Jerusalem gallery wins Supreme Court ruling against municipality eviction

The gallery has maintained throughout that the eviction was politically motivated.

Activists protest outside Barbur Gallery in Jerusalem, on February 08, 2017.  (photo credit: LIOR MIZRAHI/FLASH90)
Activists protest outside Barbur Gallery in Jerusalem, on February 08, 2017.
(photo credit: LIOR MIZRAHI/FLASH90)
An independent art gallery in Jerusalem is celebrating after the Supreme Court overruled a decision by the District Court authorizing the city's decision to evict the gallery from its premises.
The gallery has maintained throughout that the eviction was politically motivated, as it swiftly followed a decision by the venue to host the controversial NGO Breaking the Silence in 2014. The Supreme Court has overturned the previous ruling by the District Court, and has ordered that court to examine the issue of political motivation. According to the gallery, this means that the onus is now on the municipality to prove that the eviction was not politically motivated.
In a statement, the gallery said: "From the start, our central argument has been that the real motivation behind the municipality’s demand that we vacate the structure was our hosting of a lecture by the NGO Breaking the Silence, and other events that were not to the taste of minister Miri Regev and the municipal administration. The motivation for the eviction is injurious to freedom of expression, is illegal, and is contrary to Supreme Court rulings.
"Unfortunately, throughout the legal hearings, the courts refrained from discussing this important issue (freedom of expression) choosing to focus only on bureaucratic allocation procedures."
The decision hinged on two facts, the gallery said, firstly that the decision to evict took place the day after the lecture by Breaking the Silence occurred and Regev called on the then-Mayor Nir Barkat to prevent the event from going ahead. Breaking the Silence is an NGO founded by former IDF soldiers who give testimony about cases of abuse and misconduct toward Palestinians that occur in the Palestinian territories.
The second was a public statement issued by Jerusalem's Deputy Mayor Hagit Moshe, in which she wrote: “Now the voice of Torah and Zionism will be heard in the place of the slanderous squawking of Barbur” (barbur means 'swan' in Hebrew).
The judge ruling said that these events raised questions over the municipality's claim that the building was required to house a new kindergarten.
The case has been raging on ever since the lecture event. 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.
It has now moved to new premises on Shlomo HaMelech street in Jerusalem.
Throughout the dispute the gallery has been supported by City Council Member Yossi Havilio, who has previously represented the gallery in a voluntary capacity.
"This is a great achievement for freedom of expression, for Barbur Gallery, and for me personally, as one who accompanies the gallery," Havilio said. "I was disappointed when [Jerusalem Mayor] Moshe Leon chose to succumb to right-wing pressure and continue on Barkat's path. I hope that after this ruling he will change his decision, and if not, that the court will rule that the gallery must be returned to its place. This ruling proves the importance of a strong and independent Supreme Court."
Barbur Gallery was established by a group of artists who had recently graduated from the Bezalel Academy for Art and Design in order to exhibit their works. Located in the Nachalot area of Jerusalem near the Machane Yehuda market, it sought to infuse the area with a new spirit, bringing together young artists, the elderly of the neighborhood and the whole community to share in a project of renewal.
In March, following the District Court's ruling, the gallery posted to Facebook: "Barbur Gallery was opened in 2005, when Jerusalem’s streets and markets stood empty after years of terror attacks. Barbur set out to become a space that fosters the meeting of culture and community, considering art as power that can connect people where politics drive them apart.
"In these days of pandemic we once again find our streets and markets empty. The pillars of free expression and democratic ideas seem shakier than ever, and we are reminded of the days before the gallery was opened. We know well that periods of crisis are also ones of courage and strengthening — and we believe there is an ongoing need to maintain open, public discourse through art and interpersonal exchange. Barbur Gallery will continue to serve as a space for different opinions, in shared expression of tolerance and love, both in the digital realm as well as in the physical world."
Peggy Cidor contributed to this report.