Jerusalem homeless evicted ahead of marathon

Sacher Park tent-dwellers distressed about lack of permanent solutions.

Sacher Park homeless man 390 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Sacher Park homeless man 390
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
As dozens of workers erected white plastic tents across Sacher Park in preparation for Jerusalem’s second annual marathon on Friday, municipal workers demolished and removed the last shacks on the edge of the park, which since last June have housed over 30 homeless families protesting against the lack of public housing.
“My God, I can’t believe it… Can you believe how hard we worked to build this?” asked Oshrit Ben-David, watching with tears in her eyes as a crane removed the wooden shack where she has lived with her husband and two children, aged 4 and 6, since last summer.
“They are destroying a tent made of trash, while they’re building tents for eight hours that cost eight million shekels,” said her husband, Sharon Ben- David, as he sorted through the rubble and found childrens’ books and toys.
“It makes me want to cry,” he said, looking across the park at the sparkling structures set up for race day. “Isn’t this a waste of money? The state needs to be embarrassed that they’re spending money on this [marathon] while private citizens are spending their money on us.”
Private businessmen have agreed to subsidize rents for the tent residents for a year as part of the deal to move them out of the park.
On Sunday, Yaffit Dahan and Oshrit Ben-David seemed resigned to the destruction of their tent city. The remaining residents agreed to fully cooperate with the municipality officials to avoid sullying the name of their protest with arrests and violence, explained Dahan. They attempted to salvage from the debris any last pieces of furniture for their new homes, joking with each other about returning to the tent city in a year when the grants run out.
Most of the residents, except for two, have found solutions for at least a year – either public housing in places like Kiryat Shmona, or local apartments with the assistance of the anonymous donors.
“We have a year, 365 days, but now we’re already starting to count down – 360 days, 307 days – until we’re back on the street,” said Sharon Ben-David.
“It is a shame that the prime minister didn’t come even once, that the mayor didn’t say, ‘These are my residents and I need to help them,’” said Oshrit Ben David. “Even though we’re evicted, the struggle will continue. It won’t break any laws and it will be for the long term, and in 364 days we’ll be back here,” she said.
The Sacher Park encampment was created a few weeks before the social movement’s tent protests swept the country over the summer, after 17 families, including the Ben-Davids, were evicted from their apartments and found themselves with no other options. For eight months, up to 30 families and 22 children lived in tents and wooden shacks on the edge of the park.
In January, the municipality proposed temporary six-month grants for rental assistance of up to NIS 2,500 per month per family, with an additional grant from the Housing and Construction Ministry. The city’s offer was an attempt to give the residents an incentive to leave the park – or face forcible eviction.
But tent residents accused the mayor of trying to “clean out the park” before the marathon, demonstrator Keren Vaknin said in January, and obtained a two-month injunction to stay in the park. The Jerusalem District Court for Administrative Issues ruled on February 29 that the last protesters living in the tents must evacuate the park on March 11.
Although the last residents agreed to move on, they are distressed to be leaving without permanent solutions for their lack of housing. The goal of their struggle was to be accepted into public housing, something only a few of the tent protesters were successful in achieving.
Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat defended his treatment of the homeless families as well as his decision to remove them prior to the marathon. “I did not pull the trigger and remove them right away,” he said during a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post. “They’re sitting at the beginning of the marathon, and while they have the right to demonstrate, the public also has the right to run a marathon with little interference,” he said.
“We made it through the winter, the rain and the snow, the hardest times,” said Sharon Ben-David as he kicked at the pile of insulation and wood that was his home for eight months. “Finally, when the sun comes out, this is what we see.”