Cities Take Steps to Dismantle Protest Camps

Camp residents, many of whom are homeless, refuse to comply; some burn tires and block roads in protest, and a few threaten violent resistance.

Municipal authorities in Tel Aviv, Holon and Ramat Gan have begun taking action against some of the protest tent camps in their respective jurisdictions, in part a response to complaints by neighbors about the noise generated by the encampments.

Holon officials gave residents of the encampment in the city's Jessie Cohen neighborhood 24 hours to take down eight wooden shacks that were part of the tent city, saying the city would demolish the structures if the directive was not heeded.

Holon burning
Motti Milrod

Camp residents, many of whom are homeless, said they had no intention of complying. Yesterday afternoon, some burned tires and blocked roads in protest, and a few threatened violent resistance.

Neighborhood committee chairman Nissan Zacharia criticized the officials' action as "premature and unnecessary."

"A small match can ignite everything here," Zacharia said, adding that if the shacks were dismantled "it will be like London, and the mayor will be to blame."

The Holon municipality said in a statement that while the city council and mayor respect residents' right to protest, they have no responsibility for the public housing situation in the city.

Tel Aviv city inspectors, meanwhile, issued eviction orders for the tent encampment in Kikar Hamedina yesterday, one day after removing "unused" tents on Ben-Gurion and Chen Boulevards.

In a statement, Tel Aviv's municipality noted that it allows tent encampments comprising 1,200 tents in various parts of the city, but must also address complaints from residents.

In Ramat Gan, inspectors come every evening to get rid of the symbolic tent protest set up for a few hours a night on Rambam Square. On Tuesday, inspectors confiscated signs from the camp, while yesterday they issued fines to each participant.

A statement from Ramat Gan noted the city's support for the protest and the fact that it is permitting a tent encampment on Abba Hillel Street, and characterized the Rambam Square protest as a "cheap political provocation" on the part of opposition councilman Roi Barzilai.

More than 100 social activists marched yesterday from the tent encampment in Levinsky Park, in south Tel Aviv, to the Rothschild Boulevard "tent city," calling for workers' rights. Similar marches were held in Jerusalem, Haifa and Be'er Sheva, where participants were joined by cleaning workers at Ben-Gurion University who have recently organized under a new trade union.

In Be'er Sheva, protesters marched in swimsuits, chanting "the protest is spreading" (also "undresses" in Hebrew ). A rally is planned for Saturday, with organizers hoping for a turnout of 50,000 people.

Ben-Gurion University Student Association head Uri Keiday termed the protest "historic."

"There has never before been a protest on this scale in the Negev," he said. "We are here to show those who want this protest to disappear that we are here to stay, and that this is everyone's struggle, from south to north."

In Haifa's Wadi Nisnas, 200 protesters marched, chanting "the people want social justice" in Arabic. This was the first protest organized by Haifa's Arab community, which constitutes 10 percent of the city's population.

Protesters in Haifa chanted, "The occupation is a disaster, it serves the tycoons," and "money should be given to neighborhoods, not settlements."

Raja Za'atra, 33, who organized Wadi Nisnas' tent city, said the protest is part of the nationwide movement but also seeks to highlight specific issues facing the Arab community.

"The banks won't give mortgages to people who want to buy an apartment," he said. "In the case of the Arab population, the supply is limited and the prices keep rising."

Za'atra also noted the shortage of kindergartens and schools specifically geared for Arabs.

In Jerusalem, around 250 people marched in support of improvements to public transportation in the city, including clearer scheduling information at bus stops and more public involvement in decision making.