Israeli Jewish-Arab NGO to Evacuate Office Following 'Harassment by Municipality'

Negev Coexistence Forum has agreed to vacate premises in exchange for the Be'er Sheva Municipality slashing a whopping tax bill

File Photo: A Negev Coexistence Forum gathering, Be'er Sheva, Israel, 2017.
Ilan Assayag

Four months after the Be’er Sheva Municipality had claimed that the Negev Coexistence Forum owed it half a million shekels ($140,000) in retroactive property taxes, the municipality has agreed not to demand full payment, in exchange for the NGO's evacuation of the shelter when its contract expires.

Prior to this claim, the municipality failed to legally force the NGO to evacuate the public shelter it received for its operations.  

“Regrettably, harassment by the municipality has left us no choice but to accept these terms,” the Negev Coexistence Forum said.  

The Be’er Sheva’s Municipality has been trying for some time to evict the Coexistence Forum from the shelter earmarked for it in the city’s Dalet neighborhood due to political controversies that arose over several events that were held at the shelter, which displeased Be'er Sheva Mayor Ruvik Danilovich.

After an exchange of letters and a meeting between both sides, the city took steps to evict the NGO from the shelter, claiming that it was not abiding by the terms of the contract it had signed.

The matter reached the Supreme Court, which rejected the city’s request to evict the Forum before the contract expires.

The judges noted that “the city’s operations should be held using an egalitarian approach”, hinting that the municipality was discriminating against the organization in its demand for eviction.

A week and a half after the court’s ruling, City Hall presented the Forum with a property tax assessment of 481,000 shekels, based on the last seven years. The Forum claimed that the municipality was persecuting them, unwilling to accept the court’s ruling while trying other methods to evict them.

A few weeks ago, the group and the municipality reached an agreement according to which the city won’t demand all the money they claim is owed, making do with 30,000 shekels. In exchange, the NGO must evacuate the shelter once its contract ends in October 2020, without requesting an extension.

The Negev Coexistence Forum said in a statement: “We came to the municipality with this offer before Passover. We prefer to invest our resources and energy in promoting a communal Jewish-Arab society in southern Israel, rather than embarking on expensive and prolonged legal battles, which the municipality has been imposing on us for the last two years.

"The Iftar meal (breaking the Ramadan fast) which we held with 100 Jews and Arabs this week attests more than anything to the need and deep willingness that exists here in getting acquainted and fostering a Jewish-Arab partnership, despite the public mood the mayor has surrendered to," the statement read.

"We’ll continue to operate with our partners to fulfill our vision without the municipality, which continues to limit democracy in the Negev. We are grateful and pleased with our 13 years of extensive activities in a public shelter in the Dalet neighborhood. We’re happy to come above ground and continue, increasing our activities, at another location.”