Tel Aviv Suburb Ordered to Restore Utilities to Homes of African Asylum Seekers

Petah Tikva had cut water, power to 12 illegally subdivided apartments in battle against landlords and refugees.

An African asylum seeker in an apartment without electricity in the Tel Aviv suburb of Petah Tikva, Israel.
Moti Milrod

A court ordered Petah Tikva on Wednesday to restore electricity and water to 12 subdivided apartments, most of which are occupied by asylum seekers from Africa. Utilities in the residences were disconnected on Tuesday.

In its ruling, the Lod District Court specified that only a real and present danger could prevent the reconnection. It also ordered the city to cease further disconnections until after an additional hearing on the petition filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel is held, later in March.

Lawyers for Petah Tikva noted at Wednesday’s hearing that over the next two weeks, utilities were to be discontinued to around 20 additional subdivided apartments.

In the urgent motion it filed on Tuesday night, ACRI argued that the purpose of the cutoffs was to harm asylum seekers. Representatives of the city told the court that the apartments, which are illegally divided by landlords, overload the utility infrastructure and pose a danger to their occupants and to nearby residents.

In her ruling, Judge Daphna Blatman Kedrai noted that the motion was filed in the defense of fundamental human rights of a disadvantaged group. She rejected the city’s claims that the cutoffs weren’t aimed specifically at asylum seekers, noting that the material submitted with the petition, which included statements by Petah Tikva Mayor Yitzhak Braverman against asylum seekers, prove that the city’s policy was not based on safety considerations.

The Israel Electric Corp. began disconnecting apartments from the power grid two weeks ago, at the city’s behest. A total of 25 apartments have been disconnected, including the 12 subdivided apartments that were cut off on Tuesday.

Braverman has repeatedly said over the past few weeks that the measure targeted the owners of the subdivided apartments, not their occupants. Still, at a meeting last week of the city’s parents committee he said, “You walk past Meyasdim Square and see black folks drinking beer — it isn’t pleasant.”

The number of African asylum seekers in Petah Tikva, estimated at several thousand, has soared over the past couple of years because they are prohibited from living or working in Tel Aviv.