Jerusalem black swan

The beginning was quite exciting: as part of the renewal project of the Mahaneh Yehuda area, an art gallery opened in one of the city’s premises, in the heart of the Nahlaot neighborhood.

Jerusalem black swan (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jerusalem black swan
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The beginning was quite exciting: as part of the renewal project of the Mahaneh Yehuda area, an art gallery opened in one of the city’s premises, in the heart of the Nahlaot neighborhood, a few blocks from the market. It was a bold initiative, a hint that right after the 2005 Intifada, which almost destroyed the shuk, new life was rising there.
The Barbur Gallery began to work from the small structure on Shirizli Street, close to the local council building and community center. Initially, it was a joint project of the Jerusalem Foundation and the municipality and all seemed wonderful. But, in 2014, the gallery held an event with representatives of the Breaking the Silence organization, which raised a lot of anger and protest among neighbors, right-wing representatives at city council and the mayor himself, in those days Nir Barkat.
Since then, Barbur has been waging a battle against the municipality to retain its tenancy. The case was taken to court. First the municipality won and then, following an appeal, Barbur won and remained in place. But the ceasefire between the gallery and the municipality, more specifically with the right-wing representatives there, was not to be a long one. Last year, an event intended to enable residents to hear the testimonies of the members of the Parents Circle Families Forum was the trigger for another round by the municipality to evict the gallery.
In a letter from the director of the municipality’s real estate assets, Rita Ladzhinsky, the gallery was informed that its request for municipal space as a nonprofit entity had been turned down, and it would have to vacate the premises within 90 days. The gallery’s directors say that they learned about it through the press, before they received the official letter.
Ladzhinsky wrote that the committee deciding which entities receive municipal real estate for their use was informed that the municipality’s education department had requested that the building become a kindergarten, and that this was the reason the gallery was being evicted. The rule is that before any plot or structure belonging to the municipality is given to any non-profit association, the various departments at Safra Square have priority, in case these assets are needed for the wider community or neighborhood. In that particular case, the education administration requested the premises to ease a bit on the severe lack of space for public kindergartens.
However, the political side of the case has – since the beginning – been the more obvious, hence a series of protests and struggles were undertaken against the decision, suspected by left-wing associations as attempts to quell the gallery’s programs and cynically using the needs of the neighborhood as a cover. Hagit Moshe, deputy mayor and holder of the education portfolio, said in a statement to the press: “The voice of Torah and Zionism will be heard instead of Barbur’s slander. I’m glad that the struggle I have been part of since the prior term has succeeded and we have killed two birds with one stone – an important addition to the kindergartens and the closing of a gallery that specializes in provocation and damage to Israel’s good name under the guise of artistic freedom.”
Since the beginning of the tension between the municipality and the gallery, the issue of how the space should be used – as an art gallery serving the wider public and not not only the residents of the neighborhood, or as kindergartens and day-care centers for the children of the local residents – is at the center of the matter. According to the figures of the education administration of the city, one out of three children living in that neighborhood is transported to another neighborhood every day, apparently because of a lack of local kindergartens.
“Why do we have to transport our children out of the neighborhood while a city premise is here, being used for another purpose?” asks Dr. Ofir Lang, president of the neighborhood local council. Responding to the remark that the premise is not big enough to serve that purpose either, Lang replied that “of course, but if Barbur gets out, we could build instead a two-story building, and provide much of the neighborhood’s needs.”
Noam Kuzar, CEO of Bar-Kayma, the non-profit that runs the gallery and additional projects related to arts and social activities says that the lack of facilities for kindergartens is just another attempt to hide the real intentions of the municipality.
“If they really need space for kindergartens, and I agree that this is an important cause, why hasn't the municipality built any kindergartens since 2005? They approve housing projects in the neighborhood, but they don’t plan to build schools and kindergartens? Barbur cannot solve all of the lack of facilities anyway so why [are they] evicting us?”
The municipality commented, “The gallery is in a building belonging to the municipality, and the education administration has requisitioned it in order to repurpose it for kindergartens needed by the residents in the neighborhood.”