Jesse Cohen tent city residents await eviction

Some protesters in the impoverished neighborhood vow to fight police when time comes.

September 5, 2011 03:43
4 minute read.
Yehuda Cohen, left, argues with Rafi Moseri

Yehuda Cohen at Jesse Cohen tent city 311. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

Residents of the tent city in Holon’s Jesse Cohen neighborhood were on edge Sunday afternoon, with some vowing to fight police and municipal clerks who are expected to come early Monday morning to evict them by force.

The tension at Jesse Cohen followed a late-night eviction notice issued by the Holon Municipality. The residents of the tent city, most of whom are homeless families who say they have nowhere else to live and are demanding public housing, said that they aren’t going anywhere and their protest is far from over.

The municipality’s eviction notices were posted to the 10 wooden shacks at the campsite around 3:30 a.m. Sunday morning, and informed residents that they have up to 24 hours to leave before they are removed by force.

After word got out of the eviction notice, activists from the Rothschild tent city and elsewhere, including protest leader Daphni Leef, appeared on the scene to show solidarity with the residents. Leef’s appearance, which came only minutes after two van loads of ‘YASSAM’ riot police left, was not greeted warmly, with several residents cursing and berating Leef, saying that she doesn’t represent their struggle and demanding that she leave.

Several other residents came to her defense and within moments shoving matches broke out between the two sides.

Cooler heads eventually prevailed, and within minutes Leef was chatting on a sofa with a group of locals.

“We’re all in this together. I wasn’t surprised by the reception, these people here are hungry. I am here marked as someone leading a social movement that is not getting the answers it needs, and they are frustrated and they put that on me,” Leef said.

“So they blew up at me, that’s perfectly fine, I don’t take it personally.”

Leef added that she would stay on the scene at Jesse Cohen as would other supporters throughout the night, because “we’re all in this this together, their struggle is our struggle. These are people who have nowhere to live and need answers.”

Leef added that she also expects activists from tent cities around the country to come and support the Jesse Cohen protesters.

One of the residents who shouted at Leef was Yehuda Cohen, 28, who has been living with his mother in a shack at the campsite for nearly a month.

“She’s not part of this struggle. Rothschild is not part of this. We’re people who don’t have a house, we don’t have anywhere to live.”

Cohen added: “They’re coming here now because the story’s here, they’re no longer on top. When they were on top we asked them to come down here and help and they wouldn’t. Now they come down here to hitch a ride on this.”

To some extent, the fracas seemed a microcosm of the schism between the middle-class Israelis who make up the majority of the social justice protesters and the homeless and working poor who have inhabited the tent cities in poor districts like Jesse Cohen.

While the tent city phase may be over for protesters such as the National Student Union, which began packing up their campsites on Sunday, for those at places like Jesse Cohen the decision to fold up their tents and shacks would represent losing what they say is their only chance to find a roof over their heads.

The eviction notice was given to Jesse Cohen only hours before residents of the tent city in nearby Bat Yam, another hardscrabble suburb of Tel Aviv, said they were visited by municipal clerks who said they would need to remove the shacks they had set up at the campsite.

One of the most on-edge residents was local activist Rafi Moseri, who spent 15 years in prison for a violent offense he would not elaborate on. Moseri was pacing the scene frantically all day, saying that the people of Jesse Cohen would fight and warning “beware of the poor, do not mess with the poor. The people here have nothing to lose, nothing to eat, nowhere to live, and will fight to get what they need.”

Periodically, Moseri would run across the street with a group of youngsters to a sand dune where after nightfall two shadowy figures they suspected to be police observed the scene with binoculars and cameras with telescopic lenses. Moseri and the youngsters would curse at the two men, who stood their ground and offered no explanation for their presence.

The 24-hour notice will run out at 3:30 a.m., and until then, locals vow to remain on guard and prepare for a fight, if it comes.

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