Bassi: Evacuees didn't know what they wanted

During state probe, former Disengagement Authority chair blames former residents of Gaza settlements.

evacuees in hotel 248 88 (photo credit: Courtesy [file])
evacuees in hotel 248 88
(photo credit: Courtesy [file])
The reason that resettling the evacuees from Gush Katif is taking so long is because they did not know what they wanted and refused to cooperate with the government before the 2005 withdrawal, Yonatan Bassi, the first head of the Sela Administration for Assistance to Settlers from the Gaza Strip and Northern Samaria, said on Sunday. Bassi was speaking at the first public session of the State Commission of Inquiry into the Handling by the Authorized Authorities of the Evacuees from Gush Katif and Northern Samaria. At a press conference earlier in the morning, Doron Ben-Shlomi, head of the Gush Katif Settlers Committee, said the government had failed in its mission to resettle the residents. "The state commission will examine the government's past and present failures," Ben-Shlomi said. "We hope the committee will bring an end to these failures in every area." Most of the questions posed by the three members of the commission - retired Supreme Court justice Eliyahu Mazza, Prof. Yedidya Stern and Dr. Shimon Ravid - were based on the criticism of the government's performance included in a special report submitted by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss in March 2006. In that report, he accused Sela of failing to rent enough hotel rooms to accommodate the families who needed them in the first days after the unilateral withdrawal and of failing to provide longer-term temporary housing for the hundreds of families that needed it. He also said that Bassi had ignored three reports published prior to the establishment of Sela in 2004 dealing with the resettlement of the residents. The most important one was prepared by Gideon Witkon, former head of the Israel Lands Administration, and included a list of communities in areas of national priority that could absorb the evacuees. "The main thing that was lacking in Witkon's report is that you can use force to evacuate people, but you can't use force to resettle them," Bassi said on Sunday. "There is no point in preparing plans to resettle people without their agreement." He added that Lindenstrauss had failed to understand this. The reason Sela did not know in advance where the settlers would agree to move, how many of them wanted to continue living in the communities they had lived in in the Gaza Strip, and how many wanted to rent apartments as their temporary solution and therefore did not need hotel rooms in the first days after their evacuation was because the settlers refused to talk to Sela and say what they wanted. For example, "the head of the Gaza Regional Council, Avner Shimoni, did not believe there would be a withdrawal and prevented us from contacting families," Bassi said. The fact was, he continued, that all the residents of the four settlements that were evacuated from the northern part of the West Bank - Ganim, Cadim, Homesh and Sa-Nur - had all been resettled without problem and were not part of the state commission's investigation. Even in the Gaza Strip, at least one community, Pe'at Sadeh, had been resettled without problems. Before the withdrawal, Sela did not know how many families would want to move as communities and how many would resettle individually. Because the families would not tell it, Sela made the assumption that half would want to live as communities and half would resettle individually. In the event, 80 percent of the families chose to settle communally and required temporary housing solutions together. In response to questions about what efforts Sela made to communicate with the settlers, Bassi said they had mailed letters and made phone calls to the settlers, and established an Internet site where settlers could find out how much compensation they would receive for their homes without having to deal directly with Sela or identify themselves. One of Lindenstrauss's criticisms had been that Sela did not establish a call center for settlers to phone and receive information until just before the evacuation. But Bassi said he did not believe this was an effective measure compared with the ones employed by Sela. Meanwhile, Ben-Shlomi told reporters that out of 1,400 families who want to live within their former communities, only about 60 or 70 are living in permanent homes today and 500 to 600 are in the process of building their permanent homes. There are about 18 different building sites earmarked to accommodate the families who want to live within their former communities. The infrastructure to enable the construction of permanent housing has not been started in 10-11 of these sites, he said. Ben-Shlomi said that 20% of those who were farmers, businessmen or civil servants in Gush Katif were now unemployed and that the government was doing nothing to help them. Out of 400 Gush Katif farmers, only 50 to 60 had jobs today, he said.