'106 banquet halls lack building permits'

Ministry slammed by owners for creating "unnecessary panic."

kikar safra 224 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
kikar safra 224 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Interior Ministry has published a blacklist of more than 100 banquet halls that lack proper building permits. The list appears on the ministry's Web site in Hebrew; hall owners say it presents misleading generalizations stemming from red tape and has fomented unnecessary panic among people who have rented the event halls. The 106 "illegal" banquet halls include those at Jerusalem's Ramat Rahel Hotel, and the Shoresh Hotel and Neveh Ilan banquet halls near the capital. The Interior Ministry, on its Web site, urges people who rent halls for private events to check with local authorities to ensure that the businesses have all proper permits. The listing, effective since April 15, does not specify why the businesses lack a building permit, or whether any of the 106 banquet halls are unsafe. The manager of the Shoresh banquet hall, Asher Porgas, said on Tuesday that he had all the required police and fire permits but not a building permit, since the site did not include a bomb shelter. "This is a bureaucratic issue that has thrown our clients into hysteria," Porgas said. He said he has been inundated with phone calls from customers since the news broke of the Interior Ministry list, and that although he expected the issue to be resolved in the coming days, his business could suffer as a result of being blacklisted. "I do not understand how we could be placed on such a list," said Amnon Eliyahu, the chairman of Kibbutz Ramat Rahel. He, too, said the kibbutz had all the necessary permits for its banquet hall, but was awaiting the signature of the Israel Lands Authority, which had apparently left the hall blacklisted. "Various political interests," and not safety issues, were delaying the final approval of the completed building plans, Eliyahu said. Tziona Avrahamof - manager of the Bisholim catering company, which runs the Neveh Ilan hall - said that the hall, which operates only during the spring and summer, needed to renew its fire and police license. The licenses would be in place ahead of the annual reopening of the hall at the end of next month, she said. The ministry's blacklist, which comes as the public is still jittery following a lethal banquet hall collapse in Jerusalem seven years ago, has left people who were planning to hold an event at one of the locations confused. "There are so many other things I am worrying about that this, rightly or wrongly, is at the bottom of my list," said Judith Marks, 30, of Jerusalem, who is due to be married at the Shoresh banquet hall in two months. "This is something that I would rather not think about." She added that her foreign invitations had already been sent out. Marks, who moved to Israel from London just over two years ago, said that part of the problem stemmed from pure bureaucracy. "It is the same with every government office in Israel," she said. "There are so many different departments that each one does not know what the other is doing." On May 24, 2001, 23 people were killed and nearly 400 injured when the Versailles banquet hall collapsed during a wedding. The banquet hall was built using a cheap lightweight construction method, known as Pal-Kal, which uses metal plates and thin layers of cement. Pal-Kal was popular in the 1980s, but was banned by the Israel Standards Institute in 1996. A 1998 Interior Ministry directive to check all buildings built using the hazardous method went unheeded by most cities and towns, including the Jerusalem Municipality.