The members of the Knesset's Audit Committee heard harrowing stories today from former residents of Gush Katif who continue even now, nearly a year and a half later, to suffer the consequences of being thrown out of their homes and lives.
One of the farmers who appeared at the Knesset today is Dudu Michaeli, formerly of Gadid (near N'vei Dekalim) and now of Nitzan. "I'm one of the very few crazy ones who has decided to jump into the water and return to farming," he told Arutz-7 afterwards, "but the other ones learn from my example and see why it makes no sense. I have 4.5 million shekels [over $1 million] invested in this; do you understand what that means? And yet the government has not provided me with my most basic needs: a permanent electric connection, phone lines, sewage, and the like. How do they expect me to run an international business without a fax?!"
Though he grew tomatoes and organic peppers in Gadid, Michaeli now grows mostly organic tomatoes. "But there are frost conditions here that kill off 20% of the produce," he says about his new location in Zikim, between Gaza and Ashkelon. "Not to mention the Kassams flying all around us. They remind us of the mortar shells we had in Gaza; they're the only thing we were able to bring with us in toto from Gush Katif."
Though Michaeli wants the government to provide him with weather protection for his greenhouses to protect against frost, and to supply better infrastructures so he can run his business, his main concern is the financial compensation that has not yet arrived:
"Most of the farmers have not received their promised compensation from the government for their homes and businesses. Imagine that you sell your home and then you're told that you won't get paid for a year and a half, or more; would you be able to exist like that?"
"The tragedy is," Dudu continued, "that there are five or six of us crazies who returned to work - but because of the government's inaction, there are another 200 who simply sit at home and have to answer their wives and children who ask, 'So what are you going to do today?' These are men who used to managing thriving businesses that brought money into the country, giving instructions to 20 or 30 workers - and now they sit at home."
"Even worse is the waste of resources in another way. Just like I have ten Jewish workers working for me in the packing plant, each of these 200 farmers could be employing another ten people. If just 40 more farmers were working now, another 400 people could be working! What a sad waste!"
The Knesset Members were moved by the stories of Michaeli and the others who came to testify, but it is not clear what they can do to alleviate the problems. Agriculture Minister Shalom Simchon (Labor) said that the Evacuation/Compensation Law must be changed in order to help rehabilitate the expelled farmers. Knesset Member Uri Ariel (National Union) is at work on just such an initiative.
MK Ami Ayalon (Labor) said, "This is a problem of the entire State of Israel, and the Prime Minister - who wants to carry out another withdrawal in 2007 - must come here to give explanations. This is pure Chelm."
Forget for a minute the reasons why those farms don’t exist and focus on the compensation packaged brokered by the World Bank wherein the Economic Cooperation Foundation bought those greenhouses, and ask yourself; where did the money go, and why over 18 months later has the compensation not been paid to the former farmers of Gush Katif?