January 7, 2009

Official Report: State Failed in Housing Gush Katif Expellees

by Hillel Fendel

(IsraelNN.com) Three and a half years after the Disengagement from Gush Katif and northern Shomron, 95% of the expellee-families that were relocated together with their communities still do not have permanent homes. State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, in a scathing report issued Wednesday, blames the government.

The report also details severe problems with the temporary houses the expellees were given when they were thrown out of their homes in August 2005, as well as difficulties in reintegrating them into the work force.

The report finds that the government evicted 1,751 families from their homes in August 2005, and offered them two alternatives: Either a lump sum of compensation money with which they would fend for themselves in the job and housing market, or a group approach in which entire communities, or large parts thereof, would be relocated together in new or existing communities.

Nearly two-third of the families chose the latter option. Of them, 95% - 60% of the total number of expellees - have not yet been able to build their new homes.

Could Still Take Years
"The evicted families paid a heavy price following the Disengagement," the report states, "and continue to pay it even today. The process of relocating them could still take years."

The Disengagement Administration - known as Sela, a partial acronym for "Aid for the Gaza and Northern Shomron Residents" - is apportioned most of the blame. "Sela did not suitably check in advance the residents' preferences in terms of where they wanted and were suited to live, the status of the lands in the designated sites, and the costs of the various projects," the report alleges.

"Because of the lack of preparatory work on the part of the authorities," the Comptroller's report continues, "hundreds of families are forced to continue living in temporary housing and in temporary sites that the authorities do not maintain properly. The residents are thus suffering and are in danger."

"The State authorities, first and foremost the Sela Authority, continue to work at a slow pace that does not correspond to the heavy responsibility with which they were entrusted," Comptroller Lindenstrauss stated.

Poorly-Built Houses
The caravillas - the temporary pre-fab homes in which the families were housed in Nitzan, Ein Tzurim and other long-term temporary housing sites - are a source of grief for their residents, and an object of criticism in the Comptroller's report: "The structures are characterized by severe infrastructure faults, including wet walls, broken floor tiles, and frequent electricity outages."

No shelters or protected zones were established in Nitzan, just north of Ashkelon, even though it is within the range of rockets fired from Gaza.

Only four of the former Gush Katif residents have been accepted for work in government companies, and only 83 of the businesses received government grants.

On the bright side, Lindenstrauss notes that the authorities responsible for welfare services carried out their job professionally, hired high-quality workers and invested significantly in helping the expelled citizens.

Sela failed to carry out its work properly, the report states: "Equal, clear and transparent standards were not set regarding the aid to be given to the communities that accepted evictees. The lack of proper preparatory work is a siginificant fault, caused great misery and harm to the evictees, and cost the State financially."

The Authorities Should Have Prepared for the Complexities
"The evacuation and relocation of a population is a complex operation,"the report states, "because in addition to the provision of temporary solutions, it is important to find, within a reasonable amount of time, permanent housing - whether in existing communities or new ones. Since it involved many different disciplines, such as education, housing, employment, and communal life, it was important to know in advance what the residents [who chose the communal path] wanted. Given the complexity of the matter, the authorities dealing with the Disengagement should have carried out deep preparatory work, together with academics and professionals from various fields."

"The authorities also should have anticipated that the residents would not cooperate" with the bodies seeking to expel them from their homes and destroy their life's work.

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