From Beit Shean to Sheikh Jarrah
The Op-Ed was first published on Ynet Opinions, July 29, 2010. I thank Efrat Weiss for this transaltion.
Over one week ago several families were evicted from their homes in Beit Shean due to financial debts to Amidar – Israel’s National Housing Company. The community refused to silently accept this verdict. Numerous protesters burned tires as an act of solidarity with the evicted citizens. The families explained that they could not afford the rent as they could not remain without basic maintenance products, such as food.
Some of them families ended up on the streets. Amidar claims that several families ran up debts of tens of thousands of NIS, and since the company did not wish to increase those sums they were evicted.
One of the evicted families consists of a widower with four children, and another has five children. Moreover, eviction notices hover over 38 addition families. The victims demand a comprehensive solution rather than a partial one and blame the State for failing to provide them with sufficient means to break the vicious circle of poverty. The cast out families further allude to the corruption with which the Beit Shean local council is infested – those who pull the strings of employment and public housing are related to the mayor and the residents are afraid to revolt.
No, this is not a case of occupation. Unlike the case of Bil’in, this story has not received vast media attention. The United States does not voice its protest against the eviction of the families. Not one senior politician has stood up in their defense. However, the Beit Shean community can no longer remain silent in the face of these inhumane steps – many families are plunging into an economic abyss and are therefore supported by many who took to the streets in protest against the evictions.
The local police force mobilized a special unit – Israel finds no place for compromise, dialogue or political solution. Thus the police used force despite the fact that some of the servicemen and women are acquainted with the victims and are aware of their plights. The residents turned to Mayor Jacky Levy but did not receive a response.
The pains of the evicted families begin and end with political helplessness. The Public Housing Law, drafted in 1998 by Hakeshet Hademocratit Hamizrahit and supported by MK Ran Cohen from Meretz, aimed to transfer the modest Amidar apartments to their residents in order to generate social and distributional justice. Since its legislation, over 34,000 Amidar residents have become, for the first time in their lives, lawful apartment owners.
The State of Israel has offered billions of NIS to kibbutzim and moshavim, either through debt rescheduling or through the possibility of private construction on state-owned land, as is the case with the inheritance of kibbutz/moshav lands. For example, in 1989 the total debts of the kibbutzim to the State amounted to 12 billion NIS. After over one year of negotiations between the Government and the banks on the one hand and representatives of the kibbutzim on the other, the banks waved 2 billion NIS whereas the Government resolved to subsidize 1.3 billion NIS and reschedule an addition 6.7 billion NIS through Government sureties over a period of 25 years. In the country’s periphery, on the other hand, families receive neither land nor debt rescheduling, thus remaining isolated, unemployed and destitute.
The Public Housing Law was shelved through Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Budget Omnibus Law, despite the fact that it would enable tens of thousands of families to purchase the shabby Amidar apartments in which they reside. For many years these families had lived in dilapidated buildings and the law allowed them a unique opportunity for limited social mobility. That opportunity, however, was severed by the undemocratic Budget Omnibus Law. The Public Housing Law is presently under terminal threat by the Ministry of Finance officials.
An unusual tie was formed recently between the evicted families in Beit Shean and the Sheikh Jarrah activists. Beit Shean protestors even joined the mass demonstration held last weekend, in order to examine the possibility of cooperation.
Sheikh Jarrah activists are also examining the option of mobilizing to pressure for a solution to the Beit Shean housing problem. This seed of cooperation and solidarity may be the light at the end of the tunnel – it could mark the possibility of brotherhood between various segments of society. A cooperation of this sort may illuminate our path out of Israel’s separatist regime.
Mati Shemoelof is a poet, editor and member of Cultural Guerrilla, merging social struggle with cultural creation