which are in the caravan community in Nitzan. At least 408 families were not yet provided with temporary housing, the sources said. Of those, 63 families were living in tents and 90 were living in dormitories. Meanwhile, 340 families found their own solutions and were already living in permanent houses, the committee said. The Disengagement Authority painted a much different picture. Only 178 families were still without at least temporary homes, authority spokesman Haim Altman said. The rest, who did have temporary housing, were located in caravans in Nitzan, Yad Binyamin and three different kibbutzim. In Mafki'im and Yad Hanna, families were already living on land they would use to build their future homes and towns, Altman said. However, while some agreement existed regarding the housing situation, there was little if any common ground on the issue of the compensation packages that were promised to former Gaza settlers. According to the Gaza committee, to date, around half of the evacuees received only NIS 50,000 or a down payment on a house. Around 45 families (2.5%) received all of the compensation money, which ranged from around $150,000 to over $300,000 according to the formula developed by the government, and another 45 families received 75% of their package. Around 810 families (45%) had not yet received any money at all from the government, the committee said. "Everyone is responsible for this. The evacuation of Gush [Katif] was well planned; there were 20 months," Vanunu said. "It wasn't a tsunami or [Hurricane] Katrina. All the ministries, SELA [the Disengagement Authority], [and Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon himself" share blame for the situation. The numbers were strongly disputed by Altman, who cited figures provided to him by the Prime Minister's Office Monday that said 889 families (49%) received the full compensation package, 235 (13%) families received 75% of the package, and 445 families (25%) received a down payment between NIS 50,000 and NIS 300,000. To date, Altman said, the government had dispersed more than NIS 1 billion in compensation money to the Gaza evacuees. In response to Vanunu's charge that the government was not prepared for dealing with the evacuees, a Disengagement Authority official said the agency's hands were tied "because the vast majority of the evacuees began to talk to us only after the holidays, after the evacuation. The minute they began to talk, the processes of relocation and compensation accelerated." "The name of the game was cooperation, and the minute the cooperation began, things began to move on better," the official added. In regards to finding permanent homes and land for the Gaza evacuees to build communities, the sides were nearly on the same page. According to Vanunu, three Gush Katif towns have reached agreements with the government on land that will be theirs in perpetuity. Most of the families of Ganei Tal will build homes in Hafetz Haim, Netzarim will move to Yevul in the Negev and Atzmona will relocate to Shomria in the Lachish area. Vanunu added that many other former Gaza communities were nearing decisions and would likely have agreements with the government in place by Pessah. Altman offered a slightly different version of the progress, saying that only the people formerly of Kfar Darom had not chosen a new site to build. He also said the communities now were modified versions of their former selves, with families from some communities mixing together to form different groups with which to build anew. "They have changed, and we have gone with the [new] groups and we have created a variety of solutions according to their will," he said. How long it would take to build the new communities remained a mystery, both sides said. "The building process could take ten years or two years, it depends how much help we're given from the government and the Jewish Agency," Vanunu said. According to an understanding with the government, the settlers were responsible for building their own homes in the new communities while the state would build the infrastructure. When asked how much money the government would allocate to developing the new towns, and when it would place it in the budget, Altman said the Housing Ministry was responsible and not the Disengagement Authority. As of press time, no one at the Housing Ministry was available for comment. Unemployment remained rampant for Gaza evacuees, with around 1,600 people out of the 2,100 who lost their jobs as a result of the disengagement still without work, according to Gaza Committee Alon Hoisman. Many were farmers who had not yet found new land on which to begin growing crops again. That problem was particularly acute now, as the unemployment benefits many of the people were receiving were due to run out in the coming days. According to Hoisman, most of the 500 who had found work did so in the last two months. The vast majority found work by themselves or with the help of a volunteer program and the Web site for the former Gaza residents, www.4katif.org.il, as opposed to assistance from the government, Hoisman said. According to Altman, finding work for the Gaza settlers was also not the Disengagement Authority's responsibility. That lay with the Labor Ministry, he said, which was also unavailable for comment at press time. Despite the many problems settlers have faced in the last half year, the feeling was that the government had become more helpful recently, Vanunu said. The heads of eight former Gaza communities, including the chairman of the Gaza Committee, last week sent a letter to the government urging the retention of Yonatan Bassi as the Disengagement Authority chief. "We feel that things are moving a little bit better, but we are still far, far, far away from solving the problem," Vanunu said.