At 11th hour, government okays funds for continued evacuee hotel housing

Officials in Gaza border communities criticize decision, demand more funds, as residents, hoteliers furious over procrastination; still no return date for northern evacuees

Illustrative: Evacuated Kibbutz Be'eri residents at a Dead Sea hotel, October 20, 2023. (Arik Zamir/Flash90)
Illustrative: Evacuated Kibbutz Be'eri residents at a Dead Sea hotel, October 20, 2023. (Arik Zamir/Flash90)

Evacuees from the south can remain in state-afforded accommodation until July, the government decided Thursday, but those who do will see themselves eligible for a lower repopulation grant.

The Thursday decision, reached mere hours before state funds for the accommodation were set to expire, extends until July 7 the eligibility to state-funded hotels for southern evacuees from communities situated within 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) of the border with the Gaza Strip, who were evacuated because of rocket fire from Gaza following the outbreak of war on October 7.

Tourism Minister Haim Katz said in a statement that the plan “gives clarity until the end of the school year,” though elected officials from the evacuated Gaza border communities were critical of the plan, while evacuated residents, as well as hoteliers, were upset that it was only approved at the eleventh hour.

According to the plan, returnees who move back during the first week of March will receive a grant of NIS 15,360 ($4,300) per adult and half that sum per child, and up to NIS 62,000 per household. After that, the grant on offer will be halved each week down to a minimum of one-eighth of the full sum.

The text of the decision has not yet been published, but its details were confirmed to The Times of Israel by a repopulation official.

The decision also ends accommodation subsidies for many evacuees — about 100,000 in number, roughly evenly split between northerners and southerners — who prefer not to stay at hotels. No end date is set for the state-afforded accommodations of evacuated northerners.

Illustrative: In this undated photograph, people evacuated from the South stand outside a Tel Aviv hotel. (Photo: Ron Rahamim)

In addition, the so-called independent daily repopulation grant of NIS 200 ($56) per adult and NIS 100 ($28) per child will be limited to those evacuees from locales at special risk, as determined by the army. The official said the government will set up a committee to consider extending the grants for reservists and other special cases.

The mayor of Sderot and the heads of the regional councils of Sha’ar HaNegev, Eshkol, Sdot Negev and Hof Ashkelon criticized the government’s decision in a joint statement Thursday, quoted by the  Ynet news site.

“The approved plan is different from the one agreed upon by the five municipal leaders and the Prime Minister’s Office,” read the statement. “The municipal leaders of the border communities demand that reductions in the personal repopulation grant and the return grant come into effect starting only in April, and at a more gradual pace, as had already been agreed,” the statement continued, referring to a draft plan announced in a February 18 press release of the five local leaders after they met with several government officials, including Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

“Moreover,” the statement added, “the municipal leaders had decided that residents having difficulty returning to the border communities would be entitled to return to the evacuation centers.”

Illustrative: Evacuees from Shlomit return to their community on February 28, 2024. (Courtesy of the General Secretariat of Shlomit)

Nonetheless, Ynet reported that it was at the municipal leaders’ behest that the government decided to extend hotel eligibility by four months, rather than just two. The military, according to Ynet, prefers for extensions to be made two months at a time, to avoid revealing to Israel’s enemies the timeline of its war preparations.

The last-minute nature of the government’s Thursday decision to continue subsidizing hotels for evacuees angered both hotel managers and the evacuees themselves. Sivan Datouker, head of Israel’s Hotel Association, criticized the government on Wednesday for procrastinating, “as a result of which hundreds of hotels are uncertain what they are supposed to do starting Friday morning,” she said in a statement.

Illustrative: Israeli evacuees from the Gaza border area get temporary shelter at a hotel in Eilat, October 17, 2023. (Aris MESSINIS / AFP)

Tens of thousands of people from communities close to the Gaza border have been displaced since October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed southern Israel to kill some 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and take 253 hostages of all ages, while committing numerous atrocities and weaponizing sexual violence on a mass scale.

Dozens more communities in the north of the country were also evacuated after the massacre, as Hezbollah began launching near-daily attacks from across the Lebanon border.

In total, close to 200,000 people were evacuated in the immediate aftermath of October 7 and the subsequent war, with about 150,000 of them opting to stay in state-funded hotels.

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