On the heels of winter’s first heavy rainstorms, which have wreaked havoc at caravan parks housing new immigrants, former Housing Minister Ariel Sharon accused the Rabin government of improperly maintaining the caravans.
Built of lightweight materials and without sturdy foundations, many of the 15,000 prefabricated units were damaged by the storms’ heavy rains and gale- force winds.
In the worst cases, windows were shattered and doors ripped off their hinges. A few of the mobile homes began to list precariously as the cement blocks they leaned on shifted in the mud. Minor damage included leaky roofs and flooded passageways.
Amidar, the government-owned company that has been charged with maintaining the parks, immediately went to work repairing the damage.
Experts agree, however, that additional winter storms will cause further damage to the fragile structures.
In response to Sharon’s charges of neglect, Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Ari retorted, “If Ariel Sharon would come to the Knesset and hear what the members of his own Likud Party were saying about his caravan project, he would not dare open his mouth.”
“Purchasing the caravans was a terrible idea. The present government came into office with the problem already in existence.”
The only thing to do now, Ben-Ari said, “is to try to maintain the structures to the best of our ability, and to move people into permanent housing as soon as possible.”
In the meantime, thousands of people residing in caravans are prey to the elements. At the Givat Hamatos Park, on the outskirts of the capital, 300 families are ankle-deep in mud. Just three months old, the site has not yet been linked to the city’s electrical supply. When the portable generators break down – and they do so often – residents cannot use their electric heaters, their only source of warmth.
“Sure, I’d love to have a permanent apartment,” said Israeli-born Leah Amouyal, who moved to the caravan park three weeks ago. “The problem is, I can’t afford to rent a regular apartment.”
The divorced mother of a ten-year-old daughter, Amouyal has already turned her tiny caravan – which measures just over 9 square feet – into a real home. Every inch has a personal touch: a poster, a favorite tape, her daughter’s stuffed animals. “I think we’ll be here for two or three years, till I get on my feet financially.”
The token rent payment, about $50 a month, compared to the $550 she paid for a two-bedroom apartment in the city, does not justify the sad state of the caravans, she asserts. “No matter what a person pays, whether it’s a new immigrant or a native-born Israeli, he deserves to get a dry, warm place to live.”
Huddled by an electric space heater, she shook her head and added, “I’m still waiting.”