Have a New House, on Us

"The point of comparison is what the evacuees from Gaza received as an alternative so far, and how the State of Israel manages to bring them to the same situation they once had. Therefore it doesn't matter if they receive the same benefits as the rest of Israel, or not. They were expelled from their homes, so they shouldn't be treated the same as everybody else." Knesset member Uri Ariel, who together with Knesset member Avigdor Yitzhaki compiled a bill to increase compensation for the ex-Gazans at a cost to taxpayers of NIS 3 billion to NIS 7 billion, explains the logic behind his proposal.

Under the cover of his tenet, his bill includes not a few extraordinary benefits. The most expensive is the one that every Gazan aged 46 or more would automatically be entitled to a full pension at the state's expense. Only career soldiers get terms like that.

The existing evacuation/compensation law already helps the evacuees adjust to the labor market. Each receives six months' adjustment support at the state's expense. An evacuee aged more than 50 gets 12 months' adjustment support. And evacuees aged more than 55 upon being evicted are given full pension rights from the state, based on the reasoning that the older ones would have difficulty adjusting to the regular labor market.

But the legislator never intended to extend that privilege to 46-year olds, especially when it would cost NIS 2 billion. That is also the main reason why the prime minister's director-general Raanan Dinur is imposing pressure on Yitzhaki and Ariel to remove that section from their bill, which may well happen.

Compensation for losing a rented home

Even without the privilege of retiring at age 46, there are extraordinary perks in the bill for the ex-Gazans. For instance, the bill offers them almost complete compensation for the house they had, even if they only rented there. Under the existing law, each homeowner in the Strip received compensation for the land according to real values inside Israel proper, and based on a high development cost of $1,150 per square meter. They also received payment for moving their furniture, payment for the years each family member spent in Gaza, and two years' rent. On average, each family received $350,000 in compensation for its home, a sum definitely adequate to build or buy a spacious new house anywhere in the south.

The law also sets $120,000 compensation for each landlord who didn't live in his Gaza home. The tenant of the home is due $40,000. Arieli and Yizhaki propose to change that, increasing the compensation for tenants to $200,000. Arieli points to the Gaza settlers' desire to live together in Israel too, and without a grant for the tenants, they can't join their friends in the new settlement.

That is an interesting explanation. It means that the state is being asked to provide a new house, for free, to a person who had no house beforehand. The state is de facto making the Gaza settlers wealthy at its expense. The state is also giving double compensation for the same property, once to the owner once to the tenant.

And that isn't the end of it. Arieli and Yizhaki even demanded that the state compensate the Gaza homeowners for the full size of the house, even in the case of houses that didn't comply with their building permits or master plans. The state is thus being asked to legitimize crimes and to pay full compensation to the offenders to boot. "Even in Tel Aviv," explains Arieli, "anybody who built in contradiction to the master plan can pay a fine and be done with it." Raanan Dinur didn't bite: he clarified that he would lend no hand to whitewashing transgressions.

Dinur is negotiating with Arieli and Yizhaki to reduce the tremendous bill, as said NIS 3 billion to NIS 7 billion. But much of the essence is likely to pass and become official amendments to the evacuation/compensation law. The state has so much good will that it can't seem to bring the negotiations with the evacuees to an end; it can't seem to bring itself and the evacuees to make final decisions about their future. That is the main reason why even today, a year and a half after the disengagement, most of the evacuees from Gaza still have no plot on which they can start building their homes. And both the state and the evacuees are paying a price for that.