This particular “Road” is actually the Eilat promenade
The “Hell” is not so much that it is paved. Rather, that it is infested with scores of, apparently, immovable market stalls. To understand how this has come about, it is necessary to give some historical background.
Eilat, although allocated to the Jews as part of the UN partition resolution,
was not actually taken by the Israeli army until March 1949. It was then known as Um Rush Rush, and was uninhabited. Until 1958 it was almost inaccessible from the North, but in that year the road from Be’er Sheva was completed.
By the end of 1959 the population had grown to some 6000. The majority were new immigrants from North Africa. Their relocation was not always entirely voluntary, but in those times people had to go where they were sent by the absorption ministry. Perhaps it was felt that they could better adapt to the hot, dry climate than could Europeans. Whatever the reason, this defined the ethnic character of the city. It still does.
A combination of the social fabric of the emergent town, and its geographical isolation from the rest of Israel gave rise to a phenomenon, the effects of which are still felt today. For reasons which are not absolutely clear to me, the police and judicial system decided to treat Eilat in the same way that the British treated Australia in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Eilat became a penal colony to which petty offenders were despatched as an alternative to prison. One can only imagine the cumulative effect of this policy on the social development and civic values of the city. This was a big problem for the municipality, which was making strenuous efforts to promote Eilat as a tourist centre. Indeed, a separate company was created which worked under the aegis of the Tourist Ministry and the Israel Land Authority, to develop the tourism area.
The birth of the market stalls
So what has all of this to do with market stalls on the promenade? Everything!
In attempting to deal with the problem of drug addicts, criminals, drunks, homeless and general down and outs, someone came up with a “brilliant” idea. The plan was to provide these unfortunates with the means to earn an honest living and become useful members of society.
And so, sometime in the late 1990’s, the concept of market stalls was born. The plan was supposed to result in the creation of a handicrafts market; something similar to the market in Nahalat Benjamin in Tel Aviv. A major difference became established at the outset. In Tel Aviv, the stalls are temporary and only trade for a few hours on 2 days a week. In Eilat they quickly established a pattern of 7 day trading.
The municipality, under the leadership of Mayor Gabi Kadosh, identified some 50 individuals which it deemed suitable for the scheme. Contracts were signed in which each side took on certain obligations. Firstly, the contracts were personal to the specified individual and could not be assigned. Secondly they required that the individual must work on the stall whenever it was open for trade.
Employees were not permitted, since the basic intention was to get the person off the streets and ensure that their time was fully occupied. The stalls themselves were described as temporary and of limited size. The municipality designated the location of each stall and arranged for electricity and water to be provided. The stallholder was supposed to pay a small contribution towards the expenses. Of course, in the best Israeli tradition, none of the stallholders’ obligations were met.
An unexpected development
Temporary became permanent; stall sizes expanded; family members, then extended family members, then friends and finally employees worked on the stalls. Handicrafts, if they ever existed at all, rapidly gave way to Chinese imports. The range of merchandise grew to include clothing, shoes, jewellery,toys, cosmetics, gifts and sunglasses. Kiosks proliferated selling food, drinks, snacks and cigarettes. The original concept was blatantly ignored. Even the number of stalls expanded as new ones appeared overnight. The municipality turned a blind eye. Attempts to exert any control were feeble at best.
At the beginning of the new millennium a prior decision to upgrade the promenade was implemented.
This required the removal of the stalls. Considering how much unsupervised and uncontrolled cash money was changing hands daily, the stallholders had to be practically dragged kicking and screaming from the promenade. Eventually a combination of court orders, police action and brute force relocated them to a temporary location in the parking area of the Club Hotel.
This gave the municipality a breathing space.
In conjunction with the company responsible for the upgrading, a plan was drawn up which acknowledged that the original contract holders could eventually return to the refurbished promenade. But there were two important conditions; firstly a standard design, and much smaller size of stall was mandated, and the construction was started. Secondly, electricity and water supplies were built in the exact spot required. The total number of approved sites was less than 60.
Eventually the refurbishment was completed. Despite previous agreements and various applications to the courts, the municipality finally had to succumb to the capriciousness of the wonderful Israeli court system.
The stallholders return
And the stallholders returned with a vengeance! Completely ignoring the restrictions placed on them by the courts they invaded the promenade like the proverbial swarm of locusts. In addition to the “legal” 60, a further 200+ stalls appeared in a matter of weeks. Physical “turf battles” took place and all of the shops facing the promenade were slowly and relentlessly blocked from public view and access.
Appeals of the municipal tax paying shopkeepers fell on deaf ears. Already suffering from damage to their legitimate trade by the ever growing variety of cheap merchandise flooding the market, literally on their doorstep, they were powerless. The stalls had expanded into the equivalent of shops, many occupying up twenty square meters of space. This was ten times the area of the original contract. A number of stallholders claimed to have received special permission from the mayor to be there. This allegation has never been satisfactorily answered.
By now the promenade was a dangerous place. In some places movement was almost impossible, and the passage was too narrow for fire trucks to get through. They were just lucky there wasn’t a serious fire in this period.
In the 2003 elections Gabi Kadosh lost his bid to remain as mayor and was replaced by Meir Itzhak-Halevi. He now inherited this terrible situation and had to deal with it. Attempts to exert some control over the stallholders, by appointing a team of inspectors, did not succeed.
Although I have frequently referred to Eilat as a “city” because that is what it likes to call itself, and indeed, it is legally, the reality is somewhat different. Actually, its just a big village in which almost everyone knows everyone, and are frequently related. If not this, then there is always the ethnic connection and sense of solidarity. Enforcement is difficult.
Fighting court orders
Add to this the fact that the extended families and friends of the stallholders are a substantial part of the electorate. They are also represented on the city council and they have been able to raise enough money to hire very expensive and aggressive lawyers. Battle after legal battle has been waged on their behalf in numerous court hearings.
Sometimes the municipality has prevailed and in various raids over the years have managed to reduce the number of stalls to around 80.
A major line of defence for the stallholders, at least those with contracts, was lack of an alternative location. To deal with this argument the municipality has built at enormous cost, a special shaded area in a former car park adjacent to the promenade. The plan is that it will be a permanent covered market with uniform stalls. As you would expect, if you have read this far, this plan has been refused by the stallholders.
Nevertheless, the municipality has finally succeeded, after ten years of battle, and at considerable cost to the ratepayers of Eilat, in obtaining an eviction order. They have been trying to enforce this for at least a year. Each time the stallholders appeal to another court. Each time they obtain a deferment. Firstly they were granted an extension for last Pessach. Then again for the 2 months of the Summer holidays. Then for Rosh Hashana and Succot. Now they are seeking a stay for Hannukah, and are even talking about next Pessach. Isn’t our court system just great !
Meanwhile the expensive covered market is a free covered parking space for motorbikes.
So much for good intentions!
Andyboy – Telling it as it is!
“North Promenade stall holders demonstrated on Monday night against the mayor of Eilat, Meir Yitzhak Halevi. The demonstration took place soon after evacuation orders were given for stalls to evacuate the promenade by Wed 15.6.2011.The Supreme Court decided to extend the evacuation to September 2011…not good news for those eager to see a quiet and stall free promenade..”
(The quotation used for the headline is attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux – a French abbot. 1090-1152)