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Last Updated: Monday, 15 August 2005, 00:03 GMT 01:03 UK
Gaza settlers get golden farewell

By Martin Asser
BBC News, Jerusalem

A settler and his baby prepare to leave their home in Gaza
Settlers at first did not believe they would have to leave
As the hour of Israel's Gaza withdrawal plan arrives, the government agency created to administer the evacuation is giving one last big push to persuade Jewish settlers to leave quietly.

The Disengagement Administration, known by its Hebrew acronym Sela, says it has already got a signed undertaking from 1,127 families to go without being removed by force by the police and army.

That leaves another 600 or so households who have given no such promise.

"Formally, there is no contact with these people," says Sela spokesman Haim Altman.

"Informally, we are in contact with most... but it is very sensitive and the settlers we are talking to want total privacy."

It is sensitive because what Sela is offering settlers, as an alternative to being dragged bodily from their homes, is a financial compensation package.

One of the difficulties is that this financial package is aimed at people who see their settlements as the fulfilment of either divine or political destiny, to secure what they see as the whole "Land of Israel" for the Jewish people.

Compensation calculation

Leaving aside the ideological gap, there is little question of the generosity of the deal paid to evacuees, many of them beneficiaries of government subsidies for settling the land.

An average family can expect to receive about $250,000 (140,000) compensation, depending on house size, the number of children and length of residence in the occupied territories.

FAMILY COMPENSATION PACKAGE
$1,000 per square metre of home
$50,000 for land around home
$1,000 per head for each year of residence (children included)
Moving costs up to $5,000
Half a year's salary if made redundant
Two years' rent following relocation
$30,000 loan for staying in new home

On top of that there are removals expenses, two years' free rent, redundancy compensation and what Mr Altman calls a "bonus" of $30,000 if the family stays put in a community being established to house them.

Farmers will receive an extra amount for leaving the land they have worked, that under a complex calculation could increase the sum to $400,000.

But disengagement legislation allows three years for the money to be paid, which means Sela has been struggling to address a lack of urgency in settlers' minds, Mr Altman believes.

"When we first approached them, the settlers didn't believe the disengagement would really happen.

"Now they want to decide about the day after, the day after," Mr Altman says.

Therefore Sela's job is about interim solutions and it will be tied to the 8,000 uprooted settlers' fate for a long time to come.

Betrayal

To do its job properly, Sela is keen to avoid being seen as a tool of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government.

Israel has occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip since 1967, and in defiance of international law, it has been colonising large parts of these territories with hundreds of thousands of settlers among the native Palestinian population.

An olive tree is removed from a settler's house in Gaza to be taken to Israel
Settlers are paid for nearly everything they leave behind - except olive trees

Mr Sharon was the foremost proponent of that policy, but all that has changed with his Gaza plan. Now he seen as a traitor by Gaza's settlers and their supporters.

They utterly reject his view that the only way to secure a Jewish majority in the state of Israel is to separate it from heavily-populated Palestinian areas like Gaza.

For that reason the head of Sela, Yonatan Bassi, was picked for his strong religious and pro-settlement credentials.

He and his 30-member team want to be seen as builders of new communities, rather than uprooters of old, helping soften the emotional and material damage involved in evacuating settlers.

Mr Bassi has been vilified in some quarters, not least when he reportedly threatened settlers with a hefty reduction in compensation if they did not leave on time.

Now, as the deadline for voluntary departures nears, he and his team will be working around the clock to get as many rejectionist settlers as possible to accept the new political reality.


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