|On December 17, 2020, Ir Amim filed a legal petition against the issuance of a tender for the establishment of a Yemenite Jewish visitor center in the home of an evicted Palestinian family in the heart of Batan al-Hawa, Silwan. Currently home to approximately 10,000 Palestinians who have resided there for decades, Batan al-Hawa is under massive threat by a state-sponsored settler organization working to forcibly evict Palestinian families and seize their homes for Jewish settlement.
The Benvenisti Trust
Under the guise of the Benvenisti Trust, a Jewish trust that once held title to property in the area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Ateret Cohanim settler organization has been utilizing the trust as a platform to advance mass eviction proceedings against Palestinian families in the neighborhood. See Ir Amim’s and Peace Now’s joint report, “Broken Trust” for further details and analysis.
To date, 14 families have already been evicted and uprooted from their homes while over 80 families are facing additional eviction demands, placing some 700 individuals from one community at risk of wholesale displacement. The year 2020 saw an unprecedented number of court decisions upholding eviction claims against Palestinian families from Batan al-Hawa in favor of Ateret Cohanim, which could usher in an alarming wave of evictions this year.
A State-Sponsored Settlement Project
While the project for the Yemenite Jewish visitor center was officially launched and funded by the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs, it is being carried out in close collaboration with the Benvenisti Trust and Ateret Cohanim with the joint purpose, among other things, of encouraging further Jewish settlement in Batan al-Hawa, an area once home to Yemenite Jews prior to 1948.
According to a previous legal petition Ir Amim filed in conjunction with Batan al-Hawa residents against the Israeli Registrar of Trusts, Ateret Cohanim gained control of the Benvenisti Trust through dubious means, and its activities constitute a gross misuse and exploitation of the trust. Citing allegations of a conflict of interest on the part of the trustees, the petition called for the revocation of Ateret Cohanim's appointment to the trust's management. Following the petition's submission, the Registrar of Trusts announced that it would conduct an in-depth investigation into the management and actions of the trust and its trustees.
The Petition's Legal Framework
In its current petition, Ir Amim argues that the tender issued by the governmental company of PAMI (East Jerusalem Development Company) for construction of the Yemenite Jewish visitor center must be frozen pending the investigation into the Benvenisti Trust and its flagrant misconduct. Ir Amim likewise underscored the direct involvement of Ateret Cohanim in the project and cited further allegations of a conflict of interest due to a member of PAMI's board of directors being married to a senior representative of Ateret Cohanim, who conducted a tour for those interested in the tender. The petition goes on to emphasize the concern that public funds are ultimately being allocated to advance Ateret Cohanim's goals.
While the Administrative Affairs Court ruled on December 17, 2020 that no temporary injunction suspending the tender would be issued at the time, the court asked the state to provide a response by December 28. Following a request by the state for an extension, the court has given them until January 11, 2021 to respond.
Ir Amim will continue to update accordingly.