Moscow to evict SPNI from ‘Sergei’s Courtyard’
Environmental organization must find new home in next three months after 38 years in Russian Compound.
Sergei’s Courtyard in J'lem's Russian Compound Photo: Marc Israel Sellem
The Russian government announced this week the decision to evict the Society for
the Protection of Nature in Israel from their garden courtyard in the next few
months after 38 years in Jerusalem’s Russian Compound.
coincides with the 24-hour whirlwind visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin
Representatives of the Russian government have already
submitted plans to the municipality’s Preservation Committee detailing the
renovations they want to undertake in the compound, known as Sergei’s
The Preservation Committee has discussed these plans twice in
the past weeks but have not approved any projects, a municipality spokeswoman
Former SPNI Jerusalem branch director Pazit Schweid, who now serves
as the national urban programming coordinator, said the final decision to evict
the organization was upsetting but not a surprise.
“It was clear that
we’d need to leave some time,” she said.
“Now we’re leaving. We really
hope that they’ll do the renovations and it will still be open to the community
so people will be able to come and enjoy the place because it’s really unique in
Jerusalem,” she said.
A municipality spokeswoman echoed that hope and
said the municipality asked the Foreign Ministry to ensure that the courtyard
stayed open for Jerusalem residents.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul
Hischson denied that the final decision, announced on Sunday just hours before
Putin landed in Israel, was a gesture by Israel tied to Putin’s visit. He said
that after Israel recognized Russia’s legal right to Sergei’s Courtyard in 2008,
they had no control over whether or not the venerated Jerusalem environmental
organization would be able to stay in the building and the decision was Russia’s
The property was transferred following a 2007 cabinet decision,
before a visit by then-prime minister Ehud Olmert to Russia, that approved the
transfer of ownership of the czaristera landmark in the center of the capital to
the Russian government. It went into effect in 2008.
was built in 1890 to accommodate Russian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land, and
was named after Czar Alexander II’s son, Sergei Alexandrovich.
acquired some 90 percent of the Russian Compound in 1964, paying the former
Soviet Union $3.5 million. The purchase was dubbed the “Orange Deal” because
Israel, lacking hard currency, paid the Russians in citrus fruit. Sergei’s
Courtyard, however, was part of the remaining 10% not covered in the deal, and
Putin made regaining the property a priority during his previous term as
Schweid said SPNI, which organizes educational
community events and other activities, is now searching for an alternative home.
She wants to stay in the center of Jerusalem in an area where the group can
maintain a working garden, to continue to be accessible to the
Because SPNI must evacuate their offices in the next three to
four months, the organization might be forced to find a temporary home for a
year while a more suitable location is found.
She also encouraged the
public to visit the courtyard over the summer, because it could be their last
opportunity. “Enjoy this magical place, because it might not stay the same way,”
“We’re not sure it’ll be open to the public, especially during
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.