Inquiry Panel: State Turned Gaza Evacuees Into Refugees in Their Homeland

Commission offers harsh criticism of state's handling of people evacuated from Gush Katif, northern Samaria in 2005 Disengagement.

A commission of inquiry into the state's handling of Gush Katif and northern Samaria evacuees offered harsh criticism of the bureaucracy, delays and poor planning by the authorities since the 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Settlers being evacuated from Gush Katif during the disengagement
Uriel Sinai

The report concluded that all the issues still facing those the report called "refugees in the homeland" must be resolved by the end of 2011.

In 2005, Israel withdrew from settlements in Gaza and the northern West Bank, with some of the settlers having to be evacuated by force. Most of the evacuees still live in temporary housing and face unemployment and other social problems.

"It is possible to rehabilitate the evacuees and build them permanent homes by the end of 2011. This ambitious timetable will become reality if it is accompanied by a concentrated effort by the government and the families," the commission wrote in its report.

The report, which spans 488 pages, was submitted to the authorities on Tuesday. The commission heard the testimonies of 105 witnesses, while 300 more testified before an auxiliary team. The report includes an overview of the past, recommendations for the future, and a timetable for the resolution of systematic and individual problems preventing the state from completing the full rehabilitation of the evacuees.

The commission wrote that every government ministry must place the evacuees' problems at the top of their priority lists.

The report's harshest criticism was directed at the failure to build public institutions in the communities to which the evacuees were relocated. "The reality presents a sad image. Not a single public institution has been completed, under any of the relocation arrangements. The main reason for the delay is budgetary bureaucracy. The budgeting of the public institutions was miscalculated, mistakes were made in the calculated area of the buildings, the assessments were low compared to actual cost and special circumstances were not taken into consideration, like the necessity of reinforcing buildings in the Halutza area."

"The commission believes that the delay in the construction of the public institutions is unbecoming, and in certain cases a complete failure for which the government is responsible," the report continued.

The commission decided to draft a formula by which the cost of building public institutions will be calculated, and to bring it before the cabinet for a vote within three months.

In reference to this issue, the commission remarked that the disengagement administration (Sela) was a "toothless tiger. On the one hand they accepted extensive responsibility, a sort of mini government for a specific population. On the other hand, they couldn't carry out the task because they did not possess the relevant governmental authority."

The commission further found that the temporary housing in Nitan was built without any legal authority even though they had cost the state millions of Shekels. The report concluded that these temporary structures must be dismantled by the end of 2011.

Another recommendation mentioned in the report was the advancement of the medical issues, and the examination of the evacuees' physical state.

The commission wrote furthermore that the "handling of the evacuees is a test case for the Israeli government system. The commission found that these governing difficulties, that witnesses testified are typical of the government's handling of other issues as well, caused the evacuees unnecessary anguish. The commission believes that such governing difficulties are able to undermine public trust in the governing system. The reality that was uncovered sparks much concern."

In regard to the evacuees' role in their current state, the commission wrote that "some of the evacuees themselves contributed to the sad reality they currently face. There are those among the evacuees that chose to put off, rather than hurry, choosing the permanent community where they wish to reside, receiving a lot from the government, filing construction plans for their permanent housing and the actual construction. Many of the evacuees could have taken their fates into their own hands and left their disputes with the government for later scrutiny, meanwhile building their permanent homes without waiting for every last demand to be met. Some of the evacuees raised excessive demands."

The report concluded by saying that the "evacuees are the salt of the earth. With hard work, sacrifice, talent and blind faith they erected amazing communities in the areas that were evacuated. It is especially because the settlements were a way of life for them, the evacuation was especially traumatic. People lost not only their homes, jobs and communities, but they also lost a part of their identity."

"The state has a responsibility toward them in the basic contract that ensures the human rights of every citizen of the state, not to mention citizens who have been turned into refugees in their homeland by the state."