Israel's Tent Protest Left Homeless to Deal With Their Own Problems

Tents have been taken down, mass demonstrations stopped, activists ceased squatting empty buildings and the faces identified with the protest are no longer in the headlines.

Six months after Daphni Leef set up the first tent on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, the social protest has all but disappeared. The tents have been taken down, the mass demonstrations dwindled then stopped, the activists ceased squatting empty buildings and the faces identified with the protest are no longer in the limelight or headlines.

The protest leaders split up to form two separate movements. Some of them are planning a political career. Students Union Chairman Itzik Shmuli moved to Lod, perhaps as a stepping stone to entering politics. Some activists are busy behind the scenes. One group is operating Beit Ha'am - the community center - on Rothschild Boulevard, hosting lectures and debates. Another group formed the "social guard" to monitor and report on the Knesset's activities.

Hatikva - Alon Ron - January 2012
Alon Ron

Some, however, were left behind. Homeless people's tents still stand in Jerusalem, Rehovot, Jaffa, Holon, Bat Yam and Tel Aviv's Hatikva Quarter. Dozens - some say hundreds - of men, women and children live permanently in these tents. "It's not a protest, we have nowhere to go," one of them says.

On Wednesday heavy showers fell in the Dan region, flooding the homeless people's encampments. Orit Dayan, 37, a divorced mother of two, returns every day from her work cleaning rich people's houses to the tent in Hatikva park. She says she cannot save enough money to rent a small apartment in south Tel Aviv.

The despair in Holon's Jesse Cohen neighborhood is much deeper. The few who remain here consist of sick people, discharged prisoners, drug addicts and homeless people who had lived on benches and in public shelters until the social protest.

"I sleep in a tent with two sons," says Avi Mordechai, 54, who suffered a stroke a year ago. The boys, aged 11 and 9, return from school every day to the tent.

"We eat tuna, a piece of bread, sometimes fruit. We can't shower here, only once a week. We go to the toilet in the area across the road," he says. "People here wish they were dead."

These people feel they have been forgotten. No public officials come to see them any more.

"What is the government doing by not looking after our children? Raising a second generation of offenders," says Mordechai. "I'm not asking for a three-room house, just a one-room mobile home.

Not far from there, in a park adjacent to Bat Yam's municipality, the encampment looks deserted. "Everyone's at work," says Shakir Danilov. "They are regular people who can't make ends meet."

Danilov, 42, immigrated from Ukraine 18 years ago. In 2005 his health deteriorated and his wife and two children returned to his parents in Ukraine. In recent months he has been living in an improvised hut he built from pieces of wood he found in the street. In a tent inside the hut, which he shares with a few hedgehogs, he put a bed, a heater, a television, an iron, clothes and work tools.

"I'll never make enough to buy a home. When there's no roof over your head the family falls apart," he says.

The municipalities blame the government for the homeless people's condition. The Tel Aviv municipality offered grants of thousands of shekels to the homeless in Hatikva Quarter if they promise to leave the tents and rent an apartment. Some 50 families and individuals took the grant. Some of them returned recently and erect tents again. They had run out of money.

In Kiryat Shmona the municipality decided on Sunday to evacuate the last remaining encampment of many that were there in the summer. The excuse was the activists' hooking the encampment up to the city's water, sewerage and power systems. Some homeless people also live in the encampment.