Which is worst? Having your home being hit by a Qassam, or dealing with Property Tax afterwards? Many residents of Sderot, whose homes and property were damaged by terrorist activities, have to live with broken walls and shattered windows for months afterwards.
Sderot, December 2007, afternoon. The S’ family is getting ready for the Shabbat. Suddenly, the “Red Color” alarm goes off. A Qassam missile hits and demolishes the house next door. The Qassam went through the S’ family’s stone fence and hit the gas balloons which were located at their back yard.
Regrettably, this is the daily life routine of the residents of Sderot. It’s hard to evaluate the amount of damage in money, and it’s obviously harder to evaluate it in words. There’s no one in the world who can compensate the residents for the mental injustice which is inflicted upon them. On the other hand, the government has the ability to compensate the hurt civilians for their damaged property and constructions.
In 10.9.07, the recognition of Sderot and the Gaza Region settlements as border settlements which are eligible for compensation, according to Property Tax Law, has been extended to 29.2.08. A border settlement is a confrontation settlement in the periphery. The Minister of Finance, after receiving the approval of the Knesset’s financial committee, has declared these settlements’ residents and business owners eligible for receiving compensations from the country, due to war damages.
Section 2.a of Property Tax and Compensation Fund Law states that the accumulated money in the Compensation Fund’s treasury belongs to all taxpaying Israeli citizens, or should be used for compensating citizens for war damages.
In spite of the Property Tax and Compensation Fund Law, there is a grave malfunction in the bureaucratic proceeding of the Property Tax’s representatives, regarding the evaluation of direct and indirect war damages which are inflicted upon property in Sderot, with it being a border settlement. Not only that the helpless residents of Sderot have to deal with the twisted security situation, they also have to deal with a governmental bureaucratic malformation, which makes their already-bad situation even worst.
The evaluation of property and construction damages is based on familiar standards which are taken from the “Dekel” price list. The Dekel price list specializes in civilian engineering and construction. Its prices are determined according to the results of tenders which are delivered to the company by governmental offices, authorities and private bodies. The price list includes a database of sections in the fields of civil engineering, construction works, concrete, installations, electricity, and prices of various construction materials.
Mrs. A’, whose house has been destroyed by a Qassam, was transferred to a temporary home at a resort village in Ashkelon.
According to her, the property tax engineer had evaluated the damage in 168,000 Shekels, while the engineer who was privately hired by Mrs. A’ had estimated the damage in 430,000 Shekels, according to the same price list. This means that the difference between the country appraiser and the private appraiser, who both work according to the same price list, is almost 300,000 Shekels!
The damage remains the same, the evaluation standards remain the same, and in spite of this, the differences are enormous. Almost three months have passed since Mrs. A’ sent her price quote to Property Tax, and the arrangements still haven’t been made. Meanwhile, Mrs. A’, a senior citizen, has to live alone in Ashkelon, because she has no other place to stay.
The S’ family has also suffered from Property Tax issues, after a Qassam hit their home. The missile’s blast destroyed the entire front of their house. The windows were shattered. Mrs. S’ says that she had to wait 9 full days before receiving money compensation from Property Tax in order to fix her windows, with the front of her house being exposed to the strong winter all that time. Property Tax did pay for the window damage, but the rest of the damage was a different story. The air conditioner was totally destroyed. According to the receipts, the new air conditioner was worth 3,600 Shekels. According to the reports, Property Tax paid the S’ family only 250 Shekels for the air conditioner’s check up. They will never receive compensation for the purchasing of the air conditioner. Their kitchen window was shattered as well, and the china and marble were damaged. Property Tax did approve the damage which was caused to the kitchen window and china, but did not approve the marble damage. Apparently, the expert’s price quote was too high for them - 7000 Shekels.
The S’ family is gathering much strength in order to appeal the Compensation Fund’s decision, in front of Mr. Benny Derai, director of the Compensation Fund in the South.
Another sad story is Mrs. Y’s. Mrs. Y’ is an elderly lady, and is one of Sderot’s pioneer settlers. “When I got here the situation was good. Nothing was happening, and now? The Qassams have been hitting my house for the past three years. The Tax Property? Nothing! They won’t even approve the damages.” At the past three years, three different Qassams had hit Mrs. Y’s house. Her house is completely shattered, and the windows are damaged. The blasts disconnected the drainpipe, destroyed the ceiling’s construction, and pulled out the roof tiles. As a result - her house is always flooded in the rainy winter days. “I kept everything broken so that Property Tax could see what happened to my house. Even my beloved antique clock broke down. I have no windows, the mice and cats go in the house. Is this a way to live? They don’t care. They don’t even approve the damages. They sent a letter saying that the damage wasn’t caused by the Qassam.” Mrs. Y’ shows me the Property Tax reports from the past three years, and weeps. “This is how they let us live, like in Gaza. Is this a way to live?”
V’, Mrs. Y’s daughter, who is an ex-Sderot resident, also tells us about the terrible distress which Property Tax caused her. V’ shows me the statement of claim which was sent by her to the Small Claims Court in Ashkelon.
“The claimed amount of money: 1,349 Shekels + 500 Shekels for the distress. “
“Claim’s reasons (summarized): In 17.1.08 the ‘Red Color’ alarm went off and I ran for cover. At that time, a Qassam missile passed right above me, and its blast threw me in the air. I lost my consciousness, and was evacuated in an ambulance to the Brazilay Hospital’s E.R. When I was hit, I was carrying both regular and sun glasses, and they were lost in the process. I asked Property Tax for compensation, but they said that I don’t deserve any. Ever since, I don’t have glasses, and I can’t afford them either. I live on a Social Security allowance.”
The claim reasons of Mrs. V’ are very clear. She has presented all the documents which confirm her presence at the place and time, and yet - Property Tax refuses to approve the damages. “I don’t need anything from them,” says Mrs. V’, “Only my glasses. It’s a basic need. I can’t drive without them. What’s funny is that they sent me the same format of letter that they sent to my mother, saying that Property Tax doesn’t approve the damages. They just changed the address in handwriting. They write: “I wasn’t convinced that the claimed damage is a ‘war damage’, according to section 35 of Property Tax Law,” and that’s it. They sign it, and consider it done.”
The compensations are given to the hurt people basing on the arbitrariness of the Property Tax appraiser. Turns out that there is no actual enforcement of the Property Tax and Compensation Fund Law. Is it possible that the core of direct and indirect war damage compensation legislation isn’t carried out, specifically in Sderot?
I have yet to receive the response of Mr. Benny Derai, director of the Compensation Fund in the South.