Paying for a home that doesn’t exist
November 22, 2006
Gush Katif was not just a single settlement that Israel needed to dismantle as a unilateral gesture of peace to the Palestinians living in Gaza. Gush Katif was a region in the south-west corner of the Gaza Strip consisting of 16 farming communities which produced roughly 15% of Israel’s agricultural exports. It was a thriving farming region with over 4,000 greenhouses growing a variety of fruits and vegetables. 1,400 Jewish families lived in the region.
The Israeli government in an effort to restart the peace process and offer the Palestinian people the beginnings of their own state, decided on a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza strip. This decision included the evacuation of the 8,000 Jewish settlers living in the Gaza.
The settlers in the Gush Katif region protested and were forcibly evacuated by a large show of force by the Israeli Defense Forces. Upon evacuation, all pedestrian dwellings were destroyed. Public buildings including civic centers and synagogues were all that remained standing. The 4,000 plus greenhouses were purchased by the Economic Cooperation Foundation which is funded by the European Union. The greenhouses were to be given over to the Palestinian Authority so the 4,000 Palestinians employed by the Jewish settlers would not loose their jobs.
As soon as the IDF withdrew from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians looted and sacked the remaining structures and destroyed every synagogue. The greenhouses were also looted and 20% of them are no longer usable.
The Israeli government promised the Gush Katif settlers a comprehensive relocation package which included new farming communities in other parts of Israel. They would be built new homes in new communities and be able to return to their current level of productivity. They would be given temporary housing and financial compensation until their new communities were ready. In exchange for all that the government was planning to do; the settlers were expected to continue paying their mortgages, even though their homes were no longer standing.
Fifteen months later the few settlers who can still afford to pay their mortgages are continuing to do so. The vast majority are now penniless and the government is subtracting their mortgage payments from the compensation that they are supposed to receive.
One former Gush Katif settler stated, “The average compensation to date is about $10,000 per person; this in exchange for losing your home, your property, your land and livelihood. Not much of a bargain.”
Not one single family has received permanent housing as of today. Many families are still living in hotels or trailer homes in the Negev desert. 24 out of the 25 communities that were to be built by the Israeli government have now been unapproved for construction and the single community left has yet to be started.
The settlers are on the verge of becoming a humanitarian crisis. The vast majority of the settlers now live in abject poverty in deplorable conditions with no immediate assistance in view. Many even face eviction from their temporary trailer homes and the hotels are ousting the remaining settlers that were forced upon them.
Prime Minister Olmert stated before boarding a plane to the United States that he was willing to give up 90% of Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians. Will the Israeli government once again promise new communities to the 100,000 plus Jewish settlers from these areas? And if so, will they fulfill their promise this time?