Rothschild tent encampment to be evacuated, court rules

Tel Aviv court turns down petition against evacuation; attorneys call on municipality, state not to forget homeless people living in encampments.

By
September 18, 2011 12:51
3 minute read.
Tent protest against housing prices in TA

Tent City 311. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

The Tel Aviv District Court turned down a petition against the evacuation of the Rothschild Boulevard protest encampment on Sunday, overturning a temporary injunction preventing the municipality from clearing away protest tents. The two-month-old encampment had become a health hazard and descended into “anarchy,” Judge Kobi Vardi said in his ruling.

Vardi allowed the protesters until Wednesday to evacuate the encampment themselves.

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Immediately after the judgement, activists expressed disappointment and said they were now considering their next move.

That, according to attorney Michael Sfard, who has represented the protesters in their petition, could involve an appeal to the Supreme Court.

“Also, according to a preliminary agreement, the tents won’t be removed from around the city until there have been negotiations with the municipality,” said Roee Neuman, the protest movement’s spokesman.

Although the encampment was originally established to demonstrate about housing issues, at the heart of the petition was the legal question of just how far the democratic right to protest extends.

The protesters have argued that evacuating the Rothschild encampment harms their freedom of expression.

However, the continued presence of the tents has led to counter-accusations that protesters are infringing the rights of the wider public.

The municipality had argued that a balance should be struck between freedom of expression and the public’s right to enjoy public space.

According to city hall, the Rothschild Boulevard encampment had become increasingly abandoned and had started to pose a health hazard as protesters moved out and other populations moved in.

In this claim, the municipality is supported by a group of 48 Rothschild Boulevard residents who added themselves to the court petition.

In a letter to the court, those residents painted a picture of anarchy on the leafy central Tel Aviv boulevard, saying that the tents have attracted the homeless and drug addicts who shot up heroin in broad daylight and smeared excrement on cars.

Rothschild residents welcomed Sunday’s ruling.

“It’s a shame that the parties failed to reach an agreement outside the courtroom in the shared spirit that has reigned for more than eight weeks between everyone involved,” said attorney Karin Filosof, who represented the 48 residents on a pro bono basis.

“It’s important to remember that this is a residential neighborhood with families and children,” Filosof said.

“The protest has carried on for a long time and the court’s ruling is an expression of proportionality in this case.”

While the petition was not about the housing protests, it nonetheless managed to refocus attention on housing issues, including the plight of those homeless people living in the remnants of the social justice encampment.

In his ruling, Vardi said the court expected the municipality to do what it could to assist those homeless people.

Attorney Gil Gan-Mor of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel also used the ruling to address the country’s housing problems.

“The Tel Aviv Municipality has approval to clear the city’s encampments, but it cannot ignore the homeless people who live in them,” said Gan-Mor, who noted that ACRI recently asked Construction and Housing Minister Ariel Attias help the homeless by providing longterm rental apartments and increasing the public housing supply.

“So far, nothing has been done about that,” Gan-Mor said.

Attorney Barak Cohen, who has represented several activists arrested during demonstrations, also urged housing protesters on Sunday not to give up their original cause.

“You can take the protesters out of the tents, but you can’t take the tents out of the protesters,” Cohen told The Jerusalem Post. “Every citizen needs to take responsibility for continuing the protests, stronger than ever before.”

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