Dear Mr. Prime Minister: Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu
Re: A case made against the Larsen family
Our story is an unusual one and we have found that as such solutions to matters we may find ourselves in are not always easy.
We arrived as foreigners in Israel in 1995. We had travelled for many years throughout Europe in a convoy of circus-style caravans doing humanitarian work as we travelled through much of Eastern Europe.
Our dream had always been to come to Israel and so when we arrived by ship with all the caravans that we had called home for the previous 18 years, we were all very excited. Our hope was that we would be able to establish a volunteer project that would be able to help others. We started with small projects here and there, but in 2004 we established the non-profit organisation: Desert Peace Expeditions which is based in the Arava. It is a non religious, non political organisation that brings together young people from troubled backgrounds and across different cultures with the aim of learning tolerance, developing mutual understanding and ultimately becoming friends. We cooperate with respected organisations within Israel (Beit HaShanti, Kidoom Noar – Jerusalem, ELEM, and Manof) as well as similar organisations from Europe. The project, which is carried out through survival trips in the desert is offered free of charge. We have had much success with the work and have become respected among the various organisations to the point that young people who cannot be helped by regular schools or systems are sent to our unique desert environment for extended periods.
On arrival, the mayor of Haifa offered us the use of a plot of land in an area called Bat Galim for one year. We hoped in that time to be able to find a piece of land that we could rent to place the caravans, but this was no easy task. After the year, a gentleman that had noticed us invited us to move to his property which was situated between Givat Olga and Mihmoret. The caravans remained there for four years until he and us learned that it was an area where stationing living space, even caravans was not permitted. We prepared to move.
We were then invited to a cactus farm situated in Dimona. After a year and a half the owner was informed that we would have to leave as this was neither a space where we were permitted. Once again we prepared our convoy of caravans to move. I should mention that these caravans have been paid and been released by the custom office in Haifa. The difficulty is where they may be placed.
A part owner of a crocodile farm invited us to his land in the Arava in 2002. On arrival with the convoy after 25 years of travel, we realised it was becoming increasingly difficult to stay mobile and that we would need to find a place to be stationed. Once here, we learned that the part owner was in fact a minor partner and did not have the right to invite us. The major owner directed us to a nearby parking place which has come to be known as Givat Hatzeva. We moved to this spot on 15th March 2002.
We were informed by the authorities that we would not be able to remain on the land. We made contact with the regional council and made application to be able to rent land. We were informed that there were several obstacles. We have made several applications to rent land and have met with the Minhal several times to try and find a solution.
In the mean time we have not known where to go as we faced the same problem on where we would be permitted to place our home no matter where we went.
I must add that in the years of being in Israel, we always made sure that we have kept to the laws of having a valid visa. For many years the whole family would leave every three months for periods in order to renew our visas. In 2008 this possibility was changed by law and so we made application for a change of status in Israel. This process has taken four years so far and is not complete yet, but last year we were granted 1 year B1 visas allowing us to work on the grounds of our contribution to the country.
We are faced with a great dilemma: We wish to remain in Israel and continue the work of Desert Peace, but are unable to do so without the surroundings of the desert and the 13 caravans we call home. Our living situation creates the possibility to accommodate our volunteer staff and the young people that desperately need to get out of the city environment.
On the 16th April, we have been ordered to court to present ourselves on the grounds of us been illegal on the land we are situated. We make no demands nor can we do so to stay where we are, but we ask if there would be a possibility for you to look into our case and see if there be some solution for the Larsen family and Desert Peace Expeditions.
18 March 2012, Givat Hatzeva