Gaza evacuees to Peres: We want to live a normal life

Only 600 of 1,400 required homes are in the process of being built.

Peres 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Peres 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Gush Katif evacuees want to live a normal life, Doron Ben-Shlomi, chairman of the Gush Katif Settlers Council, told reporters just before a representative delegation of Gush Katif evacuees and officials of the Sela Disengagement Administration met with President Shimon Peres on Sunday. For that to happen, said Ben-Shlomi, they need financial compensation, permanent housing, employment and fewer bureaucratic hassles. Money-wise, they want only what was promised to them, "not more and not less," he said. As for housing, Ben Shlomi said it was totally unacceptable that so many people were still waiting for housing two-and-a-half years after the disengagement from Gaza. Of 1,400 homes that are still required, he said, only 600 were under construction and not yet completed. Baruch Gvili, part of a group of 160 families living in rented premises in Ashkelon, said the situation looked hopeless. At the time of the withdrawal from Gaza, the government had pledged that everyone would be rehoused within two-and-a-half to three years. "Two-and-a-half years are up," he said. "We've been granted plots of land in Ashkelon, and various architectural plans have been drawn up, but they've been confined to the bottom of a drawer because we can't get past the municipal bureaucracy in Ashkelon. We were promised priority status, and instead we're being shunted from pillar to post without making any progress." Most of the Gush Katif evacuees in Ashkelon pay a monthly rental of $600 to $650, of which $330 is supplemented by Sela, he said, but it's very difficult for many families to come up with the rest of the rent money when the unemployment rate among them is as high as 40 percent. "We have a lot of psychological problems with the kids because they're unsettled," said Gvili. "Sela tries to help, but their hands are tied, and they're very limited in what they can do." Shosh Schatz, formerly of Elei Sinai and now the head of the Elei Sinai group living on Moshav Talmei Yaffe near Sderot, has told her story so many times to so many people that she's become a professional. Schatz - a tour guide, a teacher for preparatory bagrut studies in history and knowledge of the land of Israel, a former officer in the IDF and a master's student in administration and public policy - even came with a printed press release. "We came here today," she said, "in the hope that the president, who is an apolitical figure, will help us out of this dead end in which we are trapped." Peres walked around the room shaking hands with each, asking them to introduce themselves and stating categorically that political affiliations did not play a role in this issue. Some of the people introduced themselves, stating only where they live now. Others first gave their now-nonexistent addresses in the Gush or the Gaza Strip before stating their current ones. Ben-Shlomi made it clear that they had not come simply to complain. "A lot is done, a lot is in the works, but a lot more still remains to be done," he said. What bothered him greatly was how the rehabilitation of Gush Katif would be remembered in recorded history. The commitments given at the time of the pullout have largely not been met. "We're at a crossroads," said Ben-Shlomi, "and the government seems to be weary of dealing with the people from Gush Katif. It must meet its obligations. We know the Sela people want to help us, but they, too, are at an impasse." The delegation wanted Peres to intervene with the prime minister and finance minister to help tie up all the loose ends and to give the evacuees all that had been promised to them in the shortest possible time. Peres said the evacuees were deserving of assistance and that he would do everything in his power to help. He added that he wanted further meetings with the delegation so he could learn the finer points of the problems and therefore be better equipped to offer suggestions toward resolving them. Moreover, he said he would appoint a special adviser to liaise with the evacuees. The government made a very painful decision in evacuating Gush Katif and the Gaza Strip, said Peres, but every government, regardless of who was at its head, was determined to compensate the evacuees in the fairest possible manner. Peres said that as president, he saw it as a personal duty on his part to ensure that every evacuee was treated properly. Ezra Sadan, a former director-general of the Finance Ministry, who also attended the meeting, said the state should make it a special project with full authorization from the prime minister to finalize the matter once and for all. Zvia Shimon, the head of the Sela Disengagement Administration, said the evacuees were wonderful people who had undergone a traumatic experience, but the time had come to go forward. She had been able to persuade some of them to put the past behind them, she said, but in other cases, she had not succeeded.