Court Rules Homeless Families Can Stay in Jerusalem Park

City under pressure to evict 11 homeless families from Sacher Park before second Jerusalem Marathon on March 1.

A court Tuesday barred the Jerusalem municipality from forcibly evacuating a tent encampment set up by homeless people in the city's Sacher Park.

Some of the 11 families have been in the park for as long as seven months, ever since the summer's socioeconomic protests.

homeless, encampment
Olivier Fitoussi

The city is under pressure to evict them before the second Jerusalem Marathon is run on March 1, because the closing ceremony is due to take place in the park, near the encampment.

The city says there is no connection between the ceremony and the eviction request.

Two weeks ago the city offered to give them rent subsidies of NIS 2,200 a month for six months if they left voluntarily, and to try to help them arrange for permanent housing from the Housing Ministry during that time. But most of the families rejected the offer as impractical, saying apartment owners don't like to rent for only six months, and especially without financial guarantees, which they can't provide.

The city therefore planned to forcibly evict them. But the residents, with the help of the Community Advocacy organization, went to court, and yesterday, the Jerusalem District Court issued an injunction barring the eviction until another hearing is held on March 7.

The municipality had argued that the families are in the park illegally, that the encampment constitutes a health, security and environmental hazard, and that it had already made the squatters a generous offer in an effort to resolve the problem peacefully, despite having no legal obligation to do so.

But Judge Yigal Mersel rejected these arguments, instead accepting the families' contention that forcible eviction would do them "serious, enormous and cruel" harm. The families are not in the park to protest, but out of genuine distress, he said, and the city did not give them enough time to consider its proposal.

'No picnic'

The families welcomed the victory, but pointed out that it didn't actually help their situation; it merely prevented the city from making it worse.

Oshrit Dahan, who has been living in the park with her husband and two children, aged 4 and 6, noted that living in a makeshift dwelling during the coldest part of a Jerusalem winter is hardly a picnic. While the original tents have been replaced with closed huts insulated with plastic sheeting, and some of the families have wood or gas stoves, the huts are still frigid.

"At night we cover ourselves with coats and more coats, blankets and more blankets," she said. "There are currently nine children, ranging in age from a year and a half to 9, living in the encampment."

Nevertheless, Dahan said, "I feel safer and more protected in a public space than in a house where I'm always being chased after by people who want money from me."

Moreover, she added, NIS 2,200 a month isn't enough to rent an apartment in Jerusalem, one of Israel's most expensive cities, so accepting the city's offer would just "get me into a worse economic mess than I'm already in."

The municipality said in response that it had tried to help the families even though providing housing for the poor is the responsibility of the Housing Ministry, not the city.

"The municipality made an unprecedented offer" of housing assistance that would get the families through the winter, it said in a statement, and some families did accept the offer.

It also rejected the claim that it moved to evict the families because of the upcoming marathon. "The reason is that the encampment is a health, security and environmental hazard," the statement said. "Leaving the families there hurts them first and foremost, but unfortunately, they aren't helping us solve the problem."