Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Gush Katif Refugees Ask Court to Erase Debts
Refugees from destroyed communities in Gush Katif have appealed to the Supreme Court to force the government to enforce a pre-disengagement decision to erase refugees' debts to the World Zionist Organization.
The decision to erase debts incurred by Gush Katif pioneers when they established their communities was made by the Knesset Finance Committee in 2004. As with other areas around the country, Gaza communities benefited from long-term loans from the Jewish Agency in order establish farming infrastructure, but when the Sharon Administration decided to pull out of Gaza, it became clear that local residents would be unable to repay the debts. Because the Finance Committee had supposedly "taken care" of canceling Gush Katif debts to the World Zionist Organization, the Knesset Laws Committee did not enshrine the debt erasure in the 2005 Evacuation – Compensation Law. As a result, Gaza residents were left with little legal protection and saddled with debt for farming equipment and farm land they can no longer access.
According to Anita Tucker, formerly of Netzer Hazani, the debt repayment is an especially sore point for pioneers who built up Jewish Gaza soon after the area was liberated from Egypt during the Six Day War.
"When we came to Gush Katif over 30 years ago, the World Zionist Organization gave a package of benefits to encourage agriculture in development areas. We received various essentials to start a farm. I was a farmer in Gush Katif for 29 years. We were in the process of paying back those initial benefits, when the government threw us out of the land, that it had originally encouraged us to develop."
Three years later, still refugees
Three years after the government forcibly removed Gaza's Jewish residents from their homes, expellees continue to be scattered in a variety of temporary housing arrangements, and most remain without suitable employment options. Most refugees survive on compensation payouts they received at the time of the eviction.
To raise funds to build a new dairy infrastructure in order to create a post-disengagement source of economic stability, some former Gush Katif communities sold shares in Tnuva, Israel's largest dairy product manufacturer. There is now a foreclosure order for approximately 3 million shekels on that money in order to cover the debts the refugees owe to the Zionist organization.
The lawsuit names as defendants the government, World Zionist Organization, the Finance Ministry, the accountant general, the agriculture minister and the Sela Disengagement Authority, and asks the court to force the above-mentioned bodies to enforce the government's decision. They say the plaintiffs' real ability to restore and rebuild their lives has suffered, and due to the huge sums involved (which is more than the sum total of the payout they have received to date), it has impaired their abilities to repair their lives in the future.