On Monday morning, July 28th, a delegation of Sderot residents traveled to the Israeli Knesset to raise their concerns over the blatant misconduct of the Israel Tax Authority (ITA) in handling compensation files for property damages filed by Sderot residents.
The Israeli government has delegated the ITA to handle, in accordance with Israeli law, issues of compensation for damage in times of war. Sderot residents whose property has been damaged by rocket attacks from Gaza must file their case with the ITA in order to receive compensation from the Israeli government.
Sderot Media Center facilitated the delegation's trip to the Knesset, after publishing an investigative report six months earlier on Israel's leading investigative news site, www.nfc.co.il , that revealed the ITA dealt harshly and arbitrarily with cases of property damage in Sderot caused by Quassam rocket attacks by terrorists in Gaza.
The report found that there was a grave malfunction in the bureaucratic proceedings of Israel Tax Authority's representatives. Although Israeli law dictates that victims of terror receive compensations for the damages caused by acts of terrorism, the question of how this process is applied to the residents of Sderot remains vague and unclear. In addition, the definition of what constitutes property damage is not concretely defined in the law.
Member of Knesset, Rabbi Meir Poush of the Torah Judaism party and the State Comptroller were the first who responded to the NFC report.
The report found that there was a grave malfunction in the bureaucratic proceedings of Israel Tax Authority's representatives. The Israel Tax Authority is the agency delegated by the Israeli government to handle such issues in accordance to the Israeli law that deals with compensation for damages in times of war.
Although Israeli law provides that victims of terror receive compensations for the damages caused by terrorist acts, the question of how this process is applied to the residents of Sderot remains vague and unclear. In addition, the definition of what constitutes property damage is not concretely defined in the law.
Video: Meital Ohayon
At the Knesset, Sderot residents briefed Rabbi Meir Porush and four other Knesset offices - MK Yuli Edelstein of Likud,, Zevulon Orlev of NRP/National Union, and Dr. Marina Solodkin of Kadima, and the policy advisor of MK Gideon Saar, also of the Likud.
Sderot Media Center (www.sderotmedia.org.il
) director, Noam Bedein, opened each briefing, highlighting the primary reason why the Sderot delegation had come. "Sderot residents feel that there are two battles taking place in their city. The first battle is with the Hamas rockets and the second is with the Israel Tax Authority," said Bedein.
Photos by Noam Bedein
Sderot residents explained that the Tax Authority representatives make them feel like robbers. "They make us feel like we are just looking to get some cash. It's humiliating. They don't address the rocket situation or understand the situation we are in," said one Sderot resident who asked not to be named.
Pinchas Amar, whose home is now being rebuilt after suffering a direct rocket hit almost eight months ago, presented his experience with the Israel Tax Authority to the MKs. "After our home was partially destroyed in the rocket attack, we moved to a motel room in Ashkelon until the motel would no longer house my family for free," says Pinchas. "We then moved
back to Sderot into a tiny three-room apartment near our destroyed home, so that I would be able to overlook the eventual reconstruction of our house. During this time, my wife, Aliza and I engaged in a long legal battle with the Israel Tax Authority, until they finally agreed to pay approximately 300, 000 NIS to rebuild our home, out of the estimated 500,000 NIS."
The compensation will barely cover the construction of the new home and will also have to be used to purchase new furniture to replace what was destroyed in the rocket explosion. The Amars have already had to pay for their own lawyer and legal counsel in order to get the Israel Tax Authority to provide them with this financial assistance.
"One major problem is that the average Sderot resident has absolutely no idea what his or her rights are living under a rocket war-zone," says Shula Sasson, a Sderot mother, whose son was wounded in a rocket explosion at his school.
Shula explains that she has been fired from four different jobs since her son was wounded, because of the time she had take off to spend with at home with her recovering son. Shula's home was also hit by a missile. Ever since, she and her family undergo psychological treatments. "I spend 700 NIS a month for my medication, just to keep functioning during the day" says Shula.
Shula's home was damaged a second time when her neighbors' home suffered a direct rocket hit. "When the Israel Tax Authority came to assess the damages, they concluded that only the ceramic tiles in my kitchen were damaged, even though my marble tiles were damaged as well."
Shula filed a claim against the Israel Tax Authority, and she received a letter the next day stating that she would have to pay for the costs of Tax Authority lawyers and their legal expenses should she lose the case. She is now weighing whether she should go through with the lawsuit.
Chava Gad, representing the Sderot Parents Association, came with the delegation to represent a friend whose business had been devastated by a missile. "The total costs of damage done to my friend's business reached 100,000 NIS," says Chava. The Israel Tax Authority agreed to pay her 30,000 NIS because they decided that her store's merchandise, clothes and other products (packed away in boxes but still covered in ash and rubble from the rocket fire), could still be sold. "All you have to do is wash the clothing and then you can sell them, the Israel Tax Authority representative told her," says Gad. "What they didn't consider was that the value of clothing had been rendered worthless at the time they were damaged."
"From what we understand from Sderot residents whose homes have been hit in the past, ITA representatives assess the damages done to a home or business, without any previous photos or evidence of the property in its original state," says Jonathan Braverman, a law student at IDC Herzliya. " ITA representatives then assign the estimated value of the damages, which many times does not necessarily reflect the true value of the object or property that was damaged in the eyes of the resident" Braverman added.
Sderot Media Center, in conjunction with other law students at the IDC Herzliya law program, are working together to inform Sderot residents' of their rights. The visit to the Knesset on Monday morning was crucial step to establishing political awareness of the current compensation situation in Sderot.
Reactions to Report
Following the Sderot delegation meetings at the Knesset, MKs, Yuli Edelstein, Rabbi Meir Prosh, Zevulon Orlev, and Dr. Marina Solodkin, committed themselves to form a lobby group for Sderot residents on the issue of compensation for residents and the functionality of the Israel Tax Authority.
Next week, the Israel State Comptroller will present his research on all matters concerning the protection of Sderot and the western Negev. The Comptroller's investigation was prompted by yet another Sderot Media Center investigative report earlier in the year on the lack of shelter preparation, despite continuing missile attacks.
* Special thanks to David Bedein and Jonathan Braverman for contributing to this report.