Following a protracted and contentious legal battle that reached the Supreme Court and culminated in a mass hunger strike, 20 families from the Tel Aviv suburb of Givat Amal were forcibly evicted from their homes by police Wednesday.
Accompanied by the Special Patrol Unit, dozens of officers arrived at the disputed community early in the morning to enforce the court-sanctioned evictions of the family members, some of whom refused to vacate their homes.
Once a strategically placed community, Givat Amal was established by the government during the War of Independence to safeguard the borders on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.
Since 1947, three generations of Jews belonging to more than 100 families have inhabited the modest village-turned-neighborhood without ever acquiring legal ownership rights.
The conflict over rightful ownership came to a head when Yitzhak Tshuva – a well known business magnate who owns a large part of Israel’s natural gas reservoirs – bought the land in Givat Amal from the government in 1987 to transform it into a high-end residential complex.
While Tshuva was granted rights to the land, the families contended that they were promised by the government that they only had to vacate under the stipulation that the billionaire would compensate them and provide alternate housing upon construction of his complex.
According to the families, although Tshuva initially agreed to the terms of the arrangement, he subsequently reneged on the deal because the tenants could not produce the official ownership papers.
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Moreover, the Supreme Court ruled that Tshuva was the rightful owner.
The CEO of Tshuva’s real-estate development firm, Ronen Jaffa, has previously said the decision followed 20 years of legal wrangling with residents, supported by documentation presented to the court by the Israel Lands Authority.
Despite the court’s decision that the neighborhood’s 130 families do not have ownership rights and should not be indemnified, Jaffa claimed that Tshuva “generously compensated” 13 families.
“These families were given a ruling by the Supreme Court that they should not be compensated, but we still paid them,” he said. “We could have forced them out, but negotiated with them instead.”
Asked why some families have been compensated but not the vast majority, Jaffa said the remaining families living in the neighborhood are attempting to blackmail Tshuva for millions of shekels.
“Even though they have no legal rights to the properties, they’re now trying to ask for enormous amounts of money in order to blackmail us,” he said. “But again, the court ruled that they never owned the properties; it was more like a lease. Legally they are not entitled to anything.”
Jaffa claimed that many of the families who moved to Givat Amal went on to build additional properties for their growing families without government approval.
While Jaffa claims that Tshuva has attempted to settle with the families for a reasonable sum instead of enforcing the court eviction order, he said the business magnate was left with no alternative.
Meanwhile, Knesset Interior Committee chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud) defended police, saying they evacuated the residents “in the most delicate way possible,” but said it is unfortunate that Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai “sat aside and didn’t do what was necessary to avoid these difficult sights.”
Regev tried to mediate between Huldai and the residents in the past, and said she finds it regrettable that he did not do more to help them.
“It is too bad that the issue had to reach us after the court said its word. It’s unfortunate that we were not able to help them more,” she said.
MK Dov Henin (Hadash), who was appointed by the Interior Committee to help Givat Amal residents and submitted a bill to provide them new homes, came out against the forced evacuation without alternative housing so close to Rosh Hashana.
“In a place where massive luxury buildings are going to be built, there is no justification to not allow the neighborhood’s residents a meager roof over their heads,” he said.
MK Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) worked with Henin on the bill to help Givat Amal residents and lives in the adjacent, affluent Bavli neighborhood.
While visiting families in Givat Amal as they were being evacuated, Shaked said Tshuva was allowed to build extra homes in exchange for reimbursing the families being evacuated.
“Unfortunately, [Tshuva] did not negotiate with some of the families and they are seeing their homes and their futures being destroyed,” she said. “I hope that a developer who is building more than 1,000 homes in the center of Tel Aviv could reach an agreement with the underprivileged residents.
Sending them to a hotel is not a solution to the problem.”
Shaked went on to call for Tshuva to “reach a just solution immediately and bring back order.”
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