The High Court of Justice told two Ethiopian petitioners on Monday that the
court could not intervene in state measures for dealing with immigrants’ housing
Petitioners Mangasha Lama and Sisai Bakla, both Ethiopian
immigrants whose families face eviction from the Mevaseret Zion absorption
center (a temporary accommodation facility for new immigrants), petitioned the
High Court over what they said was the Absorption Ministry’s failure to give
them appropriate housing assistance.
They asked the court to issue an
injunction forcing the Absorption Ministry to provide them with a housing
However, the panel of three justices, Miriam Naor, Esther Hayut
and Uzi Vogelman, said in Monday’s hearing that the court was not the venue to
decide such an issue, and that it was the state’s responsibility to deal with
the Ethiopian olim.
“We don’t tell the state how much money to give, and
for what reason,” said Naor.
Attorney Oz Eldad, representing Lama and
Bakla, claimed that the two Ethiopian immigrants had nowhere else to go if the
Jewish Agency evicted them from the Mevaseret Zion center.
Opened in 1999
to house Ethiopian olim, the center provides housing at minimal cost for around
1,300 new immigrants, but for a limited period of two years. However, several
hundred olim have remained at the center for far longer than this limited period
because they claim they cannot find suitable housing elsewhere.
petition, filed in March, Eldad had slammed the state for what he dubbed “a lack
of any government obligation towards immigrants from Ethiopia, whose
difficulties adjusting to life in Israel, together with the failure to
understand the language, customs, people and daily reality in Israel... renders
them powerless against the failures of [the] state and brings them to a
situation where they are likely to be thrown into the street with their
However, in Monday’s hearing, Naor suggested both sides agree
to delete the petition after the Absorption Ministry told the court it would pay
the petitioners NIS 1,500 towards housing costs.
That sum is part of a
five-year rental assistance grant for Ethiopian olim created by the government
in August. Attorney Daniel Marks, for the state, also said that Ethiopian women
who make aliya to Israel under the Law of Return are also now entitled to state
While he agreed to delete the petition, after the
hearing Eldad criticized the state’s approach to dealing with what he said is a
serious housing problem for Ethiopian olim and said that the NIS 1,500 housing
grant would not help the issue.
Eldad said that around 500 Ethiopians
face eviction from their temporary housing in the Mevaseret Zion absorption
center because they have exceeded their two-year stay, and the NIS 1,500 monthly
payment will not address the deeper problem that led to their reliance on the
“OK, so now they can find a place to rent for five
years, but this is just a temporary solution,” Eldad said. “But the state needs
to solve the long-term housing problem... the government [needs to] sit down and
talk with a representative from the Ethiopian community in order to look for a
At the heart of the problem, Eldad says, are the
difficulties that Ethiopian olim like Lama experience integrating into Israeli
society, which he believes the government has failed to adequately
One of the petitioners, Mangasha Lama, made aliya from Ethiopia
in 2001, and 18 months later moved into the Mevaseret Zion absorption
Lama was assigned a tiny two-by-three meter studio apartment in
the center, after signing a two-year tenancy agreement in Hebrew that he says he
couldn’t read or understand. He also claims staff told him that if his family
circumstances changed he would be offered a larger living space, or given
In 2007, Lama’s wife, who is not Jewish and
therefore not entitled to the same benefits as olim, came to Israel and moved
into the studio apartment with her husband. Since then, the couple have had
children, who also share the tiny apartment with them.
Lama’s wife is not classed as a new immigrant she is not entitled to live in the
absorption center, therefore in June 2010 Lama received an eviction notice
saying that he violated his tenancy agreement.
The Jerusalem Post learned
on Monday that the Jewish Agency moved to serve the eviction notice because it
believed Lama was using the accommodation inappropriately as a housing solution
for his family, and also because Lama had lived in the absorption center for far
longer than the permitted two years.
Both the petitioners’ attorney and
Ethiopian immigrants’ rights activists slammed the absorption center’s two-year
policy, saying that it does not give enough time for Ethiopian olim to integrate
into mainstream society.
“We’re talking about people who don’t understand
daily life in Israel. These are people who are frightened, and for them their
home in the absorption center is the only thing in their lives that they know
and understand,” attorney Eldad told the Post after Monday’s
Speaking to the Post on Monday, Ziva Mekonen-Dagu, executive
director of the Israel Association of Ethiopian Jews, slammed the NIS 1,500
rental assistance offered to Ethiopians as a “poor, temporary solution” that did
little to address the real issue.
The reason so many Ethiopian olim stay
on in Mevaseret Zion is because there is no reasonable alternative, she
Although since the 1990s the government has offered mortgage
assistance to Ethiopian olim, according to Mekonen- Degu, the housing offered
them is in peripheral, low socioeconomic areas with few employment
opportunities. As a result, Ethiopian olim preferred to stay in Mevaseret Zion,
which is close to Jerusalem, where it is easier to find work.
assistance offered to olim doesn’t help them, it’s not logical,” said Mekonen-
The IAEJ instead has proposed helping Ethiopian olim purchase homes
in better areas, where they will have a chance to create a life for
Mekonen-Degu also accused the state of offering the housing
grants as a way to clear out long-term residents from the absorption centers to
house thousands of new Ethiopian immigrants, following the government’s decision
at the end of 2010 to bring the remainder of Ethiopian Jewry to Israel.