Squatters threaten violence over J’lem eviction

100 tent activists break into building in Jerusalem; “People aren’t going to leave here like lambs to the slaughter,” says protester.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
September 6, 2011 00:57
4 minute read.
Miri Ben-Simon and Eran Levy outside building

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

 
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Uncertainty reigned at an abandoned dormitory in Jerusalem on Monday night as the clock ticked closer to the police-mandated eviction of 35 homeless families and activists who broke into the building last week as part of the ongoing housing protests.

The building, on Stern Street in the Kiryat Yovel neighborhood, is an old student dormitory for the Ein Kerem campus of Hebrew University that has been abandoned for the past five years. The university filed a complaint with the police on Sunday, and it gave the squatters 48 hours to vacate the premises, a period that expires early on Tuesday morning.

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The families, most of whom spent the summer living in neighborhood tent cities around Jerusalem – demanding public housing and a roof over their heads – said they would refuse to leave the building until they are provided with housing solutions. Some inhabitants said they would resort to violence, including possibly the use of gas canisters, physical violence or small explosives, in order to stay in the building.

“They were told they have until Tuesday to leave voluntarily, and if they do not leave voluntarily, they will be evicted,” said Jerusalem police deputy spokeswoman Shlomit Bajshi on Monday night.

“The police won’t allow any disruption of the peace or any violence against officers.”

Inside the house on Monday, children played hide-andseek in the entryway as inhabitants greeted supporters who brought clothes and other necessities. There are more than 100 people living in the apartment building, including five pregnant women, five babies, and dozens of children.

“We’re worried, we have nowhere to go, my children won’t have a roof over their heads [if they evict us],” said Batya Mizrahi, who was staying in the building with her mother and two children, aged three years and two and a half months.

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Opinions were divided over whether or not to use violence in order to stay in the building.

“When you sit and talk, it’s just like filling out more paperwork; things only start moving when you slam your fist on the table,” said Pnina Dadon, who has been trying to get public housing for the past 10 years and is living in a temporary apartment nearby.

“We need to fight to get something done; if we don’t fight, we won’t get anything.”

Miri Ben-Simon, who is squatting in the building with her husband, said, “I hope they’ll come to negotiate with us so they won’t evict us. There are a few people [who are ready to be violent], but we really hope it won’t come to that.”

Chaim Cohen, one of the leaders of the families in the Stern Street building, said that with the police’s arrival on Tuesday morning they would evacuate the children, but that the rest of the families and activists joining them would sit on the floor and refuse to budge. If the police tried to forcibly evict them, there are about 10 people ready to use violence, he said.

“People are in really hard situations; they are ready to go to places that are very extreme,” said Michael, an activist from the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement who was supporting and advising the families.

Cohen said the families did not want to damage the property and did not know the building belonged to the university when they broke in last week.

“We’re in favor of the students,” he said, adding that, like the tent cities, the families also want more housing for young couples, released soldiers, students and families struggling to make ends meet.

“This building is a scream for help for the entire country and all the poor people,” he said.

Hebrew University spokeswoman Orit Sulitzeanu said on Sunday the building is waiting to be renovated and is currently unsafe for inhabitants, though it will be used for students at Ein Kerem in the near future. She said she hoped the situation would be resolved “quickly and in good spirits.”

A spokesman for the public housing protest accused Israel of focusing on the end of the students’ struggle, rather than the real tent dwellers. The students in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem chose to fold up the majority of their tents on Sunday and return to their homes and jobs while they move onto the next phase of demonstrations.

“The tents in City Park, Independence Park, and Sacher Park are tents with no other choice,” said Idan Pinak, a spokesman for the public housing protest in Jerusalem.

“They have nowhere else to go.”

Cohen said if, in the end, the 35 families are evicted from the building on Stern Street, they will build another tent encampment together somewhere in the vicinity, because they have no other choice.

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