On Monday morning, July 28th, a delegation of Sderot residents arrived to the Knesset to raise concern over the blatant misconduct by the Israel Tax Authority in their handling of Sderot residents and their compensation files for property damages caused by Qassam rocket fire. The Israel Tax Authority is the agency delegated by the Israeli government to handle such issues in accordance to the Israeli law that deals with compensation for damages in times of war.

Sderot Media Center facilitated the delegation’s trip to the Knesset, after publishing an investigative report six months earlier in Israel’s leading investigative news site www.nfc.co.il. The report revealed that the Israel Tax Authority dealt harshly and arbitrarily with property damages done to Sderot homes and property by Qassam rockets.

Member of Knesset, Rabbi Meir Porush of the Torah Judaism party and the State Comptroller were the first who responded to the NFC report.

The report found that there was a grave malfunction in the bureaucratic proceedings of Israel Tax Authority’s representatives. Although Israeli law provides that victims of terror receive compensations for the damages caused by terrorist acts, the question of how this process is applied to the residents of Sderot remains vague and unclear. In addition, the definition of what constitutes property damage is not concretely defined in the law.

At the Knesset, Sderot residents briefed Rabbi Porush and four other Knesset offices – MK Yuli Edelstein of Likud,, Zevulon Orlev of NRP/National Union, and Dr. Marina Solodkin of Kadima, and the policy advisor of MK Gideon Saar, also of the Likud.

At the beginning of each briefing, the delegaton highlighted the primary reason why the Sderot delegation had come:”Sderot residents feel that there are two battles taking place in their city. The first is with the Hamas rockets and the second is with the Israel Tax Authority,”

Debbie Biton, a Sderot resident who was forced to close down her Sderot business, with 500 employees because of the rocket fire, explained to the MKs how Sderot residents often feel after Israel Tax Authority representative come to assess the damage done to their homes and property. “The Israel Tax Authority representatives make us feel like robbers. They make us feel like we are just looking to get some cash. It’s humiliating. They don’t address the rocket situation or understand the situation we are in,” says Debbie.

“One quick look at my damaged door, which is worth 12,000 NIS, and the tax assessor said that it could be fixed for 1,000 NIS. I had to go to court, engage in legal battle to prove that the damage done to my door was worth much more,” ads Debbie.

Meanwhile, The Israel Tax Authority refused to provide Debbie with any compensation for the closure of her business in Sderot because of the missile fire. She values her financial losses at 70,000 NIS, none of which she believes will she ever get back, even though Israel’s tort law clearly states that victims of hostile acts from terrorist groups are entitled to compensation for psychological and physical damages.

“”One major problem is that the average Sderot resident has absolutely no idea what his or her rights are living under a rocket war-zone,” says Shula Sasson, a Sderot mother, whose son was wounded in a rocket explosion at his school.

Shula explains that she has been fired from four different jobs since her son was hurt, because of the time she had take off to spend with at home with her recovering son. Shula’s home was also hit by a missile. Ever since, she and her family undergo psychological treatments. “I spend 700 NIS a month for my medication, just to keep functioning during the day” says Shula.

Shula’s home was damaged a second time when her neighbors’ home suffered a direct rocket hit. “When the Israel Tax Authority came to assess the damages, they concluded that only the ceramic tiles in my kitchen were damaged, even though my marble tiles were damaged as well.”

Shula filed a claim against the Israel Tax Authority, and she received a letter the next day stating that she would have to pay for the costs of Tax Authority lawyers and their legal expenses should she lose the case. She is now weighing whether she should go through with the lawsuit.

Chava Gad, representing the Sderot Parents Association, came with the delegation to represent a friend whose business had been devastated by a missile. “The total costs of damage done to my friend’s business reached 100,000 NIS,” says Chava. The Israel Tax Authority agreed to pay her 30,000 NIS because they decided that her store’s merchandise, clothes and other products (packed away in boxes but still covered in ash and rubble from the rocket fire), could still be sold. “All you have to do is wash the clothing and then you can sell them, the Israel Tax Authority representative told her,” says Gad. “What they didn’t consider was that the value of clothing had been rendered worthless at the time they were damaged.”

“From what we understand from Sderot resident whose homes have been hit in the past, Israeli Tax Authority representatives come into a home or a business that was damaged by a rocket, without having any photos of evidence of the property before it was damaged, and assign the estimated value of the damages, which many times does not properly necessarily reflect the true value of the object or property that was damaged in the eyes of the resident” says Jonathan Braverman, a law student at IDC Herzliya.

Sderot Media Center, in conjunction with other law students at the IDC Herzliya law program, are working together to inform Sderot residents’ of their rights.

The visit to the Knesset on Monday morning was crucial step to establishing political awareness of the current compensation situation in Sderot.

Following the Sderot delegation meetings at the Knesset, MKs, Yuli Edelstein, Rabbi Meir Porush, Zevulon Orlev, and Dr. Marina Solodkin, committed themselves to form a lobby group for Sderot residents on the issue of compensation for residents and the functionality of the Israel Tax Authority.

Significantly. the Knesset State Control Committee chaired by MK Zevulon Orlev, has now invited Sderot Media Center and the Sderot delegation to return to the Knesset next week when the Israel State Comptroller presents his research on all matters concerning the protection of Sderot and the western Negev. The State Comptroller’s investigation was prompted by yet another Sderot Media Center investigative report earlier in the year on shelter preparation or lack of preparation, despite continuing missile attacks.