Homeless in the Homeland

Milk and Honey Runs Dry for Israel's Jewish Poor

Tuitu persisted, holding a Passover seder for hungry people in 2000 and 2001 outside Sharon's offices. Then he took a more drastic step, bringing his cause right to the heart of wealthy Tel Aviv. "The situation is very dangerous for Israel, that many people don't have places to live and work. I think, How can I make all the people in Israel see this problem in the eyes? And I think, This place is the national square. If you see this place—Versace, Romani, Gucci, Louis Vuitton—here is the center of the country. Here you can see the difference."

It didn't take long for the city to notice the difference made by a group of Jewish families, Arabs, seniors, and disabled people living in Tel Aviv's main square—especially since, from the city's perspective, the original protest was supposed to last only a few months, until the national elections. "We believe that everyone in a democracy has a basic right to protest," said Hillel Fertouk, a spokesperson for Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai. "We shook hands and agreed that after the election they would leave the area. But when the elections finished, they still lived in the square and we had to evacuate. From protesters, they became settlers." The new settlers celebrated the Jewish holidays late into the night and received groups of supporters in their outdoor home.

Camp leader Yisrael Tuitu, his oldest daughter Shani, and resident Mark
photo: Anya Kamenetz
Camp leader Yisrael Tuitu, his oldest daughter Shani, and resident Mark



"This Year in Jerusalem: Israel's Financial Collapse" by Anya Kamenetz

Dr. Shmuel Saadia, a Tel Aviv lawyer involved with many human rights and social organizations, has been representing Tuitu pro bono since the beginning last spring of the inevitable court proceedings to dismantle the camp. "He is a leader of people," the attorney says. "He is acting for the people who need help." Saadia has fought suits from both the city and the owner of part of the square, who recently emerged with a plan to develop two luxury apartment buildings on the spot of the camp. There have been injunctions and appeals. A police raid of the camp in April 2003 led to a countersuit. On July 3, Saadia won a last-minute stay against the municipal judge's order on behalf of the private owner to remove the settlement; apparently the judge's house was very close to the square, creating an undeclared conflict of interest. Still, the city's case is pending in the Supreme Court; Tuitu is charged not only with illegally occupying, but also with illegally renaming the square.

As he stubs out another Time cigarette, Tuitu is unbowed. Like the original halutzim, or pioneers, who fought off Arab tribes and made the Israeli desert bloom, he has staked his claim. "Out of 50, I have I think 20 people here that will go to the finish. They don't have a choice. We have chains for the bus, we have gas. We will not go another time in the street.

"I make all this for the people that they don't know how to talk, they don't have a way to live, they can't see the light at the end of the tunnel," Tuitu continues. "I believe that people must go outside of their house to tell the government that we must finish all this. We are giving the government a mirror."


"This Year in Jerusalem: Israel's Financial Collapse" by Anya Kamenetz

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