Three months ago, 10,000 people were forcibly evicted by the Israeli Government from their privately owned homes and farms in 25 Jewish communities in Gush Katif, northern Gaza, and northern Samaria. A few days later, all of their homes were bulldozed into rubble. An estimated 400 public buildings were not destroyed.
Even though clause seven of the Disengagement Law forbid Israel from handing over any assets to anyone “involved in terrorist activity”, the government of Israel ignored the law and handed over these buildings to the Palestinian Authority, even after the PA had proclaimed that terrorist organizations would be given many of these buildings.
Unlike the Yamit evacuation of 5,000 people in 1982, where families were given three years to resettle, these people were given six months to leave, from the time of the Knesset decision on February 20th until their eviction on August 15th, 2005.
The final decision of the Israel High Court of Justice, on which the Katif and Samaria communities had pinned their legal hopes, was held on June 6th, 2005, when the Israel High Court of Justice upheld the Disengagement Law, despite the opinion of the court that it violated the human rights and civil liberties basic law of the state of Israel.
Despite the publicly accepted notion that the people from Katif and Samaria were not making preparations to leave, the fact is that as early as November 2004, these communities designated the lawyers of the Israel Legal Forum to negotiate for compensation agreements with the Israeli government. However, the government refused to begin negotiating with their duly appointed legal representatives until April, 2005.
Meanwhile, Deputy Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres informed the Israeli media on July 7th, 2005 that the US government would provide more than two billion dollars to cover the costs of the disengagement.
However, on June 25th, 2005, Israel Resource News Agency had already been informed by top U.S. Congressional Sources that no U.S. money would be forthcoming for the disengagement process, which Israel had declared as a unilateral act.
This was two months before Hurricane Katrina hit the lives and pocketbooks of so many Americans
Therefore, the government of Israel has been slow to offer compensation to the people who were evicted from their homes. As of November 15th, 2005, 75% of the people evicted had received no compensation whatsoever, at a time when 85% of these people were still unemployed, after having been expelled from communities of full employment.
As a result, the people who were evicted need help to go to court to sue for the basics of compensation. The pro-bono lawyers who have helped the evictees do not have the ability to sue on the issues that follow, without basic fees and coverage of court costs.
Here are some of the issues which the evacuees must sue for:
1. Mental cruelty, as evidenced by e petty requests for documentation before any compensation would be given: 29-year-old phone bills, old report cards, letters addressed to them to prove that they really lived in the homes that they lived in, while the Israeli government disengagement authority, known as The Sela Authority,gave inaccurate information to the media that “almost all of the evacuees had received the compensation that they had coming to them”. A couple in their eighties who had gone through concentration camps who left in July had not received one shekel of compensation as of November 15th, 2005.
2. Loss of livelihood Many of the self-employed people from these communities were denied employment benefits. Many of those who worked for non profit organizations in the area of health, education and welfare were also denied unemployment benefits.
3. Business people whose businesses were worth $150,000-200,000 have been offered less than fifteen percent of the worth of their businesses, and they must spend their own savings to go to court to appeal for increased compensation for their businesses.
4. Three months after their eviction, the majority of farmers still do not have appropriate land or arrangements and they stand to lose their export markets abroad. They have already lost several seasons, and the Katif people estimate that only 10% of the farmers will be able to return to agriculture. Meanwhile, some produce exporters where offered menial jobs at minimum wage.
5. “Guilty until proven innocent” was one of the reasons used indelaying the compensation, because “maybe” the evacuee did something violent AND/OR was arrested during the expulsion. If a person got into a scuffle while being evicted from his home, why should he lose the value of his home? If a teenager whose behavior was not appropriate, why should that family lose the value of their home? Meanwhile, the vast majority of families who are being denied any compensation have no police files or charges whatsoever against them
7. Loss of investment in homes No compensations was offered for porches, storage rooms, or other improvements they added to their homes. “Advance compensation” for homes was given to people whose original small homes were purchased 20 years ago, and only 75% of that.
8. Damage to students. Students did not have the opportunity to do matriculation exams properly, or start college properly. Younger students were shuffled from school to school. The government refused to recognize the school and kindergarten in the improvised town of Ir Haemuna, while “Special needs children” in Ir Haemuna had to fight to get partial treatment, two months after school began.
9. A family whose loved one pass away during this period of temporary housing was forced to pay the government $6,000 for a burial plot, since free burial is only provided to a home town residents of a given municipality. Only after Israel Resource News Agency revealed this, an Israeli Government Minister intervened to return the check to the bereaved family.
10. Families are still forced to pay regular mortgage payments for homes and farms that the government of Israel bulldozed three months ago. Paying out a monthly mortgage for rubble seems highly unusual.
11. Families must invest tens of thousands of shekels for storage in since they will live in mobile homes for two or three years. In addition, they must spend large amounts of money for winter clothers while they cannot access their containers.
12. Hundreds of people who were arrested during the expulsion are confined to their homes under house arrest, because of decisions rendered by the Israeli courts that they are “ideological criminals” who are “dangerous to society.”
In conclusion, many good hearts have opened up to these people who were living proud and productive lives until their expulsion. However, much of the charitable help that has been rendered to the evacuees has caused further trauma to these people, as they are rendered a new status as “charity cases.” Indeed, immediately following the expulsion, major organizations allocated hundreds of school bags to the estimated 3,800 children who had no schools to go to, little means of support and no access to their own clothes. These gifts were received with mixed feelings.
The highest level of giving to someone in distress is to help that person the chance to stand on their feet once again.
The people who were kicked out of their homes need help to go to court to redress their grievances, to regain their dignity.
Our news agency would be pleased to refer people to the proper addresses to help these people to sue, and thus, to regain some of their dignity.
At a time when efforts are underway in Israel to force thousands more people from their homes, the timing of this litigation could not be more appropriate.