J'lem homeless step up fight for 'a home for every Israeli'

Ninety-two people have been living in a downtown camp site for three weeks as part of protest for homes.

poor person 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
poor person 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ninety-two homeless people marched to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's residence in Jerusalem on Monday evening to demand that every Israeli homeless person be given a decent home, as the group continued to maintain a tent camp in a Jerusalem park as part of their struggle. The group, which began the march from an encampment in the city's Kikar Moshe Bar-Am where they have been living in 20 tents for the past three weeks, launched the march to protest the fact that some 53,000 Israelis remain homeless, according to Ayala Sabag, the group's leader. "These are people without a mouth to speak, like the son in the Pessah Seder who does not know how to ask," she said. She insisted that the encampment would remain in place "until the State of Israel gives every Israeli a home." Members of the group will also visit the Knesset Economics Committee next week at the invitation of MK Ran Cohen (Meretz). While the Jerusalem Municipality has not given the homeless a permit to set up the camp at the site, opposite the Hamashbir department store where King George Street and Rehov Ben-Yehuda meet, there are no plans at present to remove them, a municipality spokesman said. He added they had been offered a spot at the Wohl Rose Garden opposite the Knesset but had turned it down. Sabag said the group had decided to set up camp downtown so that passers-by would take notice of their struggle. "The municipality doesn't want us here because it doesn't look nice," Sabag said. "But that is exactly why people need to see it," said Moran Chen, 27, a Hebrew University student from Beersheba who has been active in supporting the homeless. Sabag likened the struggle for the rights of the homeless to a war, adding: "There is a law which states that every Israeli deserves a home. But the law is not adhered to. We follow the law about sending our children to the army, but not the law stipulating that we must provide people with homes. If you don't have a home, you can't study, you can't be healthy." Earlier at the camp site, protesters lined up for meals amid a jumble of tents and dirty blankets. Sabag said that in the evenings, group members sit together for a "discussion circle," which Chen described as "not quite our own parliament but a democratic tool." Each person explains what he or she thinks the community should do next to confront and combat homelessness. As she prepared for the march to the Prime Minister's Office Monday evening, Sabag said she had brought the homeless together into an ad-hoc community. "To Israel's homeless I say, 'Don't sit quietly. Join our struggle,'" she said.