Pro- and Anti-expulsion Activists Agree: $7.7m Insufficient to Rehabilitate South Tel Aviv

Netanyahu vowed to spend hundreds of millions of shekels on the neglected neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv. All the activists who spoke with Haaretz were adamant that the earmark would have no significant effect

Prime Minister Netanyahu touring south Tel Aviv and meeting with residents on Thursday, August 31.
Moti Milrod

Activists on both sides of the battle in south Tel Aviv surrounding the deportation of African asylum seekers were unanimous in their criticism Monday of the cabinet’s decision to allocate just 28 million shekels ($7.7 million) over three years for the rehabilitation of their neighborhoods as well as other urban areas with a high concentration of asylum seekers.

To really understand Israel and the Middle East - subscribe to Haaretz

This, despite promises by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to spend hundreds of millions of shekels on the neglected neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv. All the activists who spoke with Haaretz were adamant that the earmark would have no significant effect.

“They think we’re stupid,” said Shula Keshet. The chairwoman of the residents’ committee for Neveh Sha’anan, the neighborhood surrounding the Old Central Bus Station in south Tel Aviv, Keshet is a leader of the fight against the deportation of asylum seekers.

“This is peanuts, where are all the promises? Neveh Sha’anan is the terrible wound of the area. There’s open drug trafficking in broad daylight. There are hundreds of drug addicts whose recovery will require serious funding. There are women engaged in prostitution who need government funding for rehabilitation rather than to be thrown out of one yard after another. Instead of seeing the disadvantaged populations as a problem, we need to recognize that we need real programs, not just this small change,” Keshet said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, Israel July 23, 2018
\ POOL/ REUTERS

“To talk about rehabilitation with a budget like that is nonsense,” said Dror Mizrahi, a Neveh Sha’anan resident who is running for city council for the Meretz party. “Anyone who wants to rehabilitate south Tel Aviv needs to talk about a comprehensive plan with significant funding. Anyone who wants to improve the situation must talk about growing the neighborhood from the ground up, about how to prevent gentrification.”

City Councilman and chairman of the Hatikva residents committee Shlomo Maslawi said the cabinet resolution “for the first time recognizes the government’s sin against the residents of south Tel Aviv.” But he added that “the proposal will achieve the opposite of what it intends. It will encourage the infiltrators to stay in south Tel Aviv.”

Maslawi said the government should “take the money it wanted to earmark for urban renewal and give it as an incentive to the infiltrators to leave Israel immediately.”

One of the main activists for the deportation of the asylum seekers, Sheffi Paz, called the cabinet proposal a small step toward rehabilitating south Tel Aviv, adding that genuine “rehabilitation will be possible for south Tel Aviv only when the infiltrators and the other illegals leave and the neighborhoods are returned to their legal residents. ... There is a population in serious distress here and they need to be dealt with.”

Paz said that the government throwing them a few crumbs would not shut them up and stop them from fighting to get their neighborhood back.

A number of human rights organizations that aid the asylum seekers praised the cabinet resolution, saying in a joint statement that the government is doing what they have been asking for years. The also said the proposal was a mockery of what needed to be done and more is needed, and they are waiting to hear what the government will do next.

The Tel Aviv municipality said the most important part of the plan was “the government’s recognition, for the first time, of its responsibility for dealing with residents’ distress, which until now the municipality has borne almost alone.”

The cabinet’s decision is the result of efforts by the city and will include plans for the community to empower local residents and strengthen the community in various ways, with an emphasis on education and social services, said city hall.

In addition to Tel Aviv, the cities of Petah Tikva and Eilat will present data on the number of asylum seekers living in those cities within 30 days to receive their share of the 28 million shekels. These three cities will also have to add money from their own budgets as a condition for receiving the government funds.