With Evacuated Gaza Settlers, It's a Conversation Between the Deaf and the Mute

Former settlers prohibited from building greenhouses and packing plants on the lands they purchased or were given in the wake of the disengagement.

Nearly six years after Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip, some of the farmers who were evacuated from their homes in Gush Katif remain without a source of income, for which they blame the government.

The problem is that they are prohibited from building greenhouses and packing plants on the lands they purchased or were given after the disengagement.

One example that illustrates the difficulties these former Gaza residents are facing is taking place in Kibbutz Zikim in the northern Negev.

In 2007 the state agreed to purchase agricultural lands from the kibbutz so that it could transfer ownership to former Gush Katif farmers. But those farmers were later told that they could not build greenhouses and packing plants on the land, since Mekorot, Israel's national water company, refused to approve the construction due to the presence of drinking-water wells in the area.

Last week a ministerial committee on Gush Katif-related issues convened and decided that the director general of the Prime Minister's Office, Harel Locker, must find a solution to the problem within a month.

Avi Burstein, a farmer who grew vegetables and flowers in Gush Katif, says he personally knows about 10 families that are unable to earn their living from agriculture because of this issue.

"In the framework of the law, we received lands for agriculture, some of which we paid for with our compensation moneys," he says. "I received my land in 2009 and when I wanted to start building greenhouses and packing plants on it, I found out that I couldn't, even though our contracts explicitly state that the land is intended for the construction of greenhouses.

"We applied to the [Tnufa agency that is tasked with helping Gush Katif evacuees] and they explained to us that by law, it is forbidden to build greenhouses on the land because of the water wells."

Burstein, who is currently working for another farmer, adds, "I applied to the administration again in 2010 and it told us they would give us compensation or an alternative plot of land, but nothing has happened. This is a conversation between the deaf and the mute. We remain stuck."

Yair Farjun, head of the Ashkelon Coast regional council, the jurisdiction where the farmers' families live, warns that these families are on the brink of economic collapse, and are understandably frustrated.

"The state does not know how to give suitable solutions to the owners of farms who are hurt time after time," he says. "All these farmers ran successful and flourishing businesses in the past. Today they are unemployed and unable to support themselves because the state does not keep its commitments.

"I am fighting a war that actually has nothing to do with the Ashkelon Coast regional council, but rather with the government of Israel. But when a farmer asks me for help, I have to do something. Otherwise he will become the responsibility of the council's welfare department."

Tnufa said that it is aware of the issue and that the issue is "being dealt with energetically by the Tnufa administration vis-a-vis the relevant government ministries."