Hundreds of riot policemen early yesterday morning evicted eight families from the Givat Amal neighborhood in north Tel Aviv, an incident reflecting a real estate battle that began in the 1980s and isn’t over.
Residents, joined by dozens of social justice activists, tried to oppose the eviction by barricading themselves in their homes and burning tires at the site. They said they had packed their things, however, knowing that the effort was hopeless.
During the 1948 War of Independence, Jews fleeing the fighting in southern Tel Aviv were placed by the state in Givat Amal, but the families there never received legal ownership of their homes.
The neighborhood of small homes and shanties still houses some of these residents, now elderly, along with their children and grandchildren.
Zoned for luxury towers
The compound was never developed by the municipality, and it now sits in the middle of prime real estate.
The area has been zoned for seven luxury towers. Groundwork for two of them has been done, but construction can’t begin until 30 more families are evicted.
Residents have been struggling to hold on to the property since the 1980s, but more recently they’ve been demanding alternative housing or compensation.
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The Supreme Court has found, however, that the families had no rights to the property and need not be compensated.
Some families who were evacuated earlier received 60 million shekels ($15.4 million) in compensation from Yitzhak Tshuva, one of the developers who will be building on part of the site.
The land that was evacuated yesterday is owned by the Kozhinov family.
After the families were evicted, some of the protesters tried to block the nearby Ayalon Highway, but police removed them from there as well.
One protester, Chen Milo, said that police dragged her out of one of the homes.
“They were violent toward almost everyone,” Milo said. “Male police officers dragged women on the ground and injured them.”
Meretz MK Ilan Gilon, who had spent the night with the residents, was at the scene and was shoved by police.
“You cannot toss families out into the street and not compensate them,” he said, adding that he expects the Housing Ministry and Tel Aviv Municipality to intervene.
The families had prepared heavy chains and piles of tires to block the riot police coming to evict them.
The residents said they knew that the effort wouldn’t stop the police for long, but it was important to them not to leave without a fight.
`We must raise a voice’
“Something has to happen here,” said Hani Shamoha Levy, whose relatives were preparing to leave their homes at the corner of Pinkas and Namir streets, right across from the luxury Yoo Towers.
“We have to show that these are the homes of people being thrown into the street, to raise a voice against this humiliation.”
By 3:30 in the morning, the residents had been joined by dozens of social activists, and MK Gilon was later joined by MKs Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) and Dov Khenin (Hadash).
At 5:30 some 500 policemen arrived; a signal was given and the piles of tires were set afire, giving off thick smoke.
People on the roofs of the homes started throwing flammable items into the flames, causing explosions. Someone on a megaphone chanted, “No eviction without compensation.”
The police officers, some of them masked, came at the homes from all directions and began breaking in. They shoved aside anyone who got in their way, drawing screams and curses from the residents and activists.
`Would you evict your mother?’
“Would you evict your mother like this?” someone yelled at a policeman standing near him. “Police in service of the tycoons!”
This writer, who identified himself as a journalist, was hit in the chest and shoved aside by a police officer named Slava. Several other journalists received similar treatment.
“If you’re a journalist, then stay back,” the officer said roughly.
In the tumult, Gilon was thrown off his electric vehicle, even though he wasn’t interfering with the eviction. Near him a woman fainted and fell onto glass shards from a window that had been broken.
Others were dragged away from the area by police officers. The police needed 45 minutes to push all the resisters past the tire barrier, which was no longer burning.
“It was excessive use of force and an excessive number of policemen,” said Gilon. “I have no argument with policemen doing their jobs, but how do you do it?”
Police and landowners respond
The Tel Aviv Police responded, saying that the officers who were there “faced violent resistance. Firecrackers were thrown at them, flammable material was sprayed on them, and roads were blocked by burning tires. Two people were arrested in the rioting.”
Residents claim that the Kozhinov family never spoke to them about compensation. But the Kozhinovs, in a statement issued by their attorney, Tal Benenson, said, “All attempts to arrange evacuation by agreement over a lengthy period were stymied by a wall of unreasonable and illogical demands by the squatters.”
The attorney added that the family “won’t conduct negotiations under threats, bullying, or other means of pressure.” But the family invited “any squatter who hasn’t yet been evacuated to sit with its representatives to try to come to an agreement.”
Benenson added: “Attempts to portray the evacuees as innocents who got into trouble through no fault of their own is inappropriate and incorrect, and their claims were rejected by the court accordingly.”