Paying for dead horses
By Paul Haist
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In the aftermath of Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and some West Bank territories, some U.S. Jews complained that those Israelis who lost their homes still were required to pay the mortgages on those homes—a monumental dead horse.
We received one letter to the editor that made this allegation and further lamented that one family known to the letter writer faced having to pay their old mortgage while they also had lost their livelihood.
I chose not to publish the letter because, in the end, the case as presented by the letter writer lacked the balance I thought should be there.
However, if those who were evacuated still owed the mortgages, then almost all of them would be in the same boat: heavily in debt and out of work. That was worth exploring.
The situation as it was described seemed unreasonable. The Israeli government, I thought, surely wouldn't abandon the settlers in that way.
I searched the mainstream media in Israel for stories about this issue. If the settlers were being left with such a huge dead horse to pay for, it must have been discussed in Israel's major newspapers.
I found no mention of the problem there, or on the Israel government Web site.
I searched the New York Times, the Jewish press. Nothing, at least not for the search terms I used.
Arutz Sheva on the Web mentioned the issue, but Arutz Sheva, for all its industriousness and good intentions, has not, in my experience, always been a consistently balanced news source. Also, in such cases, there should be confirmation, a second reliable source.
Finally, I called the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco where I spoke with Jarad Bernstein, the consulate's press officer. I told him what I was trying to learn. He said he'd look into it.
A day later, Bernstein called back.
Here's the situation.
Yes, the former Gaza and West Bank evacuees who had mortgages still must pay those mortgages, according to Bernstein.
However, evacuees who owned homes are to receive from the government an amount of money equal to the value of their former home. From those funds they may pay the balance owing on their mortgage and keep the difference, perhaps to be used as a down payment on a new home.
Bernstein said the evacuees also are entitled to various other types of compensation.
Those who lost their livelihoods are to be compensated for that loss according to a formula based on factors such as whether the person was a business owner or an employee and how long they worked. Generally, according to Bernstein, that will result in payments of up to six monthly salary checks equivalent to the individual's former pay, including payments to any retirement account normally made by the employer.
While looking for a new home, the evacuees are to be paid 21,600-27,000 NIS annually in two payments, depending on the size of the family, to help defray the cost of having to rent a place to live. That stipend is renewable for one additional year.
At the time Bernstein provided this information, the exchange rate was 4.524 shekels per dollar, so the annual rent stipend is $4,774-$5,968
Bernstein said the Israeli government also is offering financial incentives to encourage evacuees to move to the Negev, the Galilee or Ashkelon.
Specifically, the government is offering an interest-free loan of 135,000 NIS ($29,840) to build or buy a house in any of the three specified regions. After five years in the new residence, the loan will become a grant. Purchase-tax fees will be refunded when the loan becomes a grant, which, according to Bernstein, can amount to about 3.5-5 percent of the cost of a new home.
The Israeli government also will provide a one-time payment for moving expenses.
Finally, said Bernstein, the Israeli government has agreed to pay each qualifying evacuee an additional amount for each year they lived in Gaza or the evacuated West Bank regions.
To qualify, each person must have lived in the territories after the age of 21 and lived there for at least three consecutive years. They will receive 4,800 NIS or $1,061 (at the stated exchange rate) for each year they lived there.
All of this is good news. Certainly, if the settlers are paid a fair price for their former homes, they should have the means to satisfy their bank obligations. One hopes the banks will be understanding and patient.
Since all of this first depends on the efficient operation of government offices, it seems likely that there could be some delays and disputes, which would surely compound whatever anguish and uncertainty that already has unsettled the lives of the settlers.
That, if it occurs, is unfortunate, but, in the main, it seems as if the Israeli government has been careful to ensure that those whom they required to make the recent great sacrifices will be compensated justly when all is done.