Photo from Megaphone News Site
My name is Viki Vanunu. I am the single mother of a three-year old girl, and I live in the neighborhood of Katamonim in Jerusalem. I am honored to speak here in the name of the Ma’abara Movement of Jerusalem. We are all people who, despite working, are unable to provide for ourselves basic living standards, including housing. After engaging in negotiations with elected and public officials to find solutions for our situations, and to the problems of all of those who do not have housing, all of the doors were slammed in our faces. We then understood that we have to take responsibility for our fate. Because, no one else will do it for us. We understood that despite all of the talk about equal opportunities, our children will not be given equal opportunities, and they will grow up without the security of a house. The moment we understood all this, we decided to act and not just to speak: we “squatted” in public buildings that have been abandoned for years. Most recently, we were in one such building on 11 Pinsker street for thirty days, until we were evicted by a group of hired thugs, supported by the police.
Dear friends, you know, I want to share something with you: They are always telling me that we are “breaking the law.” But tell me, who is really breaking the law here? Are we, or is it the State of Israel that leaves buildings abandoned even when there are people without shelter? Are we breaking the law? Or is it the State that stole the money from Public Housing options? Are we breaking the law, or is it the establishment – those thugs who evict people from their houses because they don’t have the money to pay rent to the public housing corporations?
So, who is breaking the law? Are we, or is it the State of Israel that serves only one group of people, that functions out of a deep-rooted logic in which people are less important than money? The law serves their thinking, but we are talking about justice. And the justice that we want, no one is going to give to us. We decided to raise our heads, to change our approach, and to bring about real change. This change will come from us, all of us, and we will not let them put us in ghettos, Ashkenazim separate from Mizrahim, the wealthy separate from the poor. Dear friends, do you understand that we are slaves to the establishment? A woman needs to go out and work from morning until night just so that someone else can earn from the sweat of her brow? Just so that most of her income will go back into rent, or into inflated food prices? She won’t have a minute to spend with her friends or with her family. It does not make sense that someone who receives an inheritance can go to University and be given the opportunity to achieve freedom and a good life. Why should a woman like me, who works very hard in an home for the elderly, get such little compensation, while all the while government ministers continue to express their opposition to raising the minimum wage?
We want to establish a different way of life, a different equation, a community, taking responsibility for ourselves, and a system that would help us to achieve that, rather then block us. I call upon decision makers to unfreeze the public housing law and the money designated to buying and building new public housing apartments as an immediate first measure. I also call upon them to find solutions for those who are currently on the streets, to take responsibility for public construction that would enable housing solutions for everyone, to immediately stop evictions of people from their homes without providing alternative solutions, to stop demolishing homes, and to give larger rent subsidies for those who need it, until such time as there will be enough public housing apartments. I call upon the decision makers to change the criteria for entitlement for public housing, so that everyone will pay for accommodation only the percentage of their income they can afford. I call upon them to enable different groups to live side by side together. Above all I call upon decision makers to work with us, not against us.
The most important thing is that no matter what they choose to do in the government, the responsibility for change rests upon us. Whether or not they will try to accommodate us and be glad that we’re active, we’re the ones who need to create justice, to continue the struggle, to squat in empty buildings and revive them. We must create communities that care for themselves, that fight for free education for all, and create a new reality in which we will have control over our lives. The state will be there to serve us and not the other way around.