Israel's Immigrant Absorption Ministry announced that it was ending its lease on a government-subsidized assisted living housing complex, from which 70 elderly men and women, including 45 Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans, would be evicted.
Following reporting on the matter by Haaretz, Immigrant Absorption Minister Yoav Gallant's office said on Thursday that the eviction decision was contrary to his instructions and that he has ordered the plan to evict the residents stopped.
100-year-old Alexander Litvin, who fought with the Red Army against the Nazis, didn't understand why Israeli authorities would want to evict him from his home in the housing complex, where he's lived for the past 20 years.
“I can’t move [to a new] house at my age, I don’t know why the government decided to evict us, it’s our home,” said Litvin. He is one of 70 elderly men and women, 45 of them are Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans, who live in a residential compound in the town of Bnei Ayish in south-central Israel and scheduled to be forced out in four months.
Litvin lives alone in a modest house, very clean and orderly. He is wearing a jacket decorated with medals he was awarded for fighting the Nazis. On one of the walls hangs a certificate he received from the National Insurance Institute in honor of his 100th birthday, wishing him “health, happiness and quality of life.”
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“They sure can give a certificate,” said an outraged Mila Kranitchny, whose mother-in-law is also facing eviction. “But how can he be healthy if they are moving him from his home? It’s simply abusive, we are so worried.”
The cluster of assisted living facilities where Litvin and the others affected by the Immigrant Absorption Ministry's decision live is part of a public housing complex for the elderly, who meet certain criteria to be eligible to live there: They all live on an old-age pension and income support allowance, or a disability allowance, from the National Insurance Institute.
The ministry rented the housing units from private company S.Y.A. Meitav Inestments for 20 years, but deicded to end the contract. Residents begged the company to allow them to stay, but its owner told them it was all the Immigrant Absorption Ministry's decision.
Initially, the ministry refused to answer the residents’ questions and didn't respond to either the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which has been helping the residents fight the decision -- or questions from Haaretz about the eviction issue.
In an initial statement, the ministry said it was aware of the matter. “The units in the housing complex in Bnei Ayish are privately owned. The Immigrant Absorption Ministry is working to ensure that no immigrant living in the complex would remain without a roof over their head.”
The ministry did not officially inform the residents whether they would be offered alternative housing or where it would be, but some residents said they were told in unofficial conversations they could live in government housing in the southern cities of Ashdod, Kiryat Malakhi and Kiryat Gat.
"The residents are in a state of fear and uncertainty, and can't understand their legal situation and their fate down the line," attorney Sapir Sluzker-Amran, director of the Public Hotline Department at ACRI, told the ministry in a written statement. “It is clear that considering their age and financial situation, they have no alternative housing or the ability to organize such an alternative for themselves.”
Yellow star protest
Several residents said that even if the government did offer them alternative housing, they won't be able to move because of their physical condition. As a result, the residents decided to protest the decision to move them out by wearing yellow stars and standing outside their homes.
“If the government removes me from my home with force, I will have nowhere to go,” said Angelina Gruman, an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor, who has lived in the complex for 23 years. “We have already been uprooted by force in our lives, already cut off from our roots.”
“We thought that in Israel we will finally have a home," she added. "All we are asking the state for is to let nature have its way. In a few years, we will all die and they can take away our homes. But give us a few years to die in our homes in peace. We will not agree to leave.”
The Levins, Mark, 89, and Tamara, 84, are both Holocaust survivors and have been married for 60 years. They have lived together in Bnei Ayish for over 20 years. “I’m not leaving here, I don’t have the strength to leave and I don’t have any money," said Tamara. "The little [time] we have left to live, we will live here. The government is selling us off and we don’t know why. I’m staying here even if they take away my home, I have nowhere to go to.”
Holocaust survivors Faina and Yafim Schuster, both 85, have lived here for 27 years. They speak with great anger about the initial decision. “Why aren’t government officials letting me die in peace in my home?” said Faina. “I will go out and march in Bnei Ayish with a yellow badge and will not leave.”
Tikva Manischevitz lived in the housing complex with her husband for about 20 years. He died four years ago and is buried in the local cemetery, where she has already bought a plot for herself next to him. “When we signed our contract with the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, when we first moved into the apartment, they told us we could live here for the rest of our lives. They should keep their promise. That’s all I’m asking.”
Sofa Landver, who headed the ministry until six months ago, said she issued an order not to remove the residents without their agreement. “It’s cruel to remove them,” she told Haaretz. “These are elderly people who must not be moved out against their will. I gave a directive to allow them to continue to live there, but it seems it was canceled after I left the ministry,” added Landver.
In 2009, a similar attempt was made to shut down the housing complex, which was prevented in part due to pressure from Knesset members and lawyers. “It is clear that after 10 years have passed, the implications of a possible closure on the old people are much more serious,” said Sluzker-Amran.
Gisiya Kranitchny, an 84-year-old Holocaust survivor, who has lived in the complex for the last eight years, said her medical problems have gotten worse since she learned about the expected eviction. “I have outbreaks of stress, I feel horrible,” she said. “I don’t know where to move my things. They are abusing us."
Immigrant Absorption Minister Gallant's office said in a statement after Haaretz reported on the matter: "This involves an action carried out contrary to the minister's instructions and policy that no evictions of the elderly be carried out in general and of Holocaust survivors in particular. Following that, Minister Gallant has ordered an immediate halt to any planning or other steps that include eviction of elderly residents from their homes."