Background: Gush Katif evacuee inquiry

"Rehabilitating the evacuees seen as routine."

Gusk Katif -Neve Dekalim 311 (photo credit: Yakov Ben-Avraham)
Gusk Katif -Neve Dekalim 311
(photo credit: Yakov Ben-Avraham)
In May 2005, a frustrated Ariel Sharon, in rolled-up sleeves and an open collar, admonished contractors in Nitzan for not moving fast enough to prepare for the resettlement of evacuees in the coming summer’s disengagement.
“Start working with all your might,” the then-prime minister ordered as he pounded on a car, where maps of government plans had been unrolled for his perusal.
Five years later, the State Commission of Inquiry into the Handling of the Evacuees from Gush Katif and Northern Samaria by the Authorized Authorities found a large gap between the rhetoric and action involved in the treatment of people from 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in northern Samaria.
“Many of the ministries viewed the mission of rehabilitating the evacuees as just another routine matter laid upon their desks, and they set their own agenda for handling it,” stated the 488-page report presented in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
Five years since they lost their homes, according to the report, more than 70 percent of the evacuees still live in temporary dwellings. The report charged that part of the delay was caused by ordinary government bureaucracy.
“The picture formed by the testimony is very worrisome and requires mobilization at the national level to change the situation,” said the report.
Evacuees paid the price for needless bureaucratic obstacles, such as cabinet and Knesset Finance Committee approval for the budgeting of even small amounts of money. They also faced overly “rigid adherence” to tender laws, disputes between ministries, and lack of flexibility and creativity in resolving problems, it said.
The report also charged that in some cases government decisions had simply not been implemented. For example, the 2004 decision to forgive the evacuees’ debts to the World Zionist Organization’s settlement division was frozen until 2008, and was implemented only recently.
In examining other matters, the report said the five-month period between the enactment of the Disengagement Implementation Law and the evacuation itself had not given the evacuees enough time to properly plan their temporary living arrangements.
“This affected both the cost of construction and the quality of the structures, as well as the conditions of the contracts that were hastily signed with receiving settlements,” stated the report regarding modular housing.
The tight timing also meant that evacuees were initially placed in hotels – at great cost to the state and emotional suffering for the families – instead of being transferred directly to the modular homes.
The report chastised some of the evacuees, saying they “made a significant contribution to creating the current dismal reality.” These settlers failed to cooperate with the authorities, tarried where they should have hastened, and made excessive demands, said the report.
In particular, the report attacked the Hof Aza Regional Council, which represented many of the settlers. It charged that through its oppositional attitude toward the disengagement, it “abandoned its role as a government arm that is supposed to act to uphold the law for the benefit of its residents.”
In contrast, it said that the Samaria Regional Council had been “empathetic to the settlers while preparing for the future.”
The report also faulted individual settlers who did not communicate with the government prior to the disengagement, although it said this attitude was understandable and anticipated.
It also said it was unclear whether the lack of cooperation had been a decisive factor in the delays that followed, but added that the state was still primarily responsible for the delays in resettlement.
According to the report, the state in particular erred in its preparations for resettlement by assuming that most of the evacuees would prefer to relocate individually. In actuality, 85 percent insisted that they wanted to relocate together with their neighbors to newly created communities.
Once legislation was created to handle this type of arrangement, no restrictions were placed on the communal relocation agreements, which were designed to allow people who had lived together for years to continue to do so by way of assisting in their rehabilitation.
In some costly instances, however, these agreements were applied to small groups of people who had not been neighbors.
Such agreements “cost the state a fortune” and “granted the settlers excessive benefits that included the allocation of valuable lands in high-demand areas in the center of the country, and created unjustified gaps between different groups of evacuees,” said the report.
The implementation of these community relocation mechanisms “was tainted with failures and constituted one of the main factors in delaying the rehabilitation of the evacuees,” stated the report.
Looking to the future, the report called for all evacuees to be permanently resettled by the end of 2011. It also suggested that the state devise a plan to relocate an entire population, not just for political reasons, but also in the event of a natural disaster or decision to implement a largescale public venture.