The art of the deal

The artists at Hutzot Hayotzer have overcome an eviction order – for now.

Hutzot Hayotzer 521 (photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
Hutzot Hayotzer 521
(photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
In Israel, the Mark Twain witticism “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated” seems especially appropriate when applied to numerous places. For example, the movie theater in the German Colony, Lev Smadar, was supposed to close but hasn’t. The library in Kiryat Shmona underwent the same situation. In short, it is common to hear that something is about to be closed, only to find that a public campaign, court hearings and other events reverse the decision.
At Hutzot Hayotzer, the artists’ colony near the Old City, the sword of Damocles that hung over the head of the artists for more than a year has seemingly been withdrawn. The “colony” consists of two rows of studios that have been occupied for decades by more than two dozen Jerusalemite artists. Some of the artists, such as George Goldstein, have been there for 40 years. The courts had given them until July 13 to reach a solution with the East Jerusalem Development Company (EJDC), which owns the property in conjunction with the government, or be evicted.
As a result of a July 6 meeting between the artists and the EJDC directorate, an agreement was reached whereby the immediate eviction of the artists will be dismissed in favor of a three- to four-year hiatus during which time a solution will be found that will allow most of the artists to stay in the compound.
According to Anat Galili-Blum, spokesperson for the artists, the artists will also pay slightly increased rent for their shops. “The agreement is that we should reach further agreements on that. The reason for the meeting was to defuse the basic disagreement. There was a lot of goodwill on both sides. The new members of the directorate who started four months ago have realized that things were different than they thought. Contrary to the past, the artists now feel there is a spirit of cooperation, and we really want to thank the directors for understanding the complexity of the place and stepping up to resolve the problem. There is a new atmosphere now of a real desire to promote the place and try to solve problems.”
The EJDC has been attempting to oust the artists for more than a year and a half now. It seemed in January, when eviction notices were served, that they were reaching the end of the road. But the artists have been particularly active and vocal, enlisting the support of Jerusalem councilman Pepe Allalu of Meretz and establishing a non-profit organization to defend their interests.
They have also outlasted the EJDC, whose directors (eight from the Tourism Ministry and four from the municipality) come and go. Currently, for instance, there are only seven directors of the EJDC rather than the 12 there should be. The manager of the EJDC, Gidon Shamir, is also scheduled to leave his post.
One or more of the directors of the EJDC have been pushing to evict the artists. However the artists were able to persuade the directorate to go and see the colony. According to Galili-Blum, “After a year and a half of arguing, they finally came to see the place. The artists were there and made their presence known. The directors saw that it was not just a bunch of storage rooms. They saw that the artists were there and working and using the place.”
Yossi Sagi, a Judaica silversmith who owns a shop at the site, recalls the visit clearly. “The directorate came here on May 16, and there were several directors who are new and they saw the serious quality work we are doing here. They saw how important the place was and that we are serious artists.” Sagi adds, “I really hope that a solution will be found.”
Sari Srulovich, another artist and silversmith, says she is exhausted from the ups and downs of the last few months but has hope. “I really feel we are going to be able to stay here.”
Emil Shenfeld, head of the committee the artists have established, is also upbeat. “This place is so important to tourism as a place of quality workmanship, there is no reason there shouldn’t be a solution.”
As for the EJDC, there is deafening silence. Shamir has refused to say more than “There really are no changes on our end.”
The Tourism Ministry, noting that the work of the artists is “important and valuable,” responded that “Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov has been involved in the field for a long time and is working to find the appropriate and respectful decision that will be balanced between the two sides....We hope that in the near future, despite the court proceedings, the issue will be sorted out.”
An e-mail to Pepe Allalu, the newly minted deputy mayor of Jerusalem, has gone unanswered as of press time.
As part of the newfound vibrancy, the artists have partnered with the Ariel municipal company to be involved in the Hutzot Hayotzer arts and crafts fair in August. In addition, they recently held a mini-fair at the Inbal Hotel for the General Assembly of the Jewish Agency. It seems, for now, that Hutzot Hayotzer is seeing a light at the end of its tunnel.