Tel Aviv moves in early to clear out tent cities

Despite threats by Holon demonstrators, calm prevails there.

municipal workers dismantle tent city_311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
municipal workers dismantle tent city_311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Municipal cleanup crews began breaking down social-protest tent cities across Tel Aviv on Wednesday, removing empty tents and assorted clutter.
The locations in question included not only the main Rothschild Boulevard campsite but also those on Nordau and Ben-Gurion boulevards.
South of Tel Aviv, eight or so shacks set up at the tent city in the Jesse Cohen neighborhood of Holon were demolished by mid-morning.
The majority of the Rothschild site – the center of the movement since the first tents were planted at its northern end on July 14 – was clean by 9 a.m., with a high density of tents remaining only from Habimah Square to the corner of Sheinkin Street, three blocks away.
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The clearance of Rothschild came in a sort of sleight of hand on the part of the municipality, which only a day earlier had sent clerks bearing roses and fliers, telling protesters that the city would clear out the campsite and others across the city by the High Holy Days, at the end of the month. The fliers also offered the municipality’s help to protesters looking for new homes.
Less than 24 hours later, the clean-up crews arrived at the boulevard at 5 a.m. and began walking north from the corner of Allenby Street, clearing out empty tents one at a time.
Since the southern part of the boulevard had the fewest residents, it took more than two hours for word to get out about the evictions. By the time the press arrived at around 7:30 a.m., the tents that had been on the southern half of the boulevard seemed a distant memory, and in their place teams of Sudanese and Eritrean migrants swept the sidewalks as Arab- Israeli managers gave them instructions in Arabic.
Meanwhile, during the evictions at the Jesse Cohen tent city, the mood was one of rage – but the violent response that had been promised by protesters, and expected by the journalists, did not materialize.
The journalists mobbed the scene on Wednesday morning expecting fire, tear gas and truncheon- swinging riot police.
Instead, the families and couples that have been living at the site for a month and a half watched contractors hired by city hall as they methodically broke apart and carried away the wooden shacks they had built. Three arrests were made by police shortly after they arrived, but the fracas was shortlived and the contractors quickly got to work.
“I have nowhere to go, I’ll stay here and we’ll rebuild,” said Amos Avraham, a homeless former heroin addict.
Avraham also took special offense that the authorities sent Israeli Arabs to break down their homes. “They sent Arabs to destroy our houses,” which added insult to injury, he said.
Sporadic arguments erupted between those saying they should set tires alight in the streets and kick things up a notch, and those who said that would only lead to arrests, and that a better solution was to wait until late afternoon to rebuild.
By the late morning, however, the Holon tent city whose eviction was expected to lead to bloodshed ended with a whimper, making rebuilding appear futile.
The evictions came weeks after the tent city on Rothschild had become largely deserted during the daytime and bereft of the vibrant nightlife, jam sessions and all-night discussions that had been a fixture for the first month and a half or so of its existence.
The tent city had become largely a ghost town in the daytime, with most of the population apparently homeless, and a smattering of drug addicts.
A number of people whose tents were taken on Wednesday complained they had held valuables that were thrown away by the city.
In an announcement on its Facebook page, Tel Aviv City Hall said, “Following the protest leaders’ announcement that the tent-city phase of the protests has ended, and the clearance by protesters of more than 600 tents across the city, the municipality on Wednesday morning began cleaning Rothschild Boulevard, Ben-Gurion Boulevard and Nordau Boulevard of abandoned and empty tents that were presenting a health risk.”
Mayor Ron Huldai also told Army Radio the campsites “could not become a permanent fixture.
It just doesn’t work that way,” he said. “They cannot continue to control the public space. We’re not evicting people, we are taking away tents that are already empty,” Huldai said.
Leaders of the tent-city movement issued a statement in which they rebuked the mayor for carrying out the evictions a day after he said he would give them until the High Holy Days.
“Inspectors arrived under the cover of darkness – as in a covert military operation – to strike a blow at the largest social protest in the history of the country, as if activists were enemies of the state and not law-abiding citizens,” tent-city spokesman Roee Neuman said in a statement.
Neuman said the municipality took the National Student Union’s announcement that it was dismantling its section of the Rothschild site as an indication that the protest had ended, despite the fact that the union represents “only a tiny fraction of protesters.”
Despite Huldai’s assertion only uninhabited tents were removed, some tents were removed that contained expensive personal equipment belonging to activists still living there, Neuman said.
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