Dozens of people seeking public housing – some living in tents – turned out at a mock court last week to admonish the government for what they call the authorities' abusive treatment of Israelis seeking public housing.
They charged the prime minister, the housing and finance ministers, and heads of state housing companies with deliberately destroying public housing in Israel.
The witnesses, mostly women, said they had suffered humiliating treatment over the years at the ministries and housing firms. One of the mock judges, Reuven Abergil, called this treatment "bureaucratic terror" that infringes on people's basic right to dignity.
Yael Habasi, a social activist serving as one of the court's prosecutors, had a similar view. "The defendants, the state, its agencies and institutions are deliberately drying up public housing and harming the people in it," she said.
"The victims are people eligible for public housing who have been waiting for homes for many years, as well as people who are not classified as eligible due to government policy, even though they can't afford housing."
Around 2,500 families who have fulfilled the tough criteria for public housing are waiting for a home. But in the past 20 years no new apartments have been added to the public housing supply. Eligible families receive rent assistance of NIS 3,000 at most, and often only half that.
At the mock court, seven "judges" – academics, attorneys and social activists – sat in session. The complainants, some of them disabled, told the court about winters spent in tents and obstruction by scornful officials.
Etti Chen, a single mother who lives with her son in a tent, said she had been waiting for public housing for four years, but is deemed ineligible because she only has one child.
"Only a mother with three or more children is eligible," she testified. "The director general of state housing company Prazot told me to go and make three children and then come back to him."
"We were in a tent in the rain," added Flora Ben-Ami, a mother of three with a 100 percent disability, in line for public housing. "The Housing Ministry knows about my situation, but instead of helping they laugh at us. When I told the official in charge I'm tired of living, he laughed and said in the cemetery I'll have a home with views in four directions."
She said she had brought the ministry a list of vacant public housing apartments, "but [the officials] always say 'we'll see' and do nothing."
Once when Ben-Ami came with her children to the Housing Ministry, the guard at the entrance called the police, she said.
Habasi, one of the prosecutors, told the court Ben-Ami had been slapped with a restraining order forbidding her to come near the ministry.
A mother of seven who was declared eligible for public housing more than five years ago testified that "every time they make up another excuse. Every time they demand new documents and social security papers."
After years of waiting, she was moved down from second on the waiting list to 16th.
She said residents with public housing company Amidar who already have an apartment but are waiting for a bigger one "get precedence, so every time they have another baby I get moved down on the list. I'm receiving NIS 1,200 in rent assistance, but it's not enough to rent a place …. I have NIS 2,600 supplementary income, but it's not enough to live on."
Those fortunate enough to receive public housing testified about violent evictions, heavy debts, negligence and arbitrary criteria changes, after which they were thrown out onto the street.
Expert witnesses discussed what they called the state's deliberate policy against the victims – policy that was seen nowhere in the West.
"The justice system has not done its duty in the cases we've heard," said one of the judges, Dr. Yifat Biton. "You don't need to resort to anarchy or break the conventions to make just laws. Justice isn't in the sky, it's within our grasp."
The court plans to issue a verdict in a few days, said the attorney acting as court president, Yael Ben-Porat.