Old Acre: Protest tent erected against massive eviction

A protest tent was erected by Old Acre residents and Hadash activists, protesting eviction notices given to residents by the Amidar Company.  Amidar, the state-owned housing company, says the eviction is to allow “for the building to be renovated and made safe for its residents”. They, however, said that Amidar, the Old Acre Development Company and the Israel Lands Authority, who manage the city’s properties, want to evict as many Arab families as possible for the benefit of developers and potential buyers, mostly rich Jews and foreigners.

Most of the buildings within the walls of the Old City of Acre are state-owned. Their residents paid key money and are protected tenants. The building in question is a three-story building which is currently occupied by four families and six businesses. All received eviction notices from Amidar stating that the building “might collapse”. Khaled Sliman, one of the business-owners working there, rejects this idea. “In the past few years, the building was renovated,” Sliman says. “This is clearly visible and we also presented this in an expert opinion from an engineer.”

Legally, protected tenants must pay half the cost of renovations, but most residents of the Acre building are poor and almost certainly will not be able to make the payment. Whoever does not pay may accumulate debt and face an eviction order, or else the company will purchase his share of the apartment, leaving him without a place to live and without the ability to acquire an alternative apartment.

Veteran Old Acre residents say that, over the past decade, there have been increasing attempts to evict Arab residents, either by designating them squatters or with eviction orders. These can be issued to tenants who have accumulated rent debts or did not pay their share of the cost of building renovations. They say it is not coincidental. In 2001, the Old City of Acre was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, generating great interest on the part of developers and the wealthy in the city’s buildings and properties.

Acre City Council member Ahmed Oudeh ‏(Hadash‏), one of those involved in pitching the protest tent, says the building is located between the Khan al-Umdan complex and the Khan a-Shuna complex and the Turkish baths, near where the city plans to build a tourist center, including a hotel. Leaving the tenants in the building may disrupt these plans. “The residents will be on the alert for any step that could lead to a massive evacuation,” Oudeh says, adding they will fight it.

The residents appealed to the Haifa Magistrate’s Court against the eviction orders and the claim that the building is unsafe, but their appeal was rejected. Attorney Shadi Shawir submitted an appeal on their behalf to the Haifa District Court, which is to be heard on Tuesday.  Sami Huari, one of the initiators of the protest, told “Haaretz” the situation in Acre is getting worse: “Last week Amidar organized a tour for potential buyers, which was conducted with a police escort. It shows that the situation is very volatile. We hope Amidar and the city reconsider and not bring about confrontation in Acre. We want to live in and develop the city like in any normal place and to enjoy the tourism, but not at the expense of Arab citizens’ rights to live in the Old City of Acre.”