Gaza farmers want more payment

Evacuees wanting to rebuild businesses call on cabinet to change law.

katif families in hotel  (photo credit: Sheera Claire Frenkel)
katif families in hotel
(photo credit: Sheera Claire Frenkel)
Disengagement has cost former Gaza farmer Ronit Balaban NIS 5 million, her long-standing clients and her pride. She was one of several farmers who came to Jerusalem on Wednesday morning to testify before the Knesset State Control Committee and to demand that the cabinet change the way the Evacuation-Compensation Law addresses the problems of those Gaza farmers who want to rebuild their businesses. "All I want is to be a proud and happy farmer in Israel," Balaban said. "This is what has been taken from me." She said the government had failed to provide sufficient compensation to repay her losses from the move. The difference between what she needed to reestablish her enterprise and what she received, Balaban told The Jerusalem Post, was NIS 5 million. Balaban, who ran a Mediterranean plant business in Ganei Tal for 23 years, was not among those who refused to deal with the government prior to disengagement. Balaban moved her hothouses to 35 dunams, or about 8.75 acres, of replacement land in Moshav Mavki'im. Playing by the rules has not helped her rebuild her business, despite the efforts of many volunteers and the distribution company that has helped market her plants in Europe. She missed the first planting season after disengagement entirely. It was only in the last few weeks that she has been able to produce marketable plants. Meanwhile, her clients have moved on. She has also incurred additional costs as a result of the move from Gaza. The new site is colder than the old one, she said. So she had to spend more to heat the hothouses and to put in infrastructure to accommodate the new temperatures. She also needed a different irrigation system to adjust for changes in the water quality between Gaza and Mavki'im. Early on, Balaban's tractor was stolen, so she understood she now needs a surveillance system, something that was almost unheard of in Gush Katif, where the hothouses were located next to farmers' homes. She now has a one-hour commute from her modular home in Yad Binyamin to the hothouses. Balaban cannot afford to build a permanent home, because she has spent all her compensation on the business. "Now I have no home," said Balaban. She doesn't know what she will do when the two-year contract on her modular home runs out. Balaban can't sleep at night for fear she will never get out of debt. "It shouldn't be this way," she said. Both left- and right-wing parliamentarians at Wednesday's meeting agreed. Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon (Labor) called for the law to be changed. MK Ami Ayalon (Labor) said he didn't understand how the government could plan to withdraw from additional territory without first properly compensating the Gaza evacuees. "Since further withdrawals are on hold at the moment," he said, "why can't the money that was set aside for them be used for the Gaza evacuees?" Ayalon said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert should come to speak with the evacuees and to explain to the committee what the government was doing for the evacuees. MK Amira Dotan (Kadima) said Olmert had pledged to meet with evacuees in Lachish within two weeks.