|Two days ago (June 1), the state informed the District Court that the Jerusalem Affairs Ministry had frozen plans for the establishment of a Yemenite Jewish heritage center in the home of an evicted Palestinian family in Batan al-Hawa, Silwan (see map below). The project was being advanced and carried out in close cooperation with the Ateret Cohanim settler organization. Approximately 85 families, numbering over 700 individuals, currently face eviction lawsuits due to Ateret Cohanim's actions in the area.
The freeze is a direct result of two legal petitions Ir Amim filed over the course of the past year.
The first petition, from June 2020, alleged that members of Ateret Cohanim gained control of the Benvenisti Trust through dubious means, and their activities constitute a gross exploitation of the trust. Under the guise of the Benvenisti Trust-- a Jewish trust that once held title to property in Batan al-Hawa in the late 19th century-- Ateret Cohanim has been advancing mass eviction proceedings against Palestinian families in the area. The petition cited allegations of a conflict of interest on the part of the trustees, who are members of Ateret Cohanim, and called for the revocation of their appointment to the trust's management.
This resulted in the Ministry of Justice/Registrar of Trusts opening an in-depth investigation into the trust and its trustees, which is currently still underway and likewise contributed to suspension of the project.
The second petition from December 2020 argued that the tender for construction of the heritage center must be frozen pending the investigation into the Benvenisti Trust and its flagrant misconduct. Ir Amim underscored the direct involvement of Ateret Cohanim in the project and emphasized the concern that major public funds are being allocated to ultimately advance Ateret Cohanim's goals.
It should be noted that in the eviction cases of the seven families from Batan al-Hawa whose appeal went before the District Court last Wednesday, the court issued a decision on Friday (May 28) to defer a ruling until December 2021. This is to allow time for a verdict to be handed down at the Supreme Court in the cases of the Duweik, Shweiki and Odeh families, currently pending a legal opinion by the Attorney General of Israel. While the deadline for submitting his position had been May 31, the Attorney General requested a 30-day extension, which the Supreme Court approved on June 1.