100 squatters in abandoned Jerusalem dormitory won't leave

Widely expected police evacuation fails to materialize, 40 homeless families say they will leave when they have other shelter.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
September 7, 2011 04:34
3 minute read.
Miri Ben-Simon and Eran Levy outside building

Kiryat Yovel squatters 311. (photo credit: MELANIE LIDMAN)

An eerie sense of apprehension settled over 61 Stern Street in Jerusalem on Tuesday, where nearly 100 homeless people are squatting illegally in an abandoned student dormitory. The building, which belongs to the Hebrew University, was widely expected to be evacuated with force early on Tuesday morning, when a 48- hour evacuation order expired.

The almost 40 homeless families – most of whom spent the summer living in neighborhood tent cities around Jerusalem, demanding public housing and a roof over their heads – said they would refuse to leave the building until they are provided with housing solutions.

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A few families first broke into the building last Thursday night, and were joined by 20 more families on Saturday night after the March of a Million.

Some inhabitants had said they would resort to violence, including possibly the use of gas canisters or small explosives, in order to stay in the building.

They spent all of Monday night until the early hours of Tuesday morning creating barriers to guard against a possible eviction, including removing doors from their hinges to block outside entrances and creating an obstacle course of wooden planks in the entry way to prevent easy access.

Early Tuesday morning, as everyone waited tensely for the police’s arrival, passions ran high with residents screaming at each other over whether or not to use violence and who would speak to the media.

The dozens of children living in the building were taken to relatives’ houses late Monday night and all of Tuesday after school in case the situation at the building turned violent. The children returned to the building on Tuesday evening to sleep.

Yoni Ran Cohen, one of the squatters, said that the inhabitants of the building had decided on Tuesday afternoon not to use violence and they were instead appealing to public figures and politicians for help.

On Tuesday evening, a handful of activists and squatters demonstrated outside of Hebrew University President Professor Menachem Ben Sasson’s house in the Rehavia neighborhood.

The Hebrew University originally filed the complaint with the police on Sunday over the illegal entry into their buildings, which they said they are planning to renovate for students studying at the Ein Kerem campus.

Hebrew University Spokeswoman Orit Sulitzeanu said the building is currently unsafe for inhabitants and that she hoped the situation would be resolved “quickly and in good spirits.”

Jerusalem Police Deputy Spokeswoman Shlomit Bajshi said that the police are waiting for the right opportunity to evict the residents, but that the time to evacuate voluntarily has passed and the police will evict them in the near future.

“We have no plan for the future [if evacuated],” said Ran Cohen, though most families would probably return to the tents where they lived all summer.

“We’re always optimistic that this step won’t come, but we’re also always expecting them to come,” he said.

At a press conference in front of the Knesset held by the social protest leaders, a core group of activists from Tel Aviv, including Stav Shaffir and Daphni Leef, expressed solidarity with the families on Stern Street, the Jesse Cohen camp in Holon, and other smaller tent encampments where the inhabitants are homeless and have nowhere else to go.

They encouraged the public to shift their attention from the tents on Rothschild Boulevard to the remaining tents, where people were struggling to find a home.


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