Will another symbol of Jerusalem soon become a real estate project? Has the fate of the Jerusalem Journalists Association, another magnificent institution that arose and operated in the city for decades, been decided, and will it soon be forced to vacate and move to Tel Aviv?
Association members in the city, led by chairman Mickey Klein, fear the Jerusalem Municipality has made a decision to seize the Beit Agron property, built in the 1960s with association funds, in order to allow for the construction of another tower in the center of the city.
The conflict between the association and the municipality has been going on for about eight years. The municipality has claimed that the association does not have a recognized and signed lease agreement and is operating in the building without permission. The municipality has also claimed that the association rents building spaces to a number of organizations and entities for profit, without a permit.
However, in August, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled that the association can continue to own Beit Agron in Jerusalem, even though no lease agreement has been signed between it and the owner of the land.
The verdict reads: “Taking into account the long time that has passed since the association began owning the property, the conduct of the parties over decades and the multitude of documents on the matter, it must be determined that there were agreements by the parties to grant the association the right to sublease for a period of 49 years and an extension for an additional 49 years on the first floor of Beit Agron and in the auditorium. In this situation, the burden of bringing the evidence passes to the municipality.”
“Taking into account the long time that has passed since the association began owning the property, the conduct of the parties over decades and the multitude of documents on the matter, it must be determined that there were agreements by the parties to grant the association the right to sublease for a period of 49 years and an extension for an additional 49 years on the first floor of Beit Agron and in the auditorium. In this situation, the burden of bringing the evidence passes to the municipality.”Court verdict
What is the story of the Jerusalem Journalists Association?
In June 1968, an agreement was signed between the municipality and the Gershon Agron House of Journalists in Jerusalem for a period of 49 years with an option for an additional 49 years without the need for the renewal of the contract. The leased building would serve as a residence for the Journalists Association in Jerusalem and other public and government institutions.
In accordance with the contract, Beit Agron was established, in 1969. Since then, various public institutions and government ministries, such as the Muslim Sharia Court and the Journalists Association, have been operating there.
The lawsuit filed by the municipality requests that the association vacate Beit Agron, since, according to the municipality, no evidence of a sublease agreement was ever presented, apart from a draft agreement that does not bear a date and signature.
The municipality also claimed that the association had expanded and leased areas from Beit Agron to various parties and for commercial purposes. The association, on the other hand, claimed that it owns the full rights to the property, among other things by virtue of its participation in the construction costs of Beit Agron. At the same time, the association was asked to vacate all the commercial spaces it had leased, such as the Time Elevator; a restaurant; a buffet area; an auditorium; and two press offices.
However, despite the municipality’s lawsuit, the eviction of the journalists from Beit Agron in August failed, as the court recognized the association’s rights to the property – and only required it to return the leased areas, something that had already happened, Klein pointed out. In response to the municipality’s lawsuit, the association filed a counterclaim, which is mainly about financial issues.
This week, the association directly addressed Mayor Moshe Lion, asking him: “Do you want to be remembered as the mayor who uprooted and evicted the Journalists Association from its home? Do you want to be remembered as the mayor who evicts journalists who stick to their mission and seizes the association’s assets that allow it to be a protector of the rights of its fellows?”
The association says it will launch a public and legal campaign to protect a workers’ organization so that Jerusalem should remain its home in the capital.
A municipality spokesman said: “It was the court that determined that the Journalists Association uses the area given to it for public purposes and rents it to private businesses and pockets the rent. [The court] ruled that this is an improper use, which goes against the purpose for which the municipality allocated the area on which Beit Agron was built. Therefore, the court ruled that the association must return the [space], which it leases to third parties, to the possession of the municipality. After it restores possession to the municipality, [the municipality] will allocate the area according to the allocation procedure of the Interior Ministry or use it for public needs.” ❖