Israel’s poor, including ex-settlers, face cuts as state funds head to the West Bank

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Former settlers protest paying rent. (Photo: Tsafrir Abayov/Ynet News)

Once living comfortably in Gaza outposts, former Gush Katif settlers are no longer the apple of the government’s eye. Soon many will begin paying rent for the first time on their trailers after seven and a half years of government subsidies — and they’re not happy about it.

On Tuesday Haaretz reported the story:

Several days ago, the 500 or so families received their first bill from the government housing company Amigur, which is responsible for the crumbling prefabs known in Hebrew as caravillas, along with a letter informing them they would have to begin paying rent as of January 1. Rent for the 60-square-meter homes is NIS 1,400 a month, while families in 90-square-meter homes are being charged NIS 2,400 a month.

In its letter, Amigur warned that the Tenufa Administration, which is in charge of helping the evicted settlers, would be apprised of any nonpayment of rent, and that nonpayment would result in ‘all means at our disposal being used to collect the debt, including offsetting, deducting, and denying eligibility for various benefits and payments.’

But residents are incensed, noting that many of the families at the site are in very bad financial situations: They have eaten through their compensation payments or suffered other reversals, including losing money to dishonest contractors, and thus have no way to obtain other housing – or pay rent. Moreover, a new town called Be’er Ganim, which is finally being built for several hundred of the residents, is nowhere near fit for habitation.

‘We have no intention of paying,’ said community secretary Aviel Eliaz. ‘This is a disgrace. For four years we’ve been screaming that many families have no money to move into permanent homes. The solution is in the few million shekels that the Tenufa Administration refuses to give the residents.’

The government decision to terminate compensation claims comes after the Prime Minister’s office gave the ex-settlers notice over a year ago and a $85 million agreement, including grants to purchase land. At the time the ex-settlers set-up a protest tent in their town of Nitzam in Southern Israel near the border with Gaza, where their caravans have been parked in a temporary relocation plan. “Only the pressure groups suckling at the government teat received their lustful share while abandoning weaker populations. We are sorry for the community leaders who were led astray and failed to notice they were surrounded by a web of deceit,” said community representatives Aviel Eliaz and Dror Tanami in 2011  to Ynet News.

The ex-settlers seem to be taking their place among the rest of Israel’s poor who have seen state benefits dwindle as West Bank settlement budgets boom. “In the years 2000 to 2006, the average per capita grant in the settlements in the West Bank was approximately 57 percent higher than the average per capita grant in authorities inside Israel,” reported B’tselem on January 1, 2013. And the trend doesn’t seem to be abating as the budget for West Bank settlements doubled in 2012.  Over twenty years ago Israel stopped building traditional public housing at the same time investments in outpost in the West Bank continued. Then in 2002 welfare programs were slashed, including the elimination of Israel’s food stamps program. To any traveler who visits Southern Tel Aviv, the disparities in wealth are obvious. Rows of houses with tin-roof patches are squished together mere kilometers from the wealth of beach front properties and the tourist-beloved cafe life.

In hard numbers, 24 percent of Israeli citizens live under the poverty rate. Israel also ranks second behind Mexico for the highest rate of inequality, or Gini Index, for OECD countries. But even amongst Israel’s poorest benefits are not given out based on need alone. Israel has fashioned a system of geographical-based need, called National Priority Areas: Area A, B, and C. According to B’tselem most of the West Bank settlements are in either National Priority Area A or B (not to be confused with the security administrative districts of the West Bank that are also labeled A, B, and C). In 2009 Saeb Erekat called the plan a “blueprint for future settlement expansion,” noting the housing subsidies shuffled low-income Jewish Israels from inside of the 1967 borders to occupied Palestinian territory.

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