Fires and fights erupt at tent city in Holon slum

Residents of tent city in Jesse Cohen slum vow to attack police, go down fighting if campsite is forcibly evacuated.

Holon Jesse Cohen burning couch_311 (photo credit: ben hartman)
Holon Jesse Cohen burning couch_311
(photo credit: ben hartman)
Tires and a couch were set on fire on a major thoroughfare in Holon on Wednesday, as residents of a campsite in the city’s Jesse Cohen slum vowed to fight back against a rumored eviction of their tent city.
The atmosphere was highly tense on Wednesday afternoon, as dozens of local residents, including entire families and a large number of children, waited to face down police they heard were coming to evacuate them.
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Attorney Nissan Zechariya, head of the Jesse Cohen neighborhood committee, said that he received a phone call from the Holon Municipality early Wednesday morning who told him that they were going to come and demolish the wooden structures that he said were built at the site over the past weeks.
The shacks house entire families, who Zechariya said are not able to sleep in tents alone. Zechariya said he then got the word out to community youth volunteer Rafi Musari, who made a few calls and by late morning there were already dozens of locals waiting for the police to arrive.
“I don’t understand why they wanted to do this, why not just leave the shacks there? We have always acted peacefully, but this caused people to lose their cool and go crazy,” Zechariya said, adding “this isn’t a rock and roll protest, these are people with very, very serious problems who have nothing to lose.
“This is not a protest of the middle class who cant make ends meet, these are people living in the gutter and it’s not smart to come and mess with them. It could all spin out of control in a second.”
Musari agreed with the sentiment, saying “this isn’t a reality show, this isn’t Rothschild.
It’s people in real serious distress.”
When asked if they will use violence against police, he said “they will fight with everything they have.”
In the mid-afternoon, two municipality clerks arrived and were surrounded by locals who shouted that they had nowhere else to stay and would not let the demolitions happen. The clerks left within a few minutes after telling people that they would go check about getting them a permit from the city hall for the structures.
Arguments then broke out in the crowd between those who feared that it was merely a ploy to get people to leave, and those who said they should block off the roads and face off with police while they had the numbers to do so.
At this point, a few of the young men dragged a couch and several tires into the street and set them alight, sending giant plumes of black smoke into the air. It took police around 20 minutes to arrive, at which point a single officer surveyed the scene, as children threw plums and a few pieces of wood at him as he sat in his patrol car.
The fire was eventually put out by firefighters, and as a group of YASSAM anti-riot police watched the scene the announcement made its way through the tent city that the municipality had backed down, and that no eviction would take place.
All those present vowed to rebuild again and again if police and municipal clerks in fact returned. Perhaps owing to what they describe as a desperate situation, those at the campsite vowed to take extreme measures if their newfound homes were in danger.
In one of the tents, where a couple named Rafi and Osnat are staying with their three children, Osnat pointed to a gas tank and said that if police come to demolish her home she will gather her children around the tank and threaten to blow the shack sky-high, just to show police how serious they are.
David Bodarsky, 32, said “people here have nowhere to live and we will fight and draw blood if we have to. The State of Israel doesn’t care about the people here, we’re asking for humanitarian assistance, maybe the rest of the world will care.”
Bodarsky, who said he has been homeless and in and out of prison since he was 12 years old, said “we hope that the police do come so that they can see how serious we are, that we aren’t like the campsite on Rothschild.”
“I’m ready to die here, I’ve got nothing left here, I could even be willing to blow myself up with a gas tank next to the police, I just don’t care anymore.”