Israel Extends Lease on Subsidized Housing for Holocaust Survivors Set to Be Evicted

Decision to extend contracts by five years comes after elderly tenets protested ministry's decision to terminate agreement with private company that owns assisted living housing units

Residents of a sheltered housing complex attend a meeting in Bnei Ayish, Israel, May 1, 2019.
Ilan Assayag

Reversing a previous decision, Israel's Immigrant Absorption Ministry has reached an agreement with the private owners of an apartment complex where Holocaust survivors reside on extending their rental contracts by five years.

70 elderly men and women, including 45 Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans were set to be evicted from their assisted living complex in Bnai Ayish after the Immigrant Absorption Ministry decided to terminate its contract with the private company that owns the housing units at the beginning of May.

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Following Haaretz's report on the matter, Immigrant Absorption Minister Yoav Gallant's office said the decision was contrary to his instructions and that he ordered the plan to evict the residents stopped.

On Tuesday, ministry officials visited the complex and told tenants that their evacuation had been rescinded, giving them an official document attesting to the extension of their rental contracts until the end of August 2024.

In addition, a letter from the ministry’s director-general, Haviv Katsav, to the tenants now says that “requests by tenants who wish to move to complexes in other towns, closer to their families, will be positively reviewed by the ministry, which will help them move.”

“According to a directive given by Immigrant Absorption Minister Yoav Gallant, the ministry has extended its association with the complex by five more years. The tenants are not required to evacuate their apartments against their will and the ministry will continue to be responsible for these apartments according to the signed contracts”, Katsav wrote.  

Gissya Karnicheny, 84, has been living in this housing complex for many years. She received the news while hospitalized at Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot dur to high blood pressure.

Karnicheny said that the good news about the cancellation of the evacuation order improved her condition, at least emotionally. “They restored my hope and security. There is justice in the world! I’m happy to have a house I’ve grown so used to” she said on Wednesday.

Her son Jacob and his wife Mila, who helped the survivors in their battle against the evacuation decree, said their joy is boundless. “It’s sad that the Absorption Ministry ignored the survivors for such a long time and only when a newspaper intervened did they decide to cancel that terrible decree," they said in reference to Haaretz report on the matter.

"The same officials who told them they’d have to leave were the ones who came to deliver the letter telling them they could stay, calming them and coming full circle,” said Mila.

According to Jacob, some of the survivors expressed anger over the fact that contract was extended for only five years and not for ten, worried that they’d have to fight again for their entitlement to housing when the contract expires. “They feel they’re being given only five more years to live, with the hope that they die before another contract is needed” he said.

For months, the tenants, assisted by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, appealed to the ministry, not receiving answers regarding their future. They were not told whether they’d be offered alternative housing and where that might be.

Initially, the ministry refused to answer the residents’ questions and didn't respond to either the association, which has been helping the residents fight the decision -- or questions from Haaretz about the eviction issue.

In unofficial conversations some of them were told that they could stay in housing arranged by the state in the southern cities of Ashdod, Kiryat Malachi and Kiryat Gat.

In 2009, a similar attempt was made to shut down the housing complex, which was prevented in part due to pressure from Knesset members and lawyers.