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The government's Disengagement Administration (Sela) has paid millions of shekels in compensation to dozens of families evacuated from illegal outposts in the Gaza Strip in the context of the August 2005 disengagement, Haaretz has learned.

By law, only residents of legal settlements were entitled to compensation. Nevertheless, as an "act of grace," Sela also compensated residents of five Gaza outposts: Tel Katifa, Shalev, Kfar Yam, Shirat Hayam and Kerem Atzmona.

The families have not yet received full compensation, but they have received advances of as much as NIS 600,000 per family. In some cases, these advances appear to be higher than the full sum to which the families are entitled.

Some legal officials worry that Sela's payments have set a precedent that the state will now be obliged to follow when evacuating illegal outposts in the West Bank. Residents of West Bank outposts have already begun raising such demands.

However, other officials argue that there is a difference between people evacuated under an official government plan, such as the disengagement, and people evacuated because their settlement is illegal. The Gaza outposts were not evacuated because they were illegal, but because all Israelis were being removed from Gaza.

Sela itself insists that since the payments are "beyond the letter of the law," they do not constitute a precedent. As one of its official documents explains: "The special committee is authorized to grant a special, reduced payment, beyond the letter of the law, to residents of residential areas, after considering the degree of illegality involved in establishing the residential site and the personal circumstances, in terms of illegality, that attended the behavior of each person who requests a special payment."

Another problem is that Sela has not kept track of where the Gaza evacuees relocated. Thus, in theory, residents of Gaza outposts could have used their compensation to move to illegal outposts in the West Bank.

Sela has no exact data on how many families lived in the five outposts. However, 64 such families have thus far filed compensation claims, and these are thought to comprise almost all the residents of these outposts.

Of these, 41 families have received advances totaling hundreds of thousands of shekels each, while 23 have not yet received any compensation since, according to Sela, they have not yet supplied all the necessary documents. All payments to outpost residents are handled by a special Sela committee that deals with exceptional cases.

All outpost residents will receive lower compensation than residents of legal settlements, but the degree of the reduction will depend on how many of Sela's four criteria for legal settlements the outpost met. These criteria are as follows: The government decided to establish it; its municipal borders were defined; it had an approved master plan under which construction permits were issued; and residents had property rights in their dwellings.

In another two weeks, the special committee will publish a decision in principle on what level of compensation residents of each of the five outposts are entitled to receive. Residents of Tel Katifa and Shalev will apparently receive almost full compensation. Residents of Shirat Hayam and Kerem Atzmona, which meet almost none of the four criteria, will receive much less.

Once the level for each outpost is set, the committee will begin deciding how much each individual family should receive, based on its own particular circumstances (number of members, length of time in Gaza, etc).

Sela, with the Justice Ministry's approval, offered the following response: "The justification for compensating residents of the unrecognized settlements lies in the special circumstances of the evacuation of the Gaza Strip and the desire to enable these residents to rehabilitate their lives following the evacuation. This differs from an evacuation for the purpose of enforcing planning and construction laws, on account of which the state does not pay any compensation. The compensation to residents of the unrecognized settlements will not, in our estimation, constitute an incentive for lawbreaking in other paces."

"By law, the evacuation of an illegal outpost due to the illegality of its establishment does not entitle [residents] to any compensation. For this reason as well, compensation to the residents of unrecognized settlements in the Strip does not constitute an incentive for this phenomenon," it continued.