Families must leave Sacher Park by March 11

After 7 months in tents, court rules that adequate solutions have been found for homeless families.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
February 29, 2012 20:00
3 minute read.
Sacher Park squatter Yafit Dahan.

Sacher Park squatter Yafit Dahan 521. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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The saga of the battered protest tents in Sacher Park will come to an end next week, after homeless families spent seven months in the sun, rain and hail in an effort to force the Housing and Construction Ministry to improve public housing in the capital.

The Jerusalem District Court for Administrative Issues ruled on Wednesday that the last protesters living in the tents must evacuate the park on March 11.

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Judge Yigal Marzel ruled that adequate solutions had been found for the 11 demonstrators and their children who petitioned the court in January to stay in the park. A group of anonymous business owners agreed to donate whatever amount is needed to make up the difference between the municipality’s temporary grants and the actual cost of rent, said Yaffit Dahan, one of the demonstrators.

In January, the municipality proposed temporary, sixmonth grants for rental assistance of up to NIS 2,500 per month per family, with an additional grant from the Housing and Construction Ministry. The city’s offer was an attempt to get the residents to leave the park or face forcible eviction.

However, the demonstrators petitioned the courts to stay and Marzel granted an injunction against the eviction. The injunction is set to expire at the beginning of March.

Dahan, a mother of five who lived at the tent encampment with her children and husband since the beginning of the summer, said the families would abide by the ruling with heavy hearts.

“It’s hard that we’re in this situation and we didn’t even get to bring about one small victory,” she said. They had no interest in breaking the law and did not want to be considered criminals after such a long and difficult struggle, Dahan said.

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Though at times more than 30 families lived in the tents, only two families and two individuals were left in the park after the bitterly cold winter forced most of the 22 families to find alternatives.

“If I had the ability, I wouldn’t take the money from the donor, if I had the option to keep fighting and stay in the tent, I would,” Dahan said.

“My goal wasn’t the money, it wasn’t for a year of rent, it was about changing the criteria, changing the policies, changing the government. It was making sure that people that lack things will get the things that they deserve, and not get thrown out onto the street like I was.”

Dahan spoke to The Jerusalem Post from a friend’s house where she was searching the internet for apartments and staying out of the foul weather. Recently, someone broke the lock on her shack and destroyed it, stealing many belongings as well.

Living in a public park means the families deal with burglary, sexual predators, vandalism, alcoholics and drug dealers, Dahan said.

Throughout the fall and winter, 22 children ranging from a newborn baby to age 19 lived in the tents.

The ruling means that the demonstrators will have to clear their tents before the Jerusalem marathon on March 16, which starts and ends at Sacher Park. As the city intensified their efforts to remove the tents, the residents complained that the municipality wanted to “clean them out” before the marathon, resident Keren Vaknin said in January.

During a recent interview with the Post, Mayor Nir Barkat acknowledged their presence was problematic. “They’re sitting at the beginning of the marathon, and while they have the right to demonstrate, the public also has the right to run a marathon with little interference,” said Barkat. “I think we’re balancing the two in a fair way.”

While Dahan is preparing for the next chapter of the struggle, the future remains uncertain.

“They’ll help for a year, and after that year you won’t see us back in the park,” she said.

“But as to what will happen, I have no answer.”

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