Lost in the Park

A humanitarian crisis is underway in a park near you. The state must immediately send a rescue mission there, which it knows how to do when it wants to.

On these cold winter nights, people are sleeping in a public park near you. In the heart of Jerusalem, around a dozen families are passing their days and nights in tents in Sacher Park, without heat and cut off from the electricity grid by order of the municipality. On the edge of Tel Aviv, in Levinsky Park, the scene is even more cruel: Dozens of African asylum seekers are sleeping under the open sky, finding shelter among the playground equipment with only a torn woolen blanket to cover them. Last week, one of them was found dead.

The decision on their fate is a political one. Poverty exists in every society, but the state can decide how severe and how deep. Israel has decided that no one will go hungry here, so you'll see no children with swollen bellies. But Israel has decided that homelessness of children (and their parents ) can be tolerated, even though a roof over one's head is a human need no less basic than food. So all that needs to be done is to raise the bar when it comes to poverty that society will tolerate.

In a relatively well off and small country like Israel, which has no limits on security investments, the right to housing should be considered a security need, even though it's a civilian need. We make plenty of unnecessary security outlays - from ridiculous bodyguard contingents to weapons for the day after tomorrow - without which all the homeless people's problems could be solved. If the government invested just some of the resources it plans to invest in Migron, for example, we wouldn't have people lost in the park. If Minister Benny Begin invested in the Sacher Park encampment just a little of the energy he's using to find a solution for the outposts, no one would be spending the night there.

In Jerusalem, the families in the park are ordinary families. The parents are working people who became entangled in debts and mortgages; one of them even works for the municipality. In Tel Aviv, the people in the park are Africans, unemployed through no fault of their own. Both groups are victims of Israeli bureaucracy, impervious and cruel. The tent dwellers in Jerusalem were offered housing assistance for six months, but it turns out no one is willing to rent to a tent dweller for such a short time.

The asylum seekers in Tel Aviv received a residency permit in Israel, but they aren't allowed to work here. How are these unfortunate Jerusalemites supposed to find an apartment? How are these even more unfortunate Africans supposed to survive here without a work permit? The state owes both an answer.

Our hearts are sealed. A society that gets used to such severe poverty is immoral. A hungry little girl from Beit She'an once broke our hearts; a little boy in Sacher Park doesn't interest anyone anymore. How heartrending was the scene last week in the Jerusalem District Court: Homeless people jumped for joy when the court ruled they wouldn't be evicted from their cold tents. Even more heartrending is the scene at Levinsky Park early in the morning, where you can see its residents shivering in the cold after a day or two with nothing to eat.

Most Israelis haven't seen this. They don't want to see it. But the state has the supreme human obligation to meet these people's needs, whether they're Israelis or foreigners. It can do it, it only has to decide.

Most Western countries do things differently. Channel 10 broadcast an illuminating report this week on public housing in various countries, including the capitalist United States, and Israel can only be envious of them all. Jerusalemite Shlomi Mizrahi and Sudanese Yitzhak Mohammed Sayid Fateh al-Rahman deserve housing. A home. They both live here, they're both law-abiding, working men, and above all, they're both human beings.

Just as we wouldn't let them die without offering help, whatever their status and origin, it's inconceivable we'd let them freeze in the park. A humanitarian crisis is underway in a park near you. The state must immediately send a rescue mission there, which it knows how to do when it wants to.

Read this article in Hebrew