Is Israel cheating Gaza settlers out of their just compensation? Or were the settlers cheating Israel for many years prior to withdrawal? Ha'aretz reports:
…Has the state really abandoned the evacuees from Gush Katif? They say it has - mainly when it comes to the 700 businessmen from the region. The state is compensating them fairly for the value of their businesses in the Gaza Strip, they say. But, they argue, there is a vast gap between what their businesses were worth there, and what they'd be worth elsewhere in Israel.
In other words, they argue that the fair value for their businesses is not enough to open comparable businesses in Israel.
Now, the state offered each of the 700 the choice among two alternative forms of compensation. The financial avenue was payment of the full value of the business, according to its profits - and any assumptions regarding profit were skewed in favor of the businessman. There is no dispute that people given their full profits and then some were adequately compensated.
The problem is that only about 30 percent of businessmen chose that avenue. The rest will therefore have to settle for the other avenue, based on assets. Why didn't they choose the first option? Because their businesses were losing money. Absent profits, the businessmen were offered compensation based on the value of their assets. Again, valuations were skewed in their favor.
For instance, the government compensated land based on the land values in Ashkelon's industrial zone, not according to the practically nonexistent value of land in Gaza. And the evacuees received compensation even though these business owners took their equipment with them, or sold it to Palestinians (as happened with the greenhouses).
Also, the state is offering grants equivalent to tens of percent of the compensation amount, to help build a new business. According to Sela's own calculations, and those of the Agriculture Ministry, the grants and compensation together rose beyond the cost of a whole new greenhouse, though the greenhouses in the Strip had not been new.
Other businessmen were also offered grants, free land, and exemptions from arnona municipal tax for ten years if they agreed to build their business in the industrial zone by Netivot.
Why, then, do the evacuee businessmen complain that they can't rebuild their businesses? There are apparently two answers.
One, which arises openly in conversation with the evacuees, is that the large proportion of businesses ostensibly operating in the red in Gaza had been misrepresenting their condition for tax purposes. That is why the new legislative proposal suggests a third avenue for compensation, based on the price of a new business inside Israel, irrespective of whether the original business was making money or not.
As for the second answer, Uri Ariel told TheMarker, "It's true that they paid more than the value of a greenhouse in Israel, but that doesn't restore the livelihood the evacuees had. In the Strip they had cheap Palestinian labor, cheap water, and didn't need to heat the greenhouses. Now they don't have all that and their livelihood is hurt."
In his words, he admits to a bitter truism about Gaza: Most of the businesses there had no real right to exist. They were based on land they got for free, water given almost without any charge, cheap Palestinian labor, and an almost absolute holiday from tax. Most of the businesses survived on subsidies from the state and cheap Arab labor, and now they expect the state to continue to give them the same conditions in the real world.
This is also the reason why offers of free land and a ten-year tax break don't satisfy them: Without the cheap Arab labor, the sewing shops of Erez cannot subsist, and to Israel's regret, it can't supply free Palestinians anymore.
Ha'aretz notes the Knesset has passed a bill that will pour another 3 to 7 billion NIS into compensation. Settlers advocates claim that amount is highly inflated. But, as Ha'aretz notes, one provision of that bill gives full retirement benefits to any settler over the age of 46, which itself costs 2 billion NIS.
You have a group of people who lived nearly for free. They had incredible tax breaks, almost free water, amazing subsidies for their businesses and schools. Yet most of those businesses were losing money, even though they relied heavily on cheap Palestinian labor. Worse yet, of the 30% of businesses that were actually profitable, a large number of them declared non-existent losses to cheat on their taxes.
And, to top it all off, the vast majority of these people did not leave voluntarily, and their expulsion cost the state millions of dollars, dollars that could have gone into compensation.
Their rabbis told them to fight expulsion and not to leave voluntarily. Their rabbis told them everything would be fine. Let their rabbis fund their rehabilitation.