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Gush Katif Residents Again Under the Gun

by Hillel Fendel

(IsraelNN.com) The latest chapter in the ongoing tribulations of the former residents of Gush Katif is this: The bank accounts of some 500 families are liable to be cracked open by the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council, in lieu of unpaid – and unfairly demanded, the residents say – property taxes.

The story began in the summer of 2005, when over 1,650 families living in Gush Katif were made homeless under then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral disengagement withdrawal plan from Gaza. The Knesset had passed an Evacuation/Compensation law several months earlier, attempting to guarantee fair compensation for the families’ losses.

The law’s goals were not met.

“We are dealing with a government and an administration [the government's Aid to the Uprooted Administration, known as SELA - ed.] that are accustomed to not fulfilling their word,” says Laurence Beziz, formerly of Gush Katif who now works on behalf of the expelled residents in the Gush Katif Committee. She and her family, together with some 500 other families, are being housed in the temporary town of Nitzan, just north of Ashkelon, in pre-fab houses they bitterly call “caravillas.”

“It’s true that for many of us, the property tax they want us to pay [here in Nitzan] is not totally beyond our means,” Ms. Beziz told Arutz-7. “But for many of us, it is! There are those who still have no jobs and have not received compensation for their businesses and farms, and who don’t have food in their refrigerators. We have to stand together – especially when dealing with a body that simply doesn’t fulfill its word.”

“For instance,” she continued, “they promised that after two years, we would be living in our permanent homes – or in other words, that our share in the price of Israel’s decision to quit Gaza was to be ‘only’ two years without a home. And now, it’s already two and a half years later, and not only are we not in our permanent homes, but they are just beginning now to build the infrastructures for our permanent neighborhood in Nitzanim.”

Asked what the official timetable, Laurence said, “They say – and we know what their word is worth – that by November, ten months from now, they will be ready to start the lottery for the distribution of the various plots of land. But even then, there are still many unresolved issues, such as the fact that we will have much less land than we had before, and whether children who get married will be able to live in our neighborhoods as they would have done in Gush Katif, and more.”

Compensation
She says that over the course of time, roughly 1,000 families have received the full amount of compensation for their homes, though not necessarily for their farms and businesses. “The other families’ compensation is being held up by an old conflict regarding the precise assessment of the value of their homes,” Beziz said, “with no solution in sight. This affects those who took advantage of the government’s offer to have their homes privately assessed.”

Property Tax History
The property tax issue was not a problem in 2006, when the Regional Council waived the charge. In January 2007, however, the tax was instated – but the residents did not pay. “We admit that we receive services, and we admit that they offered us a possible 50% discount,” Beziz said. “But the point is more that temporary residential structures such as ours are exempt from property taxes all over the country, and there is no reason why we should have to pay. Moreover, this entire area is not zoned for residential use; all that happened is that [Ariel] Sharon came here one day and gave the order to build temporary homes on this agricultural land – but when we leave, it will revert to its original agricultural use.”

“In any event, we have now received letters saying that they plan to break into our bank accounts in order to take the property tax,” Beziz said.

No Shopping Center – Catastrophic for Small Business Owners
“The lack of a shopping center here is another example of their not keeping their word,” Ms. Beziz said. “They said they would build us a shopping center, in which all the small businesses could be concentrated, just like we had in N’vei Dekalim. But of course, they didn’t build it, leading to this place [Nitzan] looking like a refugee camp – with little businesses and stores behind or next to the caravan houses. Many businesses can’t prosper that way, and that’s why many people are simply not making it.”

Another legal struggle in which the residents are involved is their demand to ensure that they live in a rural setting, and not an urban one. To this end, they have filed a court suit demanding that their new future neighborhood of Nitzanim be made part of the Ashkelon Coast Regional Council, and not, as it is currently designated, part of the Municipality of Ashkelon.

New School – Finally
Ironically, beginning this week, the children of Nitzan – the largest concentration of Gush Katif families – are able to attend school without having to take a bus. The Nitzanei Katif elementary school, including Grades 1-8 for boys and 1-6 for girls, began operating this week in Nitzan – two and a half years after their expulsion from their homes. Beziz and her neighbors are happy about the new situation, but, she asks, “is it believable that it actually took this long for it to happen?”

Encouraged by the Good
With all the bitterness, Beziz doesn’t forget to mention the good: “We are encouraged by the many good things that are happening – not due to the government, or to the left-wingers who so sweetly told us to ‘Come back home [from Gaza] to Israel’ – but rather due to the orange camp and to our own determination. For instance, the Yeshivat Hesder in N’vei Dekalim has opened its doors in its permanent location in Ashdod, and other Torah institutions from Gush Katif are working strongly for the People of Israel as well.”

The 22nd of Shvat
Beziz noted that today, the 22nd of Shvat, is a special day: “It is the date we designated two years ago for schools to remember and teach about Gush Katif. Some 50 volunteers are in schools around the country – mostly religious schools, I admit – giving lectures, showing films, and presenting exhibits on Gush Katif. We hope that this initiative will become stronger in coming years.”

For more information, visit the Gush Katif Committee website at www.katifund.org/English/.

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