Residents of Tel Aviv's southeastern Kfar Shalem neighborhood reached an agreement on Tuesday with the Tel Aviv Municipality and a real estate company to weigh options for compensating them for their planned evictions.
The decision was made during a meeting of the Knesset's State Control Committee. The sides agreed to a freeze in legal proceedings against residents while they hold three months of talks, with no preconditions, on compensation options.
Around three dozen families were evacuated from the neighborhood in December 2007, after the resolution of a legal dispute over the land the neighborhood was built on.
The decision to evict was made after the Israel Lands Administration sold the area to a private businessman who demanded the residents be removed without compensation.
According to the ILA, about 500 families remain in Kfar Shalem in homes slated for demolition.
Most of the families have lived there since shortly after the War of Independence, when they immigrated from Yemen. The Jewish Agency moved them to the neighborhood, which was then the abandoned Arab village of Salameh. The families have been in a legal limbo ever since, often considered illegal squatters on private land by municipal authorities.
Evictions were first carried out in 1961, when private construction firm Halamish, which owns the land slated for further evacuations, began carrying out evictions and demolitions in keeping with city policies bent on "rehabilitating" the neighborhood, which has long been the poorest and most crowded in Tel Aviv.
According to a press release issued on Tuesday by MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima), chairman of the State Control Committee, between the years 1962 and 1999, 2,569 families were evicted from the neighborhood and by 2008 there were, according to Halamish, a further 500 families to evict, among them 100 "squatters" who had "invaded" the neighborhood in recent years and illegally claimed land.
By 2008, according to the press release, there are today 150 dunams (15 hectares) of land left to "rehabilitate" in Kfar Shalem, land that could be used to build well over 2,000 apartments.
During the committee meeting on Tuesday, Halamish manager Gil Sa'ar said the company is working to include the community in the compensation process and has offered a package of between $130,000 and $150,000 for each family evicted. Hasson challenged the notion, saying that the sum was unrealistic considering today's real estate prices in Tel Aviv, and that no residents would agree to such an offer.
Moshe Popik, head of the Tel Aviv branch of the Israel Lands Administration, said compensation should take into effect the value of the land.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, State Control Committee spokesman Ron Margolit expressed confidence an agreement will be reached by all sides.
"We think that we can and we must reach an agreement on eviction and compensation. This is an area that can develop in a fantastic way. It's in Tel Aviv, next to other areas that have already improved," Margolit said, before adding that today, the remaining 150 dunams are home to many families who are "living in trash."
Margolit said that the low compensation packages offered are the reason residents who know they face eviction haven't agreed to leave. "They aren't suckers, they weren't offered the real value of the land," he said, adding that the ILA will come up with new proposals based on the value of the land on which the residents live.
In his press release on Tuesday, Hasson added that Kfar Shalem "has the potential to become a successful neighborhood" and that the evictions will move forward, as they "are in the interest of all sides."
Kfar Shalem Neighborhood Committee secretary Aharon Maduel praised the agreement, but added that the only real solution for the residents would be legislation that recognizes their rights to the land they live on.
"Once you have no rights to the land, you have nothing, they can just expel you." he said.
Maduel, who has led public protests against the evictions, denied assertions that the demolitions are part of a plan to rehabilitate the neighborhood, saying that Halamish had in recent years "become an expulsion company, not a rehabilitation company."