Nitzan
Nitzan Photo by Limor Edrey
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Alon Ron
Construction has not even begun on permanent homes for around 200 families who were evacuated. Photo by Alon Ron

Former settlers who have been living in temporary housing since the 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip have launched a protest campaign after receiving government rent bills last week.

Some 400 families from Nitzan, a community of prefabricated homes set up in the Negev for the settlers, have signed a petition against the payment demand. Construction has not even begun on the permanent homes for around 200 of these families.

Residents have put up signs with slogans against the state's conduct. The target of their ire is the Tnufa Administration, a state agency created in 2005 to handle compensation payments and other issues related to resettlement.

"The State of Israel made temporary housing in temporary housing sites available to eligible evacuees' families," read Tnufa's dunning letter. "Cabinet resolutions set the period of residence without payment in the temporary housing at 18 months from the date on which you received your developed lot [on which to build a permanent home]."

Families that wish to stay in the prefabs must report within a month to an Amigur office to arrange rental payments, it added, referring to a public housing company.

In their response, the residents wrote, "You should be ashamed of yourselves."

According to the evicted settlers' leadership, only some 500 families - 35 percent of the total - have moved into permanent housing, and 200 families are having trouble building at all, due to their financial straits. The unemployment rate among the evacuees, it noted, is 16 percent, compared to just 4 percent before the disengagement.

Galit Idel Moyal has been living with her husband and four children in a 2.5-room prefab for seven years already. "I got this letter a week ago, that we have to pay money for this apartment," she said. "Where will I get the money? I don't have money to build a house; I don't understand what they want from me."

Avigail Eliaz, a community official, termed the demand a crime. "Instead of helping the evacuees build permanent houses, this puts them farther away from moving to a new home," she said. "There are families here who can't afford to build permanent homes, and once again, the state is screwing the weak."

Nitzan Dror Ta'anani, another community official, agreed. "The compensation money has already been used up on living expenses," he explained.

Tnufa responded that every family had received both a building lot and compensation and now must start paying rent on the prefabs.

"The Tnufa Administration worked on the evacuees' behalf and more than doubled the rent-free period," it said. "The state even gave needy families a basket of solutions and aid, and socioeconomic advisors deal personally with each family that needs it. Happily, of the 1,800 evacuated families, 1,600 already live in their [new] home or are in the process of building their home...

"Responsibility for building a home rests with the families themselves. We will continue to try to help every family."