Israel Police on Wednesday began dismantling social protest encampment sites in Tel Aviv and Holon, less than two months after activists set up the tent cities to demonstrate against the high cost of living in the country.
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Holon municipality inspectors, accompanied by a large police force, arrived at the social protest encampment in the city's Jesse Cohen neighborhood mid-morning on Wednesday and started to dismantle improvised wooden structures that were built there by activists.
Unlike in Tel Aviv, where the tent city movement began, many of the activists at the Jesse Cohen site are homeless.
"They'll destroy and we'll bring wood and build the structures again," said neighborhood committee chairman Nissan Zacharia.
Hours prior to the Jesse Cohen evacuation, police raided the tent encampment on Rothschild Boulevard in central Tel Aviv and cleared the tents that remained there following the voluntary dismantling earlier this week.
Police officers were accompanied by municipal inspectors and cleaning workers.
Tents and other equipment were also cleared from encampments at Nordau Boulevard, Ben-Gurion Boulevard and Levinsky Park in Tel Aviv.
The Tel Aviv municipality said that the operation was conducted to clear abandoned tents.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai told Army Radio that the tent encampments were not being dismantled, saying that the purpose of the operation was "cleaning up".
"We cleared empty tents," Huldai said. "As of now, we are not carrying out forcible evictions or issuing eviction orders. We will do that if we need to. This is not a unilateral step. We are merely cleaning the boulevards."
Huldai said that he has supported the social protest since it began and will continue to do so.
We supported and protected the protest, but it is important to understand that is it not possible to take over public space, Huldai said. The protest has not exhausted itself, but the tents have. We cant allow the tents to become part of the landscape of the city.
At around 3:30 A.M., municipal workers started to load tents onto three trucks, Yishai Sakali, a founder of the tent encampment on Nordau Boulevard, said. The tents contained personal possessions and many were occupied, according to Sakali.
Those guarding the tent protest city, and the people sleeping there, woke up from the noise of the workmen and prevented them from continuing [the clearing], Sakali added.
Half of the original tent protest site is left. They took it down with no court injunction, with no warning, including personal possessions, including the destruction of tents that cannot be restored and this was after a clear guarantee that we got from the municipality that there would not be any eviction without coordination, Sakali said.
Some of the tent city dwellers plan on going to the police to present complaints over theft of property. We are continuing the tent city activities as usual, Sakali added.
Yoav Fekete, from the Rothschild Boulevard encampment, said that municipal workers and police came to the site a little before 5 A.M. They started to clear away tents on the southern portion of the boulevard, making their way northward.
People came out of the tents to go to work, the inspectors came two minutes after that and loaded the tents onto trucks with all the personal belongings in them," Fekete said. "They put tents that were intact into garbage trucks. Yesterday, they passed here and distributed notices saying that they want to cooperate with us and then they cleared tents away illegally. They are laughing at us and there is nothing we can do. We are not violent people.
For the last seven weeks, tent camps have sprouted up along the boulevards of Tel Aviv and other cities, as part of a protest against the lack of affordable housing and the high cost of living in the country. The protests reached a climax on Saturday night, September 3, with demonstrations that were attended by almost half a million people across the country.
On Tuesday, inspectors working on behalf of Tel Aviv municipality distributed notices at the citys remaining social protest camps, offering assistance to activists in dismantling their tents. The notices, which had a flower attached to each one, were distributed at the Rothschild Boulevard and Nordau Boulevard tent encampments.