My phone rang.
"Tamar, this is Aviela, I'm at wits end. The situation here by us is pretty intolerable. I felt it was time to contact the media and since you have been so helpful in publicizing our plight throughout our ordeal, I thought to call you again. Maybe you can help us?"
Aviela is the mother of 6 children, a resident of Migron, who, several weeks ago, was expelled from her home with her husband and six children ranging from 4 years old to 15 years old.
The government of Israel carried out a Supreme Court order to expel the residents after claims that the land the community was built on (with the cooperation of several government agencies) was under private Arab ownership, although this Arab ownership has never been proven in the courts. In fact, much of Migron was purchased through an agency run through the district board and through funding provided by a private donor. That didn't stop the government from spending millions of shekels to fund both the bringing in of security troops to expel the residents, and the quick erection of another cheaply built replacement community approximately a mile away down the hill. The community sits in between a winery at the top, and at the bottom, across from a major gas station serving the Binyamin Settlements.
These caravans or trailer homes that the residents were transferred to - in the words of the residents - are made from “cardboard and a red metal roof”’. The Migron residents have dubbed the place a 'Hollywood set' because though it looks sturdy and real, in reality, the outer walls are very thin and flimsy. Residents are praying that when the winter rains and winds arrive, that the roofs won't leak and the walls won’t collapse.
Though the government worked quickly to build this replacement community, called by the residents ‘Lower Migron’, and moved the residents in to their new quarters, some of the basic infrastructure is still not completed. Construction is still going on, and in some cases, this has become a nightmare and serious danger for their little children. To make matters worse, when parents report these construction site dangers to the government agencies, no department seems to want to take responsibility.
"I don't know where to start at this point," Aviela tells me on the phone. She continues to number off the resident's woes, some not in the danger category, but none the less difficult to deal with on a daily basis. She lists the following:
A winery, which sits directly above the last upper row of trailer homes, also doubles as a hall for celebrations and plays loud music until well after children's bedtimes. "I'm glad that people are getting married,” she says, “but very loud events [are] going on, almost on a daily basis, well into the night." Though the loud music usually stops before midnight, “small children can’t be up until 10, 11 o’clock”, she bemoaned.
The smell of fermenting grapes coming from the winery has an unpleasant odor for the residents and is causing some of the pregnant women to suffer from unusually strong nausea on top of any morning sickness they are already experiencing.
In addition to the smell of fermenting grapes, there is untreated sewage flowing down the mountain’s valley adjacent to Lower Migron. The sewage flow also brings ‘a horrific number of flies and they have invaded the community. “My trailer home's front door does not close properly, and my air conditioner [the trailer homes have no insulation to guard against the heat and cold] doesn’t work properly, but I can’t cook without everything closed, because [then] I have hordes of flies in my kitchen.”
Open holes or pits are left uncovered by government hired workers, which presents a clear and present danger of children falling in.
Holes as deep as a meter left uncovered by workers
Construction workers go on coffee or lunch breaks and leave exposed and unguarded their electric or gas powered power tools, sharp tile cutters and other construction tools in public areas where children are exposed to them.
An unattended tile cutter left by workers where children can access them.
Air conditioners were placed at children’s height without safety guards where toddlers can stick their fingers in the fans.
The playground equipment from upper Migron that was pulled out and transferred has not been installed and kids – which make up the majority of the population - have nowhere to play after school. What’s worse is that it has become a safety hazard for children wanting to play on the un-installed, and therefore unstable, equipment.
Uninstalled playground equipment transfered from Upper Migron
I asked Aviela, “What was the straw that broke the camel’s back where you said to yourself that you had to call up the press?"
“The safety issues that are going on are absolutely intolerable," she said. "We have here a boy who’s 11 years old who is suffering from 3rd degree burns on his arms, 2nd degree burns on his chest and his side, and 1st degree burns on his face.”
“Nobody has gotten around to putting in anything for the kids to do. That is to say, that we have been here for approximately 6 [or more] weeks. There is no public playground, there is no library, there is no (what we used to have) Gymboree, we had two different game rooms for different ages, we also had up in the top of the hill in Migron, a lot of room for the kids to roam around, places to explore, places to hang out. We have none of that here. All of it is non-existent.
Picnic tables set at a dangerous angle. Children play on public pipes.
"So there is one place where a couple of picnic tables have been dropped down. They are sitting on loose dirt and rocks and they are not sitting particularly balanced. However, the boys, ages ten and up, there are I think, seven or eight of them, they went after Shabbat to hang out. The way they hang out is to make tea on a little camping stove. And they were boiling their water on their little camping stove… on the picnic table. And as the water got to boiling it spilled on one of these boys [because the picnic table was not balanced, as it was not properly installed] and he’s been and out of Shaarei Tzedek hospital. He will be terribly scarred. This skin cannot be exposed to sunlight for the next year approximately. He is suffering terribly. Between that, between the irrigation pipes that have been left, like every ten meters [yards] as you’re walking on the sidewalk, there’s another meter to two meter long irrigation pipe just lying across the sidewalk attached to the ground, because there is supposed to be a tree planted there, but that hasn’t been taken care of, so they are sprawled across the sidewalk.
Irrigation pipes block sidewalks
“So between the irrigation, between the kids having nothing to do they’ve been playing in sewage pipes, they’ve been playing in drainage pipes, they’ve been climbing fences. And the parents don’t have the heart to say don’t do that, because honest to goodness, what are you supposed to do day after day with these kids? They’re climbing the walls, they’re going insane, they’re fighting, it’s horrendous. And then you have these open pits of course, every time workers come and fix anything, replace anything, the spare parts and the tools, including saws, including power tools, including drills, are left unsupervised…”
I interrupted her and told her, “I need pictures of that. You’ve got to take pictures of these things for me.”
“Ok, I am going to start doing that. I’ll get my neighbor’s camera and walk around for a day or two”. She continued on and told me, “It’s gotten way out of hand, and we haven’t been given any word as to when it is going to be taken care of, everybody passes the buck. We’ve talked to people at every level everywhere and either they won’t talk to us, or they tell us it is someone else’s responsibility. Serious issues are happening at this point.
“We don’t even have one bomb shelter here. I would like somebody with some influence somewhere, to pull for us, because we’ve actually been told by these offices that ‘you don’t count’”.