Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Kfar Shalem Yemenites win stay of eviction

Good news for the residents of the south Tel Aviv neighbourhood of Kfar Shalem: a Tel Aviv court on 29 July granted a stay of the eviction orders served on some 30 families. The ruling expires on 4 September, when the judge will make his final decision on the residents' fate. (With thanks: Ilise)

Around 400 families in all have been threatened with eviction by a housing development company, Halamish. Halamish wanted to redevelop the site and build high-rise apartments, in exchange for minimal compensation to the evicted residents. Some 30 Knesset members signed a declaration of support for the residents condemning their treatment by Halamish. The chief executive of Halamish is thought to have resigned.

But the fight is not yet over. The residents fear that unless their rights are properly enshrined in law they will end up on the streets. They are appealing for tents and for contributions to their legal fund.

Ilise Cohen, a Sephardi activist in the US, says: "this community is struggling economically to survive and they have been asking for help from people in Israel and internationally to support them - at least to get compensation that will not leave their intergenerational families on the street in a month. They have been battling in the courts, which is so expensive - few families have the funds - and they are also trying to get the word out about their situation. Because they are Jewish families who came to Israel from the Middle East, I would hope that there is also an interest in their not becoming homeless in Israel."

The Kfar Shalem dispute has become a cause celebre taken up by assorted activists and politicians from both sides of the spectrum.

Sixty years ago new immigrants, mostly from Yemen, were settled in what had been the village of Salameh until its Arab inhabitants fled during the War of Independence.

Israeli state policy usually dictates that the land be registered in the new owners' name without or for symbolic payment, but for some reason an exception was made for Kfar Shalem and other Mizrahi neighbourhoods.

Explaining the difference between Kfar Shalem and the kibbutzim and moshavim to Haaretz, the Israel Land Authority' s Eli Moran said, "They settled the kibbutzim and the moshavim on the frontier. These neighbourhoods were not frontier zones. The state just wanted to give those immigrants a roof over their heads. Who was thinking about rights at that time?"

The authorities soon withdrew the residents' land ownership rights, forbidding them to improve or expand their homes or synagogues. The residents effectively became squatters.

Rafi Shubeli of the Yogev movement says that for years until 1990, when adequate compensation allowed the residents to remain in Kfar Shalem, the area became a battlefield between the harrassing authorities and the residents. But a change in the housing development company management threw all previous agreements to the winds. Some of the land was sold privately and the unprotected residents once again began to receive eviction notices with no hint of compensation.

Matters came to a head on 17 July 2007 when residents demonstrated against the demolition orders scheduled for that day. Shubeli claims that the police ransacked houses and turned their contents upside down. (Haaretz carries a different story: the police arrested three residents suspected of wiring gas canisters to an explosives device.) The Kfar Shalem residents took their case to Jerusalem on 24 July and the following day the issue was raised in the Knesset.

If you would like to offer practical help to the Kfar Shalem residents please write to bataween@gmail.com.

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