Gaza settlers still living in rented apartments

Secular evacuees says religious counterparts getting better deal.

evacuees in hotel 248 88 (photo credit: Courtesy [file])
evacuees in hotel 248 88
(photo credit: Courtesy [file])
One hundred fifty families who have been living in rented apartments in Ashkelon since 2005's withdrawal from Gaza are still waiting for their permanent homes and the end is not yet in sight, the head of the group said on Wednesday. The speaker, Shmuel Tal, told the State Commission of Inquiry into the Handling by the Authorized Authorities of the Evacuees from Gush Katif and Northern Samaria that only four members of the community had started to build their permanent homes in a new neighborhood of Ashkelon, while 40 were in the process of obtaining building permits. All the rest have been allotted half-dunam (.05 hectare) plots of land but have not yet taken any measures to build their new homes. Tal said he needed another NIS 300,000 to build his home, but did not have the money. He blamed Yonatan Bassi, the first head of the Sela Administration for Assistance to Settlers from the Gaza Strip and Northern Samaria, for his plight and that of many of the others in the group, who had chosen to live together as a community. Most of the group had originally lived in the three northern Gaza settlements of Elei Sinai, Nisanit and Dugit. According to Tal, Bassi, who had promised that the families would be able to start building immediately after the evacuation, "ran away from his responsibilities." The problems began immediately after the evacuation, said Tal. Unlike other community groups who received temporary houses from the government, the Ashkelon group was forced to rent apartments. Tal said they had to pay up to $650 a month for apartments that had previously rented for $250. Even though everything had ostensibly been agreed upon immediately after the withdrawal, it took one-and-a-half years for the government to sign a contract with the community and another year until the infrastructure was prepared. In the meantime, Tal found that his group was paying $70 per square meter of floor space over and above what all the other evacuees living in communities had to pay for their projects. The government also refused to pay for support walls around their plots, even though this was standard procedure in all other projects. Tal had to pay NIS 1,000 a month out of his own pocket for rent, over and above the subsidy he received. He found that he could not afford to take out a mortgage to make up the difference between the money he had and the cost of building his home. Altogether, said Tal, even if the government dropped the extra housing cost and paid for the support wall, he would still need about NIS 150,000. Tal said he felt that he and the members of his group, most of whom are secular, were at a disadvantage compared with the Orthodox former residents of Gush Katif because they did not have a political party to fight for their interests.