JERUSALEM (Jun. 17)
Intensive efforts were being made today to avert a clash between police and several score poverty families who have established a fend city on unused State-owned land south of Jerusalem and refuse to leave until the government provides them with decent housing.
Negotiations between representatives of the tent city and Housing Minister David Levy broke down yesterday after the squatters had agreed tentatively to leave the site. This morning, some 1000 Jerusalem policemen and border police assembled at the Russian Compound in downtown Jerusalem awaiting orders to remove the squatters by force. Levy insisted on a radio interview today that their peaceful evacuation was a precondition for any further action by his ministry to alleviate their housing problems.
The squatters are Oriental Jews, mostly young married couples, many with children, who left their slum dwellings in the Katamon quarter and other depressed neighborhoods in Jerusalem to erect the tent city in protest against the government’s failure to relieve the housing shortage. They call their tent community “Ohel Moreh,” an allusion to Elon Moreh, the Gush Emunim settlement on the West Bank which was lavishly supported by the government until it was declared illegal by the Supreme Court last year. Subsequently the government built a new settlement for the Elon Moreh settlers. The squatters say they are resorting to the Gush Emunim’s methods of militancy and defiance of authority because it seems to be the only way to stir the government to action.
GOON TRIES TO MEDIATE
The dispute seemed to have been resolved yesterday when Nissin Goon, a Geneva-based millionaire and president of the World Sephardi Federation, pledged to raise $600 million in the next few months for investment in low-cost rental housing for 40,000 young married couples enable to find homes they can afford.
Goon, a personal friend of Premier Menachem Begin, flew here last Thursday and apparently was accepted by the squatters as a mediator in their dispute with the government. He and Levy met with representatives of the tent city yesterday when it appeared that the negotiations would succeed. They hit a snag, however, when Levy contended that a number of the families involved already had adequate housing and needed no extra help.
The squatters stormed out of the meeting, charging that it was “yet another attempt by the government to can us.” Many of them marched through the city’s poverty neighborhoods calling through bull horns for sympathizers to join them at the tent city. Although negotiations were resumed today, the squatters rejected Goon’s offer, declaring that the housing problem must be solved by the government, not by foreign philanthropists. Goon returned to Geneva today.
A clash between the squatters and police could have serious political consequences for Begin’s government. The votes of Oriental Jews were largely responsible for Likud’s victory over the Labor Party in the 1977 elections.
Another source of controversy is the fact that the tent city was financed by independent MK Samuel Flatto-Sharon, also a millionaire but with a famished reputation since he was accused of irregular practices in his campaign for a Knesset seat. Goon denied that one of the reasons he entered the picture was because he did not want the slum dwellers to accept aid from Sharon. “If Mr. Sharon wants to help them — welcome, “he said yesterday. Sharon who usually supports the Begin coalition in the Knesset, warned yesterday that if the housing problem is not solved quickly he would finance dozens of new “Ohel Morehs.”