A Passover Seder for new immigrants takes place in Mevaseret Zion in 2011..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Immigrants in the soon-tobe- shuttered Mevaseret Zion Absorption Center are being pushed out without replacement housing, Zionist Union MK Yossi Yonah wrote in a letter to Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky Sunday.
The Jewish Agency, however, says they are acting according to an agreement made with the absorption center’s residents.
In 2014, ownership of the absorption center was transferred from the Jewish Agency to its employees’ pension fund, the management of which plans to tear down the building in the middle of the Jerusalem suburb and replace it with high-end residences.
In his letter, which he intends to forward to the Jewish Agency’s Board of Directors, Yonah pointed out that residents are already being evacuated with a September 4 deadline, even though the High Court of Justice is set to weigh in on Wednesday on whether it was legal for the Jewish Agency, a public entity, to transfer ownership to the pension fund, which is private. The Movement for Quality Government in Israel submitted the appeal to the court, asking that an injunction be issued to stop the evacuation and delay the center’s demolition for another three years.
“It is inconceivable that the land on which the center is built, procured 50 years ago through Jewish philanthropic efforts, be transferred to the pension fund,” Yonah argued.
“No doubt, the pension rights of the agency’s employees should be safeguarded, but it is rather inconceivable that these rights are to be secured by means of putting this land for sale, thus leading to the closure of the center, whose role in facilitating the absorption of newcomers upon their arrival in Israel is indispensably crucial.”
Yonah said not all the absorption center’s residents, mostly immigrants from Ethiopia, have found permanent homes, adding that Jewish Agency workers “have been employing improper means – shutting down air conditioners and not allowing residents’ children to register at kindergartens and schools in the neighboring areas – aiming to evacuate the residents immediately without offering them suitable and fair solutions.”
Jeremy Saltan, a member of the Immigration and Absorption Committee of the Mevaseret Zion City Council, pointed out that tens of thousands of immigrants passed through Mevaseret Zion’s absorption center, which was the Jewish Agency’s flagship and largest absorption center, holding as many as 1,300 people at a time. In addition, he recounted that two different Knesset committees and the State Comptroller have examined the circumstances surrounding the land’s ownership.
“I call on the powers-that-be to show some mercy toward those who remain and not to evict them next week,” Saltan said. “As a nation of immigrants, we have an obligation toward those immigrants who have not yet found their way.”
The Jewish Agency, however, responded that an agreement was reached three years ago between the absorption center’s residents, the Aliya and Integration Ministry and representatives of the pension fund, with the High Court’s backing.
“Since this agreement is equivalent to a court order, it will be executed as originally decided,” the Jewish Agency statement reads. “It was made clear and explained to every resident in the absorption center what their rights are to aid from the state, whether it’s a residence in an alternative absorption center, a grant to buy a home, a loan to buy one, or a grant to help pay rent.”
The immigrants’ benefits are decided by the Aliya and Integration Ministry according to criteria for all immigrants.
“The absorption center residents are expected to behave according to the agreement they reached and the rules for every immigrant from every country – to use the aid given by the state and start an independent life,” the Jewish Agency added.