40% of evacuees still waiting for lots

Disengagement Authority: Resettlement of Gaza evacuees to cost more than NIS 6 billion.

evacuation morag 298 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
evacuation morag 298 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Close to three years since they were pulled from their homes, 40.2 percent of the Gaza evacuees are still waiting for lots on which to build their new homes, according to statistics released Sunday by the Sela Disengagement Authority at a press conference in Ashkelon. Out of those 547 families, 15.5% - 211 families - won't be able to start construction for at least another nine months due to infrastructure work in their new communities, according to the authority. Slightly more than 13% - 180 families - are likely to get their housing lots in a month, pending the resolution of a boundary dispute over the Nitzanim site outside of Ashkelon, according to the authority. A lawsuit filed by the evacuees regarding the Lachish site has kept 8.1% - 111 families - from working on their new homes. And 3.3% - 45 families - are only in the initial stages of site development. However, according to Disengagement Authority head Tzvia Shimon, 43% - 586 families - have received housing lots and can start construction. According to the authority, 1,941 families applied for housing compensation as a result of the August 2005 disengagement in which the government evacuated 21 communities in the Gaza Strip and four in northern Samaria. The cost of resettling those 1,941 families will total more than NIS 6 billion, NIS 4.3b. of which has already been spent. Included in the NIS 6b. figure are NIS 2.1b. for infrastructure and NIS 1.7b. in direct compensation payments to the families. But in compiling their housing chart for the press conference, the authority only calculated the fate of the 1,359 evacuee families who are fully eligible for housing compensation and have 24 communal housing sites set aside for them. The 582 families not included in the authority's chart include those who had rented their homes in Gaza and second-generation settlers who lived with their parents at the time of the disengagement but who now need their own homes. Out of the 1,359 families, 16.6% - 226 families - chose to take individual housing options and have used their compensation funds to buy new homes. A majority of the remaining 1,133 families want to rebuild in communal settings with their former neighbors and as a result are living in modular homes in temporary communal settings as they wait to construct their new permanent homes. Out of those families, only 586 can start to build. But only some 60 to 70 have actually started work on their homes, according to the evacuees, who plan to hold a protest outside the Knesset at 4 p.m. Monday to protest the slow pace at which the government has moved to provide them with new homes. Initially, the government promised that the resettlement process would take two years, but after the disengagement backed down from that timetable. At Sunday's press conference, Shimon refused to provide a new schedule for the completion of the new homes and would only say that the authority was working as fast as possible, particularly given that in many cases, it was creating new communities from scratch. "It's unprecedented," said Shimon. Still, she blamed the delay in part on disputes between the authority and the evacuees, who - she said - have been loath to trust the authority. "These people have gone through a very hard process. We are doing our utmost to show them that we are here for them. We are working day and night for them," she said. "There is a difference [in the resettlement process] between those who believe in us and those who don't," she said. But Dror Vanunu, formerly of Neveh Dekalim, blamed the government for not providing the authority with enough power to push the process along. He, his wife and their four children live in a 90-meter modular home in Nitzan, near Ashdod, which is the largest of the modular communities. Vanunu's family is among those that could already be building, the authority calculates. But while Vanunu can walk to the construction site a short distance from his community of modular yellow homes, and dream of what the new home would look like, he still can't actually hire someone to drive a shovel into the dirt. Vanunu said that although he was assigned a housing lot in October, the authority continued to work on the lot's infrastructure and he was only given its actual measurements in March. He is hopeful that once he completes the bureaucratic process, he can start building in August. If all goes well, Vanunu said, he should be in a new home in August 2009, four years after he was removed from his old one. But he is concerned that planning has not yet started for schools, synagogues and the other communal structures necessary for daily life. Down Route 4, in the small community of Bar Hadar, David Zadon's only worry is where to put the furniture. His new 250-square-meter home with its large porches and sweeping view of a nearby orchard is almost complete. In one corner of his yard is a small stone fountain. A designer table and bench are already set up on a patio. Getting to this point, said Zadon - who formerly lived Elei Sinai - has taken three-and-a-half years. He was among those who didn't wait until the disengagement was complete to start planning for his new home and still, it has taken until now to finish the work, Zadon said. Like Vanunu, he blamed the government, and not the authority. No amount of money, he said, can compensate him for the time the resettlement project has stolen from his life. But all that is now in the past, he said. "I'm an optimist. I'm looking forward, not backward," Zadon said.