And Let There Be Light

Efforts by TAU’s Clinical Law Program will help keep electricity running for those who are struggling to pay utility bills.

The recent drop in temperature in Israel has led to a significant increase in electricity consumption. But what about those who simply cannot afford basic necessities?

A petition jointly filed by Tel Aviv University’s Human Rights Clinic at The Buchmann Faculty of Law will help keep the electricity on for some of Israel’s most underprivileged populations. In response to the appeal, Israel’s High Court ruled that electricity must not be cut off for citizens who prove a difficult economic or medical condition, effective immediately. We spoke with attorney Adi Nir Binyamini from TAU’s Human Rights Clinic, one of the lawyers who handled the case. 

Electricity – A Fundamental Right?

In a precedent-setting decision, the High Court ruled on January 20 that access to electricity should be considered a fundamental right and that the Electricity Authority must, within six months, amend the criteria for power outages as a means of collecting debt. Meanwhile, the new ruling assists electricity consumers who find themselves in serious economic or medical distress, and ensure that they will not be left in the dark or the cold and without other basic needs.

The ruling came in response to a petition filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) in collaboration with the Human Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University, Physicians for Human Rights and the Israel Union of Social Workers against the Electricity Authority, the Israel Electric Corp. and Energy Minister. It was filed on behalf of several poor families whose electricity had been cut off for non-payment.

The High Court of Justice ruled that, until the Electricity Authority establishes appropriate criteria and procedures (within six months from the time of the ruling), it must enable consumers facing power cuts from lack of payment to demonstrate whether they are suffering financial or health problems that justify their continued access to electric power. The court said the Electricity Authority must conduct a hearing prior to cutting a customer’s power. It gave the national electricity provider six months to revise its procedures and ordered it to pay the petitioners 40,000 NIS ($12,800) in expenses, to be divided among them. “This is a dramatic change from the previous situation, when it was possible to cut off people’s electricity access due to the accumulation of debt, except for very few exceptions,” explains Att. Nir Binyamini.

 

From the second hearing in Higher Court, on October 28, 2021 (from left to right): Gil Gan Mor (ACRI), Hicham Chabaita and Att. Adi Nir Binyamini from TAU’s Human Rights Clinic and Att. Mascit Bendel (ACRI) 

The Beginning of a New Era

Binyamini, who has dealt with electricity litigation for several years now, says, “I feel personal and professional satisfaction that on the coldest day of the year, when people were left without heating, the High Court accepted our position and ruled not to cut off people’s electricity due to poverty and that debt must instead be collected by more moderate means.”

 When asked how the Clinic got involved with the project, Binyamini explains that TAU’s Humans Rights Clinic was previously part of a legal battle over water disconnections for consumers unable to pay their water bill. “After that was successfully completed, we took on the subject of electricity and have been working on it continuously for the past eight years. The Clinic represented and handled the two petitions that were submitted to the Israeli High Court, and over the years we have dealt with hundreds of individual cases of people being cut off from electricity. We have also been guiding and assisting social workers with individual cases.”

She adds that a large number of students from the Clinic have worked on the case over the years, and stresses that such practical experience is an extremely valuable component of legal education.

Upon the court’s ruling, Binyamini along with Att. Maskit Bendel of the ACRI issued a statement, saying: “We hope that the ruling, which opened with the words ‘and let there be light,’ heralds the beginning of new era when it comes to protecting weak populations from having their electricity cut off.” 

 

Attorney-at-law Adi Nir Binyamini from Tel Aviv University’s Human Rights Clinic (photo: Tomer Jacobson) 

The Magnificent TAU Trees

Tel Aviv University campus lawns are legendary, but on the occasion of Tu B’Shvat, we thought we’d take a moment to celebrate our many trees.

They paint our campus in a variety of colors throughout the seasons, provide us with shade on hot sunny days and fill our souls with gladness. Our campus wouldn’t have been the same without them, and what better time than Tu B’Shvat to celebrate them? Below are some of the most interesting trees of Tel Aviv University. How many do you recognize?

The Root of the Matter

While most of the trees on campus boast broad, branched out branches, there is one tree that attracts attention for the opposite reason, namely its impressing branched-out roots. This fascinating fig tree (Ficus) ain’t planning on going anywhere – you can find it between the Dan David building and the Library of Exact Sciences, its roots extended with a radius of about five meters across the courtyard.

 

Summer-Time Snow

If you’ve ever visited the secret courtyard behind the building of the Faculty of Engineering during the hot summer months, you may have noticed that the green grass appears to be coverd in soft and airy snow. While it may not be real snow, it is fun to pretend that’s what the seeds from the white silk floss tree (Ceiba insignis) are. When the fruits of the tree ripen, they open up and a swollen crest bursts out – it looks just like a cotton ball – containing small brown seeds that are quickly spread everywhere.

Red Flame

At the beginning of summer, our campus is painted in a fiery red, thanks to the beautiful Royal Poinciana (Delonix regia), also known as ‘flamboyant tree’ or ‘peacock tree’. The trees are a delight to the eye for every passerby, and during this time of the year the lawn in front of the Gilman building becomes a favored destination for avid campus photographers, eager to document the breathtaking blossom from every possible angle.

 

Pretty in Pink

During spring, the courtyard between the Faculty of Exact Sciences and Dan David is painted pink and feels like a beautiful paradise, thanks to the spectacular flowers of the Bauhinia variegata. As the grass gets sprinkled with pink petals that slowly fall from the trees, the world looks really perfect for a moment, so we highly recommend you to bring your camera and come for a visit in April.

 

 

The Tree of Knowledge?

Strange-looking trees are growing in front of the George S. Wise Senate building, with large and impressive flowers and reddish fruits with an intriguing and tropical appearance. What’s the name of this strange tree, you ask? This is none other than a large-flowered magnolia tree, named after the French botanist Pierre Magnol. When its red seeds are exposed from its fruits, a small feathery tail is also revealed, allowing for flight and levitation, reminding us how ingenious and sophisticated nature is.

 

 

European Fall

How many songs do you think have been written about the season of fall? While that was meant as a rhetorical question, if you google “songs about fall”, you’ll get an idea. How is it that, even as the leaves dry out at the end of their life cycle, they are nevertheless so beautiful and inspiring? Get a small taste of European fall on Tel Aviv University campus, as the chestnut trees put on a display in shades of orange and brown next to our law school and the memorial monument of the Dan David building.

 

 

The above mentioned trees are only a small selection of the trees of our campus. According to Ilan Sharon, Head of TAU’s Yard Gardening and Maintenance Department, several thousand trees grow here, including pines, almonds, groves, palms and more. And let there be no doubt: We love and appreciate them all.

What is your favorite tree on campus? Give it a big hug, document the moment and tag us on Instagram with hashtag #tau-campus.

Wishing those of you who celebrate a Tu B’Shvat Sameach!

Revisiting the Tel Aviv Zoo

Two TAU students developed an app that recreates the mythological zoo in the heart of the city.

For many years, there was a zoo right in the center of Tel Aviv. Residents of nearby streets used to wake up to roars of tigers and monkeys’ chatter. In 1980, the zoo and its residents were relocated to a large complex in neighboring Ramat Gan, but seasoned Tel Avivians still think of it fondly. Maya Shekel and Yuval Kela, two talented students in the digital media track at The Steve Tisch School of Film and Television, wanted to see it with their own eyes, and developed the TAZOO app that enables this.

Throughout the four years of their studies, they designed and created the unique widget, based on stories and memories of the local community. The animals were created by help of augmented reality technology, and in order to experience the project in full, all you need to do is to download the app on your phone, make your way to Tel Aviv’s City Garden and look for the orange signs that are scattered in the garden.

This new attraction, which will soon be launched in a festive ceremony, has already warmed the hearts of several Tel Aviv residents who inspired the creation of the project and the stories, as well as Tel Aviv Mayor, Mr. Ron Huldai, who still recalls the exact wording on the garden signs.

The Next-door Neighbor

What brings two students, both born long after the zoo was closed, to recreate Tel Aviv’s animalistic past? “I’ve been living on Tel Aviv’s Hadassah Street all my life, right opposite where the zoo used to be,” says Maya Shekel. “Whenever people hear where I live, they ask me, ‘Did you know that there used to be a zoo there?’,” Therefore, after hearing the recurring questions for years, she decided to investigate the subject further together with Yuval Kela, who is also her life partner.

“After some online research, we discovered amazing photos of elephants and lions in the middle of Tel Aviv. We realized that the place used to be a cultural center for the residents of the city. We decided to start a Facebook group which we called ‘Tel Aviv Zoo Community’. Gradually, people would join the group and share photos, memories and stories about the zoo. This way, we got confirmation that there was a nostalgic need to revive the lost zoo, and to share its story with those who visit the place today, unaware of its history.”

 

“An elephant is about to join us,” Maya Shekel demonstrates to Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai how the TAZOO app works

Reviving Animals in Augmented Reality

Unlike many apps that allow you to sit in your living room and feel like you’re somewhere else, Maya and Yuval chose to encourage their users to venture to the real site where the zoo was once located. “It was important for us to create an experience where people actually had to physically experience the sights and the feelings, while reviving the lost place,” explains Yuval.

Their main challenge was to adapt the app for two different target audiences: the older residents, who wish to reminisce, and to the younger target audience (such as the elderly residents’ children and grandchildren). “We overcame this hurdle by adding layers to the app, like short films about the zoo staff and additional information where you can choose to delve deeper and read more about each station. We also added some games that are more suitable for children,” he adds.  

For big and for small. The virtual zoo in the Hadassah Garden

Storytelling and Technology

During their studies, Maya and Yuval learned the importance of storytelling on platforms of this type. They made sure to study the technology thoroughly to get a good grasp of both its advantages and limitations.

Throughout their work on the app, more and more ideas for future projects were born. “We’re constantly thinking of how we can take the idea and expand on it to include more destinations in the city, in Israel and in the world. There’s no shortage on ‘lost’ places that have left memories and history that can be revived by help of technology, allowing for people to experience and learn about them,” says Maya.

“The technology is constantly evolving. We hope to continue to create significant impact by combining storytelling and innovative technology. Our dream is to constantly create mainly projects that are accessible to the general public,” she concludes. On the question of which animal she would not want us to miss on the TAZOO app, she says “We would not want you to miss out on our hippos, Paula and Jacob! They jump into the water and really blend in with the physical space.”

 

Paula and Jacob with friends

The project was supported by the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality, which cooperated and placed the signs throughout the park, as well as The New Fund for Cinema and TV, which supported and assisted with funding.

Download the app on iOS- https://apps.apple.com/ch/app/tazoo/id1548925102

Download the app on Android- https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tazoo.tazoo

*Maya and Yuval hope to create an English version of the app in the very near future, as part of the existing one.