A personal mission

Solomon Balas doesn’t fit the mold of the average Jewish pensioner who moves from a major Western city to spend his old age near Jerusalem’s holy sites.

Solomon Balas
What causes a respectable pensioner to leave behind plans for a peaceful retirement in favor of tracking down law-breakers and fighting bureaucracy? Solomon Balas doesn’t fit the mold of the average Jewish pensioner who moves from a major Western city to spend his old age near Jerusalem’s holy sites. Balas, who has just turned 71, made a considerable fortune in England and planned to spend his retirement relaxing in the house he bought in the David’s Village complex, which faces the walls of the Old City and is within walking distance of the Western Wall.
But soon enough, he found that not everything was in order in the Land of Israel, and that it harbored corruption, bribery and criminality.
So he founded a nonprofit organization, which he funds with his own money, to implement his vision of a society free of law-breaking. He recently spoke with In Jerusalem to discuss the road that led to this mission.
Where were you born, where did you live, and what did you accomplish before arriving in David’s Village?
I was born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1944. I always wanted to come to Israel, but my parents wanted me to get a good Western education, so they sent me to London in 1959, where I studied physics (sciences, not medicine).
Later on, I worked in an oil company, and from one thing to another, I became successful in business and became a businessman.
So Israel [stopped being on] your horizon?
Not at all. In 1967, I was among many other volunteers who left everything behind to come and help [during the Six Day War], but by the time I landed here, the war was over. I went to a kibbutz, Dan, in the North, and stayed there a few months, helping in apple picking. Then I went back to England and continued with my business. In 2000, my daughter, who had made aliya, had a baby, so my wife and I decided it was time to come here, and we also made aliya. Since I always loved Jerusalem, I chose David’s Village and bought here.
So what went wrong with David’s Village? How did you go from being just another owner [to being] in conflict with the management of the complex?
I am a businessman, a self-made man, made a lot of money, and I have a lot of experience... because I didn’t use, like the other owners, a lawyer, but rather came myself to hear and decide and sign on the contract.
So everything was clear to me, and when I was asked to sign a second contract [besides the purchasing contract], I immediately felt that something was wrong.
What, for example?
The contract with the management – I refused to sign it before I could understand each word. But they began to harass me on that, pushing me again and again – you have to sign, you must sign. It raised my suspicions. When I got the translation of that contract, I found out that they required my signature on a document that included only the first four buildings of the complex of David’s Village. That was strange. Also they specified that any contact that we, the owners, could have with outside bodies had to go through them. That’s a very unusual way [of doing things].
And that made you a troublemaker for the David’s Village management?
Of course. I called them all sorts of names, including an organized crime association, but they never dared to sue me.
Still, why all the fuss? Why not simply do as others do and have some peace?
For years I have been interested in our people’s history. After all, we invented and gave the world the notion of social justice. I was here many times before making aliya. I saw the young Israelis during the protest of summer 2011; I wrote them a letter of support. On one of my visits here, I saw, at a soup kitchen where I helped, some Holocaust survivors, people with those numbers on their arms, coming to get a hot meal! It made me crazy to see that. There is a large issue out there of criminality, of money that doesn’t reach the state, far beyond the story of David’s Village.
So that is the purpose of your association?
Yes. I have founded Nikui L’tzedek Hevrati [Cleaning Up for Social Justice], which I fund with my own money, to chase [down] fraud, crime, to make an example, to change laws that need to be adapted so that those who enable fraud and law-breaking will be accountable, too. It’s a big mission.