Ethiopian Community, Talpiot, Dec 4, 2008

December 4, 2008

On October 2 we reported in the blog on some achievements in the community dialogue process in Talpiot Ethiopian Community. The first was in solving the issue of language at the main HMO Clalit health clinic in the neighborhood. The second was the agreement by all relevant agencies to enable the Ethiopian community to have a weekend synagogue in a public location called Beit Hakehila (the Community Hall). These were certainly good news, although we estimated that the story was not over, and that other issues awaited their resolution in this neighborhood.

Indeed, during the holidays, a few issues challenged the mutual trust that needs to be built between the relevant stakeholders. The “weekend synagogue” model was found to be a source for many conflicts, some of which we have described in the previous blog posting. It is important to note that this model is used all over Jerusalem where religious communities are granted permission to use public facilities for their purposes, when these are not in use during the weekends, for example public schools. In Succot, although they were explicitly asked not to do so, the Ethiopian community built a Succah in the yard of Beit Hakehila. The municipality, which owns the place, perceives this and other incidents as violations of the ontract signed by the Ethiopian community for the use of the place. Since the episode occurred during the municipal elections campaign, municipality officials did not react this time. Politics, as we have seen many times in Jerusalem, is a significant player in the field. The elections have now passed and we will soon witness the next steps in this story.

And as if this is not enough, a new dispute emerged. The Ethiopian community asked that its members would be allowed to use another neighborhood public venue, Beit Lazarus, for private celebrations. It should be noted that in the Ethiopian community, religious life-cycle ceremonies (weddings, Bar Mitzvah, etc.) are a public event where the celebrating family invites all the community to participate. Having a public/private celebration in the middle of the village was an option in Ethiopia, but it is not so in Talpiot, where most of the residents are not Ethiopians. The alternative is to hold the celebration in a public facility, which the authorities allocate for that purpose.  However, in Talpiot such a solution was not achieved yet and the community asked that celebrating families would be able to rent Beit Lazarus for their events. The community Council that owns the place did not approve the request, stating that this public facility cannot be rented out for private purposes.

Practically, the community asked to use the place on Dec. 5 and Dec. 12, and threatened to hold demonstrations and protests if their requests were not answered. Last week, we found ourselves – the mediating team of Mosaica and the JICC – in meetings and conversations with the head of the Ethiopian community and the heads of the relevant authorities. However, it seems that the current lack of trust, resulting from the contract violations by the community at the synagogue, prevents such negotiations from being productive. Our experience shows that what is currently required is a process, that will probably be challenging for all sides, for the examination of the events that happened in the last months as well as their consequences for the trust building process.

Additional meetings will take place this week trying to decipher the way to resolution.

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