Sunday, February 10, 2008

State won't relieve mortgage of Sderot's 'house hostages'

Larissa Cuzin's 8-year-old daughter came back from school on Sunday and told her mother about her classmate, Osher Twito, whose leg was amputated after being wounded by a Qassam rocket. "She does not get hysterical when she hears someone is hurt or when they sound the siren," her mother said. "But after an hour or two, her head begins to hurt. When she was little, she smiled all the time. Now she never smiles. She's serious all the time and cries for no reason." The Cuzin family is one of a few hundred families who want to leave Sderot but cannot because they are "house hostages," as lawyer Yuval Albashan, the deputy director-general of the Association for Community Empowerment (ACE), puts it. The state refuses to help families leave Sderot in an effort not to project an image of defeat, effectively holding them hostage, Albashan said.
Cuzin pays a mortgage of NIS 2,500 a month for an apartment with a garden that she bought a decade ago. Her eldest son left for Ashkelon, her husband works in Holon. She worked for a solar panel company that shut down because of low demand, and the tiles on the walls of her office were torn down by the impact of a Qassam rocket. "I love my home, I fixed up the garden nicely, but I'm constantly scared," she said. No one will rent or buy the place. Even if she were to sell, she said, the money she would receive in return would not allow her buy an apartment anywhere else. Nor can she pay the mortgage while also renting an apartment in central Israel. "I don't see a solution. I can't help my children, or myself," Cuzin said. Those with mortgages are not the only ones unable to leave. Thousands of people who live in public housing are also in the same predicament. Dozens have asked the Housing Ministry to leave, many of whom are senior citizens. But the security situation is not considered a valid argument to receive alternative accommodation. In light of the their plight, ACE has asked the supervisor of banks, the housing minister and the Prime Minister's Office to freeze mortgage payments of Sderot residents who seek to temporarily leave and to help them resettle in another city in the South for a period of six months to a year. In response, the supervisor of banks said he saw no reason to intervene. "Assisting Sderot residents and the Gaza envelope pay the rent is akin to declaring the evacuation of settlements," said Israel Schwartz, the deputy director-general of the Housing Ministry. ACE is currently considering petitioning the High Court to demand that the state offer Sderot residents the opportunity to move to another city.

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