Some 300 new immigrants from Ethiopia protested earlier this month after being told that their home, the Tiberias Recital absorption center, would be closing and they would be forced to move.
The immigrants are stunned and bewildered at the prospect of having to move so suddenly from the Jewish Agency absorption center and find new homes, jobs and schools for their children.
"She [the manager, Hava Sternberg] gave us no time to prepare, nobody talked to us. Our children are already in school here, and the recession is no time to look for new jobs or a place to stay," says Aveka Adis, 35, the immigrants' representative.
After a long search, Adis found work washing dishes at Kibbutz Lavi nine hours a day - earning NIS 20 an hour. He and his wife, who does not work, have two children, aged 6 and 3, and have been staying at the absorption center for a year and three months.
"We're all employed in minimum-wage jobs we worked hard to find. We asked at least to let the children finish the school year but the director said 'there's nothing I can do, it's an order from the top of the absorption center and Jewish Agency.' We asked to speak to those in charge. They came after three days, we all waited outside the office door, but they shut themselves in a room with her and refused to talk to us," he says.
"Shlomo Ziv, the Absorption Ministry's official in charge of housing in the Haifa district, told us 'when we brought you from Ethiopia, we didn't ask you where you wanted to be. Now we can evacuate you to wherever we want, and you don't have a say in the matter,'" says Adis.
"I asked him, what about people who signed mortgage contracts and may lose their jobs? He said 'who are you to talk? I was born here and I need to pay mortgage, too. You're even getting money from the state.'"
For a week, January 7-13, the immigrants staged a protest strike, blocking the entrance to the center. They did not go to work and did not send their children to school.
Adis appealed to the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews (IAEJ), which persuaded the immigrants to stop their protest. Tiberias Mayor Zohar Oved intervened and asked to suspend the center's closure until the end of the school year.
"About two weeks ago, after the mayor's intervention, the ministry promised to suspend the closure until the end of this school year," the municipality said in a statement this week. "In any case, the municipality will continue to provide the immigrants with all the treatment and frameworks necessary."
But Adis says nobody has talked to the immigrants. "We're in the dark. Center employees received dismissal notices saying the place would close at the end of the month. Nobody told us where we would be moved, where our children would study and what would become of our jobs. What, aren't we human?"
Mula Karev, 29, father of two, has been living in the center for more than two years.
"I've been working for a year and two months in Upper Nazareth, filling cigarette vending machines in kiosks. It took me a long time to find work and I have a NIS 110,000 mortgage to pay. My wife gave birth recently and isn't working. If I lose this job, it will take me time to find another," he says in despair.
IAEJ director Danny Adamso blasted the Absorption Ministry and Jewish Agency for "repeatedly making hasty, thoughtless decisions that create long-term gaps in the immigrants' education and quality of life compared to other Israelis."
"The immigrants' request to be notified of the evacuation well in advance and their desire to maintain their jobs are legitimate and basic. It is doubtful the Education Ministry will find places for 100 children in new schools in the last third of the school year," he says.
The ministry and JA said they decided to close the center as part of streamlining measures to save the state millions of shekels. "After talks with all the tenants, we decided to move those with schoolchildren to absorption centers near Tiberias and provide them with transportation to school. The ministry has undertaken to prevent any detriment to the immigrants' services or welfare."