Disengagement Official: Gaza Settler Families Cost NIS 4.9 Million Each

Settler reps say many are still struggling to rebuild lives due to high mortgage costs, unemployment.

The average family evacuated from settlements in the Gaza Strip cost the state NIS 4.9 million in compensation and resettlement costs, including both temporary and permanent housing, the head of Sela - the government body charged with assisting evacuated settlers - said on Monday.

But despite this aid, many evacuated settlers are still struggling to rebuild their lives nearly four years after the disengagement, because they cannot afford mortgages and unemployment remains high, settler representatives said.

Sela head Zvia Shimon told a state commission of inquiry on the treatment of the Gaza evacuees that her organization had struggled to meet the tremendous responsibility with which it was tasked, given the limited means at its disposal. The situation was exacerbated by people with "various interests, none of whom had any authority to make promises," she added. "To my delight, a large portion of the evacuees found the inner strength needed to rebuild their lives. But still, there were many who became trapped for a long time in the position of the victim, and the expectations created [by these unauthorized promises] hindered their rehabilitation."

Some 80 percent of the evacuated families are expected to build their permanent houses in the south, Shimon said.

Following the 2005 disengagement, former residents of Gaza - often referred to as Gush Katif residents after the name of Gaza's largest settlement bloc - were allocated 13,500 dunams of agricultural land within Israel. Some 7,400 dunams of that territory has already been transferred to them, Shimon said, and the rest is expected to be transferred in the coming months.

But representatives of the Committee of Gush Katif Residents told the commission that today, three years and nine months after the disengagement, many former settlers continue to struggle with rebuilding their lives and have yet to begin constructing permanent residences. Of those who have started building new homes, only 60 percent have finished the work and begun living in them.

Committee representatives said that hundreds of families are still unable to build permanent homes, as they cannot afford mortgages. Many evacuees, they explained, were forced to use their compensation money to sustain themselves, as they were unable to find employment. Fully 21 percent of the former settlers - some 800 people - remain unemployed, they said.

The committee also said that trailers set up to temporarily house evacuees will likely continue to exist for at least another four years, despite the government's original intention of only using them for three years.

The committee challenged Shimon's figures on agricultural land. Gush Katif contained some 330 agricultural enterprises, but of the hundreds of residents employed in agriculture, only 49 have been granted alternative land, and only a small portion have resumed working in agriculture, the committee claimed. Moreover, just 100 of 180 business owners have reopened their enterprises.