Squatters evicted from abandoned Hebrew U. dormitories

Eight arrested although eviction is peaceful despite earlier threats of violence; police on hand to protect workers, keep the peace.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
September 14, 2011 06:55
4 minute read.
Miri Ben-Simon and Eran Levy outside building

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

Thirty homeless people were evacuated from an abandoned Hebrew University dormitory in Jerusalem on Tuesday morning, two weeks after families from the tent cities started squatting in the building.

Eight activists were arrested throughout the course of the day as a result of the evictions, four at the building itself, located in the Kiryat Yovel neighborhood, and four at a protest on Tuesday night outside of Hebrew University President Menachem Ben Sasson’s house that turned violent.

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Last week, the population in the building swelled to more than 120 people and nearly 40 families – most of whom spent the summer living in neighborhood tent cities around Jerusalem – demanding public housing and a roof over their heads.

They said they would refuse to leave the building until they are provided with housing solutions, and originally threatened to resist any eviction violently, with gas canisters or physical violence.

The first families broke into the building on September 1, joined by hardcore activists from the tent protest. On September 4, the Hebrew University filed a complaint with the police over the squatters. Police gave the inhabitants 48 hours to voluntarily evacuate the building, touching off an intense two-day period where families and activists waited nervously for a violent confrontation that never came.

On Tuesday morning at around 10 a.m., four trucks pulled up outside of the building on Stern Street, and workers contracted by the university began to collect the belongings of the people who were living there. Police arrived to protect the workers and keep the peace in the event of violence, though the eviction proceeded without any major incidents.

After the eviction was completed, four young activists who had not been living in the building tried to break into the building again, and were taken by police for questioning.

On Tuesday night, more than 150 supporters of the Stern Street squatters demonstrated in front of Prof. Menachem Ben Sasson’s house, which is across from the Gilad Schalit tent. Angry demonstrators tried to break into Ben Sasson’s house and block the roads, and some even tried to access his house from the back. Four people were arrested.

“The saddest thing is that after we made the building suitable for living, it will again be a ghost building,” said Viki Vanunu, a single mother who has been splitting her time between the Gan Hair tent city and the building on Stern Street.

“Seven years it’s been empty and we’re on the street... it is our legitimate right as human beings to have a roof over our head. If the government doesn’t take responsibility, we have to do it for ourselves,” she said.

The residents said they were trying to negotiate a deal with the University and Prazot, the government’s Jerusalem Municipality housing authority, to possibly turn the student dormitory into public housing units.

A Hebrew University spokesman said that the university had spoken with the activists, but had decided to keep the buildings as student dormitories, and that they would be renovated in the coming weeks. The two buildings on Stern Street are expected to open in 2013 to hold 100 medical students studying at the Ein Kerem campus, as part of the university’s efforts to revitalize the neighborhood.

The spokesman insisted that the university supported the social protests, including several professors from the institution who are serving on the Trajtenberg Committee and the alternative activists’ committee to examine issues raised by the struggle.

But Vanunu said that support does not change the fact that she is once again on the street as the nights are increasingly getting colder.

“The mental pain was much harder knowing you’re homeless again,” she said.

“The blow [of eviction] passes, but the knowledge that you’re again on the streets with kids is much harder – especially because the buildings are still empty.”

The families arrested from Stern Street will return to tent cities in downtown Jerusalem and Kiryat Yovel, but feel their options are running out with the winter approaching.

Last week, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat met with the tent city protesters and offered them incentives to solve the tent city problem, including up to NIS 1,500 per month for rent through Prazot and a grant of NIS 2,000 per family, and would work to unfreeze more than NIS 120 million for public-housing projects.

Vanunu said that the mayor’s gestures were appreciated, but not enough, and she is looking for a permanent housing solution. Her NIS 3,200 salary as a preschool aide is barely enough for rent, leaving nothing for food or other expenses, she said.


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