Tel Aviv's tent city movement lurches towards its end

Municipal clerks visit tent encampments, tell residents that Sunday is last day to voluntarily leave and still receive assistance from the city.

Tent protest on north Tel Aviv's Nordau Blvd. 311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Tent protest on north Tel Aviv's Nordau Blvd. 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
The era of the Tel Aviv tent cities came closer to an end on Sunday, as municipality clerks visited the Rothschild Boulevard campsite and others across the city informing residents that Sunday was their last day to voluntarily fold up their tents and still receive assistance from the city in evacuating.
In the early afternoon, about 20 municipal clerks arrived at the Rothschild tent city, the symbolic heart of the social justice movement, and walked around telling residents that the eviction is imminent and offered their help in evacuating.
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They ended up leaving after a short period of time and the tent city residents, a skeleton crew of a few dozen homeless people, milled around, some more resigned than others to their fate. The clerks later visited other tent cities across Tel Aviv, and issued a similar warning.
One of those present at Rothschild on Sunday was Irena Shotz, a middle-aged woman who has been a fixture at the tent city since July 17, the third day of the protest. Shotz said she would have to find somewhere else to live in the meantime, and pointed blame at state social workers who she accused of ignoring her demands for housing assistance.
“Social workers can’t give me housing. They can help me get more benefits on my national insurance, but an apartment costs at least NIS 1,500, but without a house I can’t find a job and without a job I can’t afford a house. It’s a cycle.”
Shotz, who immigrated from Russia 15 years ago, said she was looking for a chance to permanently leave Israel as soon as possible, saying that only a travel restriction placed on her due to excessive debt was keeping her in the country.
Also on Rothschild on Sunday was Avi Dahan, an activist in the tent city movement. Dahan said that “the basic impact of this is the principle.
People here weren’t that traumatized by today because they are people who already don’t have any options, don’t have anywhere to go.”
When asked how they would greet the eventual forced evacuation, he said “there won’t be any violence, maybe some yelling and some ugly pictures, but people will listen to the eviction notice and leave eventually. For a lot of people it sunk in today that it’s over.”
In regard to how the evacuations are seen by those at the tent cities, he said “it’s a way to shut people up, an attempt to silence people with real demands who have built a house here.”
The most recent phase in the saga of the Rothschild tent city, which began in mid-July as a small nucleus of tents set up across from the Bima national theater as part of a Facebook event launched by 26-year-old Tel Aviv resident Daphni Leef, has dragged on for nearly a month. The fight over the tent cities has included court hearings and protests against the Tel Aviv municipality and Mayor Ron Huldai, who are seeking to clear out the tent cities, which they and a number of residents maintain have become an eyesore and a haunt for the homeless and drug addicts.
The remaining tent cities include the Rothschild tent city, a shell of its former self only stretching over two blocks or so of the boulevard; the Levinsky Park tent city, mainly inhabited by homeless people and African migrants; the Hatikvah Park tent city, mainly housing families and single mothers; and small remaining encampments on Nordau and Ben-Gurion Boulevard and in the “Hashnayim Park” off Yefet Street in Jaffa.
Sunday’s visit by the municipality clerks followed a visit on September 6, when clerks walked around the tent cities across town handing out roses and telling residents they have until the end of the month to clear out. The next day the city began evacuating empty tents on Rothschild, leading to a furious protest outside city hall that saw dozens arrested.
In mid September, the Tel Aviv District Court rejected a petition seeking to stop the evacuation of the Rothschild tent city, overturning a temporary injunction preventing the municipality from clearing away protest tents. The presiding judge, Dr. Kobi Vardi, said in his ruling that the two-month-old protest encampment had become a health hazard, but he gave protesters until September 21 to clear out on their own.
By Sunday afternoon at tent cities across Tel Aviv, the remaining residents of a fading social phenomenon of the summer of 2011 waited around, knowing that even by the next morning, the tent cities could be entirely gone.