At Kfar Shalem, residents are preparing to renew the grassroots struggle for their rights, for their homes.
After consultations with large numbers of residents, the Kfar Shalem Committee has decided to call for a protest rally this coming Sunday, August 30, 2009. The timing of this rally constitutes an innovation in tactics. Unlike the public struggle waged by the residents of the neighborhood in 2007, in reaction to evictions of several families from their homes, now the neighborhood committee is trying to anticipate what lies ahead: the moment when all legal proceedings will have been exhausted and residents will be facing the danger of immediate eviction. In addition, now the issue is not one of a specific compound, but a real threat to the vast majority of long-time residents of the entire neighborhood.
Last year, the Halamish Housing Company filed lawsuits and issued eviction orders against about two hundred families of long-time residence in Kfar Shalem. The management of Halamish insists on unilaterally reducing the eviction compensation payments being offered to the residents, while at the same time doing everything possible to wear down the resistance of the residents in court battles. In parallel to this, the recently passed legislation dealing with the privatizing of lands held by the Israel Lands Authority (ILA) compounds the threat to the residents: inhabited lots situated in the neighborhood are liable to be sold to real estate sharks while the residents are still actually living there.
As was already established two years ago in the struggle of the residents of the “Machal/Moshe Dayan” compound, the residents of Kfar Shalem do not stand a chance against the legal rights of private ownership. Today, the courts tend to sever the connection between the act of eviction and any recognition of entitlement to compensation, and thus the residents will find themselves thrown into the street with no compensation before any such rights have been established. For this reason, it is of utmost importance to establish as early as possible the rights of the long-time residents of Kfar Shalem with regard to their homes and the land on which they have lived for decades, or alternatively to unequivocally establish their right to compensation, so that anyone evicted will be able to buy an apartment that will allow them to continue to live and work in the same areas in which they have done so until now. In addition, public pressure must be mobilized against any attempt to sell public lands on which residents are still living. This issue concerns a large number of people throughout the country, not only in Kfar Shalem. The legislation to privatize state-held lands places tens of thousands of families in danger of dispossession, most of them from economically disadvantaged sectors of Israeli society: Arabs and Oriental Jews who constitute the vast majority of residents of public housing.
Many residents of Kfar Shalem are entirely fed up with the seemingly never-ending battles in court and the dirty tricks of the management of Halamish, a semi-municipal/semi-state-owned company which behaves more like an ally of the real estate sharks and construction companies than as a public company working for the public interest.
After decades of neglect and discrimination but, no less, after the significant improvements in living conditions they have achieved in the last few decades, the residents are determined to fight for their rights and not to give in to those who, inspired by a combination of greed and racism, would dispossess them. On the one hand, the price of real estate in the southeastern neighborhoods of Tel-Aviv has increased dramatically. On the other hand, the population of Yemenite-Jewish origins residing in Kfar Shalem, has never received nor has ever been offered the rights and opportunities given to long-time populations of Ashkenazi origin, who were settled at the same time as them but elsewhere in the country (many in kibbutzim and moshavim, and many in residential middle-class neighborhoods).
In many respects, the status of the residents of Kfar Shalem who were settled in 1949 on the lands and in the homes and other structures of the Palestinian refugees from Salameh, is very similar to that of hundreds of Arab families uprooted from villages nearby to Jaffa, who were placed by the authorities in homes of Arab refugees from Jaffa itself following the 1948 war. The Israeli establishment made sure to keep them all in a permanent state of transience and dependence. Real estate deals with cronies of the establishment have been going on in the area of Kfar Shalem, as in Jaffa, for years, alongside the neglect and limited prospects of the residents who were considered to be second- and third-class citizens. The residents of Kfar Shalem, like the Arab residents of Jaffa, and like many residents of nearby neighborhoods — the Ezra and Argazim neighborhoods for example — never received building permits, so they were always forced to break the law whenever they refurbished their homes to maintain reasonable living conditions. In this way, the establishment could always decide when to hit them with fines, threats of demolition, and court orders, thereby keeping them in a state of political dependence, which simply facilitated forcing them out when a lucrative real estate deal took shape.
In the 1990’s, in large part thanks to the turbulent struggles of the 1980’s and to the political division in Israel’s elites at the time, many residents of Kfar Shalem were made attractive offers to leave their homes and receive appropriate compensation. During these years, hundreds of families received these favorable terms which enabled them to build two-storey private homes in the area of Kfar Shalem itself in the framework of the “Build Your Own Home” project or alternatively paid them compensation sufficiently adequate to enable them to remain residing in the area a dignified manner and guarantee the future rights of their children. In 1997, a political decision froze these attractive terms, and since then the political establishment has recanted and is no longer prepared to continue with this, the only program by which the residents can both fairly leave their homes and the neighborhood be renewed. The price of this program was simply “too high.” Consistent with neo-liberal economic dogma, the program that Halamish had implemented was seen as having created a “non-competitive market” and was therefore discontinued. Since then, the real estate value of the area has constantly increased, but the offers of compensation to the residents who remained in their homes in the old neighborhood have only gone down, while at the same time the administrative and legal pressure placed upon them to leave has been turned up.
Today, there is great unrest among both current defendants as well as those who have realized that they are likely to be sued in the near future. Seriously mistaken is anyone who believes that it will be possible to simply throw out residents who have lived in these homes all their lives without paying them just compensation or anyone who thinks that the residents can be worn down or tricked. Together with a number of sympathetic members of the Knesset, the Kfar Shalem Committee is currently moving ahead with preparation of a legislative initiative that is designed to guarantee their rights, but they are also aware that, for this legislation to move ahead quickly and efficiently, the entire political system must be made to realize exactly how critical the situation is and how determined the residents of Kfar Shalem are to defend these rights. Therefore, the residents have decided to hold a protest rally on Sunday, 30.8.2009 (see the leaflet issued by the Kfar Shalem Committee at the end of this page).
True, this struggle is first of all that of the residents of Kfar Shalem. But it’s also a struggle for basic social justice, against the continued deprivation and the racist, ethnically-based discrimination inherent to the Age of Privatization; for a halt to the lucrative deals between capital and the political establishment; for a change of policy on the issue of land and housing; and for the rights of the residents over the interests of real estate.
From our perspective, it is also a key struggle that illustrates so well the synergy between capitalism and racist colonialism inherent to Israeli society — the same synergy that we struggle against in various arenas. This is also an opportunity to promote the connection and partnership between the discriminated against and dispossessed inside Israeli society. We don’t deny the differences between them; we don’t ignore the fact that at times, some were used to accomplish the dispossession of others (in this case, specifically, how the Yemenite-Jews settled in Kfar Shalem served as a means to prevent the return of the original Arab residents of Salameh in 1949). This is exactly how racist colonialism works in the society of which we are a part and which we are struggling to change. But we are convinced that the not-at-all simple bringing together of the dispossessed, the discriminated against, the exploited, and the deprived in our society is the only means that can bring about real social and human change. This struggle is also the struggle of us all! Come to the protest rally!
The Kfar Shalem Committee calls for an emergency protest rally:
- Against Halamish, the construction company throwing us out of our homes and off our land, and refusing to pay just compensation for our upheaval
- Against the demolition orders and lawsuits brought against the residents of Kfar Shalem
- Against the sale of lands to politically-connected real estate developers
- For legislation that establishes and ensures our rights for land and just compensation in the event of eviction
- For the issuing of building and restoration permits
- For the decent living conditions like that of all residents of Tel-Aviv
Come join us in our fight for our homes, the rights we received from our parents, and the future of our children!
Tuesday, August, the 30.08.09, at 19:45, gather in the village center (next to Saadia), between Madmon and Asa Kadmoni Streets
[First published August 29, 2009]