Police Raid Building as Housing Protests Continue

Israel police in Kiryat Tovel evict 33 families occupying abandoned building.

A large contingent of police showed up earlier this week at an abandoned building in Kiryat Yovel to evict 33 families who were squatting there.

"Suddenly about a hundred policemen arrived," says Uri Agnon, one of the activists who has accompanied the families since they first entered the building. "It was crazy. [The police] ran around as if they were in some kind of action movie: 'You - go round the back; you - run over there.'"

According to Agnon, the police tried to open the doors to the building with a large crow bar, and when that didn't work, they used special equipment operating on air pressure. All this occurred during the late morning hours, when most of the squatters were not in the building.

Two weeks ago a number of families who had been living in the "no alternative" tent for the homeless in Kiryat Yovel's Independence Park broke into the building, which had been abandoned for almost five years. Once serving as a Hebrew University dormitory, the structure was put up for auction a year ago, to no avail.

Two days after the squatters entered the site, the university filed a complaint with the Jerusalem police. University administrators also gave the squatters an ultimatum, telling them to leave the premises voluntarily within 48 hours, by Tuesday, September 6.

The families declared that they would not give in and would barricade themselves inside.

The university's dormitory authority argues that the eviction is necessary for safety reasons, and that the building belongs to Hebrew University.

Those helping the squatters are resistant: "This is not a new squat," says Yoav Hass, an activist. "In such a situation [the university] must obtain a court order."

A few hours after the building was evacuated, some of the evacuees and activists conducted a spontaneous and angry demonstration in front of the house of university president, Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson, who lives across the street from the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem. Demonstrators entered the garden and pounded on the door for a long time, and then blocked the nearby street corner. Four people were detained by police for questioning in relation to the event.

In related news, Tel Aviv District Court Judge Kobi Vardi, with the agreement of both sides, has extended the time in which protesters have to remove their tents from the city, at least until tomorrow.

Representatives of both the protesters and the municipality were to meet in the interim. They will attempt to reach an understanding regarding the removal of the tents and how the protest will continue in the public areas of central Tel Aviv.

Judge Vardi urged that the negotiations process should be utilized to the fullest before the court renders a decision on the matter. Talks between the two sides have been ongoing recently, and representatives of the protesters said in court that they are close to an agreement on the nature of the protest going forward.

At this stage the municipality is willing to allocate four organized discussion sites on Rothschild, Nordau and Ben Gurion streets, and at the train station on Arlozorov Street. In addition, the city will allow a limited number of tents to remain, under the close supervision of protest leaders and the municipality.