Jerusalem – Expecting a return of Gaza missile attacks in the near future, a delegation of Sderot residents made their first visit this week to Israel’s Knesset parliament with one goal in mind: to raise concern over the way the Israel Tax Authority deals with compensations for missile damages done to Sderot property and homes.
The Bulletin accompanied the delegation.
The Tax Authority is the government-delegated agency that deals with compensation for damages in times of war.
Six months ago, a news site revealed that the Tax Authority had dealt harshly and arbitrarily with property damages done to Sderot property by Qassam rockets.
A senior member of the Knesset, Rabbi Meir Porush of the Torah Judaism party responded to the report asking the Israeli government to conduct an investigation of allegedly grave malfunctioning of the bureaucratic proceedings of the Tax Authority.
Although Israeli law provides that victims of terror be compensated for damages, 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.
At the Knesset, Sderot residents briefed Rabbi Porush and four other Knesset offices.
The residents opened each briefing, highlighting the reason why the 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,” said the Sderot residents in their opening statement at each session.
Sderot residents explained that the Israel Tax Authority representatives make them 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,” said one Sderot resident who asked not to be named.
Pinchas Amar, whose home is now being rebuilt after suffering a direct rocket hit almost eight months ago, presented his experience with the Tax Authority.
“After our home was partially destroyed in the rocket attack, we moved to a motel room in Ashkelon until the motel would no longer house my family for free,” said Pinchas. “We then moved back to Sderot into a tiny three-room apartment near our destroyed home, so that I would be able to overlook the eventual reconstruction of our house. During this time, my wife, Aliza and I engaged in a long legal battle with the Israel Tax Authority, until they finally agreed to pay approximately 300,000 NIS ($80,000) to rebuild our home, out of the estimated 500,000 NIS ($120,000).”
The compensation will barely cover the construction of the new home and will also have to be used to purchase furniture to replace what was destroyed.
The Amars have already had to pay for legal counsel in order to get the Tax Authority to provide them with this financial assistance .
“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 explained that she was fired from four different jobs since her son was wounded, because of the time she had take off to spend with him.
Shula’s home was also hit by a missile. Ever since, she and her family have undergone psychological treatment.
“I spend 700 NIS a month for my medication, just to keep functioning during the day” said 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 Tax Authority, and she received a letter the next day stating that she would have to pay for the Tax Authority 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,” said 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,” said Ms. Gad. “What they didn’t consider was that the value of clothing had been rendered worthless at the time they were damaged.”
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 Prosh, 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 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.
One more irony. Pinchas Amar mentioned to members of the Israeli Knesset that Senators John McCain and Barack Obama had visited their devastated home, and that not one member of Knesset had bothered to come see his home.
Kadima member of the Knesset, Dr. Marina Solodkin, a resident of nearby Ashkelon, explained that she had wanted to come, but did not want to be seen as exploiting the situation for her own political needs. Besides, Dr. Solokin added, she had never been invited to visit any of the 500 Sderot residents whose homes had been damaged. Mr. Amar changed all that, and extended a warm invitation to members of the Israeli Knesset to visit. With a gaping hole still in his roof from a Gaza missile, Mr. Amar promised “natural air conditioning” for his guests.
David Bedein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site is www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com
©The Bulletin 2008