Hatikva tent city residents await eviction

Protesters at one of country’s last remaining encampments say they have nowhere else to go, ask for public housing.

Social protests yelling 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Social protests yelling 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Residents of the Hatikva neighborhood tent city milled around the campsite in a state of limbo Sunday, a day after 23 protesters were arrested in clashes with police during a demonstration against city plans to forcibly evict the encampment.
“We have nowhere to go, if they evict us we’ll just sleep somewhere else in the street,” said Nissan Gomel, 51, as he picked up around a tent where he said his exwife and children were staying.
“I don’t want a house, I want a room, a roof over my head, that’s all,” Gomel added, when asked what his demands are from the government.
Other than a small encampment on Yefet Boulevard in Jaffa, the Hatikva tent city is the last remaining campsite in Tel Aviv. The residents are by-and- large quite different from those who camped out at the Rothschild Boulevard campsite and others on Ben- Gurion and Nordau boulevards in Tel Aviv. They are predominantly families, many of them single mothers and their children, as well as recovering drug addicts and homeless people.
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As opposed to the other campsites in Tel Aviv, the demands didn’t meander along a constellation of “social justice” goals, instead they revolved around a single demand: housing.
“We are asking for the state to build public housing. The situation [in Israel] is impossible; an apartment costs NIS 1.5 million–NIS 2m. and you need 60 percent of the cost for mortgage,” said Itzik Amsalem, a fixture at the campsite since the summer.
Amsalem said he was among the 23 arrested Saturday night and he had been given a restraining order banning him from the campsite.
Activist David Elimelech, 50, pointed an accusing finger at the “leaders” of the social justice movement, saying “a movement needs leadership. They need leaders who will stay in the street, who will be there until the end.”He also said that the protest movement must find a way to transition into the political arena, saying “they must get social politicians into the Knesset to change the laws.”
“It’s not enough to sit in the tents, they also need to go to the Knesset,” Elimelech added.
Another protester who was critical of the movement was Shimon Vanunu, 58, who said he was also among those arrested Saturday night.
“It’s impossible to rent an apartment or a room in Hatikva anymore because of the African [migrants]. A few years ago you could rent a house for NIS 1,500-NIS 2,000. Today there aren’t any left because the [African migrants] took them all. [The protest leaders] don’t want to talk about this; they think it’s racism.”
By the late afternoon there were a couple dozen small tents left, as well as a few larger canvas structures.
When asked why residents were loading the steel support pipes of a large canvas tent into the back of a latemodel jeep, the driver said the structure is worth NIS 20,000 and that when the impending eviction is carried out, it will be better if it is only small tents and not more expensive structures that are lost.
Those arrested in Saturday’s protest included social justice movement leader Stav Shaffir. On Sunday, Shaffir accused police of acting violently during the unrest in an Army Radio interview.
She claimed the rally was peaceful, adding, “at some point the police began to exact more violence against us than they usually do and to make arrests. A number of officers came towards me and dragged me to their vehicle,” she said.
“I did not understand what they were doing or why. They carried me while I was choking.”
Shaffir claimed that inside the vehicle the police began beating the protesters they had arrested.
“I have not encountered such violence since serving in the army,” she said.
But claims of excessive force were dismissed by the Tel Aviv police district. “This was an illegal protest in which activists blocked off central roads in south Tel Aviv, and caused disturbances,” a police spokesman said.
“We carried out arrests while using reasonable force,” he added.
The spokesman said police would continue to protect the public’s right to freedom of speech, while taking measures to prevent illegal disturbances.