Khutzot Hayotzer 311 .
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Tucked in a quiet lane at the bottom of the Old City walls in Jerusalem, the
peaceful artist colony Khutzot Hayotzer is struggling to survive for the second
year in a row.
The East Jerusalem Development Company, which leases the
Khutzot Hayotzer complex from the Israel Lands Authority, issued a court order
for eviction last week, which would force the 19 artists to leave their studios
if they do not respond to the court order within 30 days.
Jerusalem Development Company says it just wants the artists to pay a more
realistic rent for the studios, as there hasn’t been a rise in rent for more
than a decade. “As a public company, I cannot subsidize people,” Gideon Shamir,
CEO of EJDC, told The Jerusalem Post
EJDC tried to raise the
rent by 30 percent last January, threatening the artists with eviction if they
didn’t comply. The artists appealed to the municipality, which sent a mediator
to try to find a compromise.
Talks broke down between the two sides late
last year, and now EJDC is going ahead with the eviction.
The EJDC has
already evicted six artists over the past year whom it deemed were not bringing
enough business to the colony. The area is a well-known destination for tourists,
though it is often empty during the off-season.
The colony is well-known
for the famous Khutzot Hayotzer arts and crafts festival that takes place every
August and attracts thousands of visitors as well as hundreds of artists from
around the world for the two-week event. Though the festival was started by some
of the original artists of Khutzot Hayotzer, it is now run by the semi-public
Ariel Company, which is associated with the Jerusalem Municipality, and has
almost no contact with the artist colony.
“In the past, the area was
teeming with tourists,” said an assessor who visited the artist colony to
evaluate a realistic rental price for the studios. “Changes in the security
situation, as well as the transportation arrangements, such as the loss of an
area for bus parking at the eastern entrance, and an aging artists’ population
that has barely changed since the founding of the area 40 years ago, have lead
to a meaningful decrease in the amount of tourists,” the report
“They said the main reason for the deterioration of the compound
was that artists are of old age and are irrelevant to the crowd coming into the
compound,” said Anat Galili, the unofficial spokeswoman and activist for the
complex and the daughter of one of the studio occupants. “Artists don’t stop
creating when they reach retirement. They continue creating until their last
breath. Old people are not to be put aside. They reach certain achievements
because of their age and become better artists.”
The artists pay between
NIS 1500 and 4500 per month, according to Galili, though EJDC wants to raise the
rents by 30%. The assessor found that the rent should be almost double, ranging
from NIS 3600 to 7200.
The artists have retained a new lawyer who is
fighting the current eviction order, and are appealing to Jerusalem city council
members and MKs Nitzan Horowitz and Shai Nachman for help. They also want the
Tourism Ministry, which owns 66% of EJDC, to investigate the matter.
denied that the age of the artists had anything to do with the evictions. The
organization also denied claims that it intends to replace the artist studios
with a commercial center, saying there are not yet plans for the complex if the
artists are evicted.