Gaza evacuees in Maskiot can't build

But while the gov't is barring building, the Interior Ministry has registered 12 people as residents.

ConstructionWorkers224.8 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
While the government is barring Gaza evacuees from building homes - even temporary ones - in this Jordan Valley settlement, the Interior Ministry has formally registered 12 people here as constituting Maskiot's official population. Located in the isolated hilltops of the Valley, Maskiot, whose sole occupant until last year was a small religious pre-army academy, made headlines around the world in January 2007 when it was discovered that both the Prime Minister's Office and the Defense Ministry had agreed to allow some 30 Gaza evacuee families to move here. But before the families could relocate from their temporary quarters in nearby Jordan Valley settlements, the approvals were rescinded in the face of international condemnation. Nonetheless, six families from the former Gaza settlement of Shirat Hayam set up modular homes here with the help of private donors including the US-based One Israel Fund. They started construction in November and six families moved into the large modular homes, known as caravillas, in January. Two other families had already relocated to two empty apartments in the school. Spokesmen for the Prime Minister's Office, the Defense Ministry and the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria have all said that any construction of private homes here, even modular ones, remains illegal. The civil administration added that demolition orders have been issued against the six modular homes. Still, in recent weeks, when the families went to register Maskiot as their legal address with the Interior Ministry, they encountered no problems. Clerks registered them as the official populace, because the site has been a legally registered settlement since the early 1980s, even though a permanent community never set down roots here. And the Interior Ministry, which in 2006 made no mention of the settlement in its population count, has now listed it for the first time in its tally of people living in legal West Bank settlements. Unauthorized outposts are excluded from the list. The site itself was empty until this winter, save for a dozen small white buildings that house the academy. A Shirat Hayam spokesman, Yossi Hazzut, who now lives at Maskiot, said that while he had yet to register the community as his permanent address, other families had. "It was no problem," he said. "Maskiot is a legal address." An Interior Ministry spokeswoman sounded surprised when asked by The Jerusalem Post why the settlement had been added to the list. "It's a legal settlement. There is no reason why it can't be there," she said, adding that her office simply collected information it received. A settlement cannot be on the list without the approval of the Prime Minister's Office, she said. A spokeswoman for Ra'anan Dinur, director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, seemed similarly puzzled by the question about the presence of Maskiot in the population tables. The Central Bureau of Statistics has always put Maskiot on its list but has never recorded that people live here on a permanent basis. Its data is one year behind that of the Interior Ministry. Hazzut said he believed that the modular homes were legal because they were on land that was designated as school property. He said he was not aware that there were demolition orders against the structures. One Israel Fund executive vice president Scott Feltman, whose organization donated $10,000 to the modular homes project, said he believed it had legal approval and that he was unaware of any demolition orders. A spokesman for the civil administration insisted that the orders had been issued, but refused to show a copy to the Post. Jordan Valley Regional Council head Dubi Tal dismissed the demolition orders issue. "There are many such orders in the Jordan Valley, mostly against the Palestinians. The civil administration is quick to issue them but slow to execute them," he said. From his perspective, Tal said, the placement of the modular homes was legal because after the 2005 disengagement the project had been initially approved by both then-prime minister Ariel Sharon and then-defense minister (and current Transportation Minister) Shaul Mofaz. Tal had previously told the Post the Maskiot project had gone through at least six phases of approval before it was halted in the winter of 2007. It is possible that there are some minor technical legal problems with the homes, he said, which he assumed would get ironed out soon. Should he be proved wrong and the civil administration or the government make an issue over the homes, the regional council would consider an appeal to the High Court of Justice to protect the families, Tal said. "They have suffered enough," he said. Hazzut added that the issue was not about permits and registration, but rather the lack of solutions for the Gaza evacuees, 31 months after they were forced to leave their homes. "There is a personal story here of people who lost their homes," said Hazzut. "It's a 'mark of shame' for Israel as a nation that more then two years later most of the families still do not have permanent homes."