Jerusalem artist colony fights eviction order over rent levels

Khutzot Hayotzer was issued a court order for eviction which would force the 19 artists to leave their studios if they don't respond within 30 days.

Khutzot Hayotzer 311  (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Khutzot Hayotzer 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Tucked in a quiet lane at the bottom of the Old City walls in Jerusalem, the peaceful artist colony Khutzot Hayotzer is struggling to survive for the second year in a row.
The East Jerusalem Development Company, which leases the Khutzot Hayotzer complex from the Israel Lands Authority, issued a court order for eviction last week, which would force the 19 artists to leave their studios if they do not respond to the court order within 30 days.
The East Jerusalem Development Company says it just wants the artists to pay a more realistic rent for the studios, as there hasn’t been a rise in rent for more than a decade. “As a public company, I cannot subsidize people,” Gideon Shamir, CEO of EJDC, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
EJDC tried to raise the rent by 30 percent last January, threatening the artists with eviction if they didn’t comply. The artists appealed to the municipality, which sent a mediator to try to find a compromise.
Talks broke down between the two sides late last year, and now EJDC is going ahead with the eviction.
The EJDC has already evicted six artists over the past year whom it deemed were not bringing enough business to the colony. The area is a well-known destination for tourists, though it is often empty during the off-season.
The colony is well-known for the famous Khutzot Hayotzer arts and crafts festival that takes place every August and attracts thousands of visitors as well as hundreds of artists from around the world for the two-week event. Though the festival was started by some of the original artists of Khutzot Hayotzer, it is now run by the semi-public Ariel Company, which is associated with the Jerusalem Municipality, and has almost no contact with the artist colony.
“In the past, the area was teeming with tourists,” said an assessor who visited the artist colony to evaluate a realistic rental price for the studios. “Changes in the security situation, as well as the transportation arrangements, such as the loss of an area for bus parking at the eastern entrance, and an aging artists’ population that has barely changed since the founding of the area 40 years ago, have lead to a meaningful decrease in the amount of tourists,” the report stated.
“They said the main reason for the deterioration of the compound was that artists are of old age and are irrelevant to the crowd coming into the compound,” said Anat Galili, the unofficial spokeswoman and activist for the complex and the daughter of one of the studio occupants. “Artists don’t stop creating when they reach retirement. They continue creating until their last breath. Old people are not to be put aside. They reach certain achievements because of their age and become better artists.”
The artists pay between NIS 1500 and 4500 per month, according to Galili, though EJDC wants to raise the rents by 30%. The assessor found that the rent should be almost double, ranging from NIS 3600 to 7200.
The artists have retained a new lawyer who is fighting the current eviction order, and are appealing to Jerusalem city council members and MKs Nitzan Horowitz and Shai Nachman for help. They also want the Tourism Ministry, which owns 66% of EJDC, to investigate the matter.
EJDC denied that the age of the artists had anything to do with the evictions. The organization also denied claims that it intends to replace the artist studios with a commercial center, saying there are not yet plans for the complex if the artists are evicted.