Shabbat was approaching, and the pot of tsholent had yet to arrive. "How many servings did you order? Why only 100?" asked a tense, Hassidic looking avrech, or married yeshiva student, who had just come down from his apartment in Building 7 in the Matityahu East neighborhood of Modi'in Ilit. He is one of the dozens of squatters who took over apartments constructed by Heftsiba in the neighborhood, prompted by concerns that the construction company had gone bust. At this moment, two hours before the beginning of Shabbat, he seemed more troubled by the Sabbath meal than by the property he might lose.
Avishai Reichman, the neighborhood's security coordinator, replied authoritatively that this was more than enough for the 60 people staying for the weekend.
Reichman, a veteran resident of the neighborhood, took it upon himself Friday morning to feed the squatters. He drove around Modi'in Ilit, obtaining generous quantities of food and equipment from charities, individuals and stores. A local bakery donated mountains of challah and cakes. Someone donated money for beverages. A wedding hall donated salads, and a store owner donated emergency lighting for apartments not connected to the electricity grid. Reichman turned his apartment into a Shabbat HQ.
By afternoon, many squatters were prepared for the sabbath. Most of the apartments had been hooked up illegally to water and electricity. In front of each apartment complex stood several portable toilets provided by the local council. Every apartment was equipped with as many mattresses and folding cots as the owner could get. An avrech by the name of Fuchs prepared a list of people who wished to stay with veteran residents. Each veteran is hosting six or seven people.
The squatters didn't seemed too troubled about where they'd be praying. Just like the old joke, there are already two synagogues here: one to pray in, and another you wouldn't set foot in.
When the tsholent pot finally arrived an hour before Shabbat, two burly men solemnly took it from the car up to Reichman's apartment. Now the neighborhood that residents call "Nahlat Heftsiba" was ready to welcome the Sabbath.
"Isn't it true that you wouldn't see organizing like this anywhere, except by the ultra-Orthodox?" asked squatter Nava Camil, her eyes glistening. There is nothing like displays of mutual assistance and the comfort of shared troubles to warm the cockles of the heart. But this distracts from the truly burning questions: How long can they hold out under camp-site conditions, living on donations? What about those who have to go to work Sunday morning? And the cardinal question: What to do if and when the police come to evict them?
Most residents here said they think the eviction will happen early next week.
Of all the squatters in Heftsiba-built apartments, the would-be residents of this neighborhood are in the most problematic situation - a Peace Now petition to the High Court of Justice 18 months ago ended in an order prohibiting people from moving in to these apartments, on the grounds that they were built illegally.
Neighborhood representative Haim Shapira said the residents wouldn't budge until the police show up with a court order to evict them.
"We told the police we're not willing to be the first and only ones to leave. Only if they vacate apartments throughout the country will we agree to leave," Shapira said.
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