For the past 15 years, the Negev Coexistence Forum developed joint activities of Arab-Jewish collaborations in our space we called Multaka-Mifgash. Encounter, in Arabic and Hebrew. Our home was a public shelter owned by the Be’er Sheva Municipality- that served as a community center, a gallery, a place of encounter that generated knowledge on diversity, religion, intercultural dialogue on the roots of the conflict, poverty, international relations and cooperation with other countries and organizations. The Multaka used to be the physical reference for Bedouin residents from the unrecognized villages that wanted to raise their voices and start a struggle for recognition, against eviction and displacement, for proper infrastructure and education. They would come to the Multaka and find an other, willing to listen to their hardships on how to connect running water to their local school, for instance. It was home for everyone wishing to learn and discuss, a true public space.
Our own story of eviction started in 2014, when the Be’er Sheva Municipality began to try and limit the scope of our events and discourse. It was clear that we were dealing with autocratic institutions when we received a threat to get evicted if we did not comply with their censorship. For the first time for any NGO being hosted by them, they have decided to intervene with the content of our cultural events, demanding we host only “non-controversial” events. Human rights, we learned, are controversial.
We witnessed when the Jerusalem Municipality acted for the closure of Barbour Gallery. We knew then, that this was a story bigger than just us and our municipality.
When we refused to accede to the requests for censorship, the municipality petitioned the district court requesting our eviction. Subsequently, we appealed to the Supreme Court that ruled that the municipality is not allowed to interfere with the content transmitted in its properties, and hence prevented the eviction of the Multaka from the shelter in 2018. However, immediately afterwards, in January 2019, we received the Municipality demand for property taxes, for 7 years of activity at a business rate retroactively. Something no other group working in public space was ever asked to pay. They demanded an outrageous and impossible amount of almost half a million shekels. While other non-profit organizations in Be’er Sheva are exempt from paying property taxes, the Negev Coexistence Forum was forced to negotiate and reach an agreement. In order to avoid paying the fine, the organization was forced to commit to evacuating the shelter. And finally, last week we left the Multaka.
Hence, we decided appeal to our community and launch a fundraising campaign. The goal of NIS 100,000 will allow us to rent property to reopen the Multaka. We have decided to not cave to the political persecution of the Be’er Sheva Municipality because human rights are nonnegotiable and so is joint Jewish-Arab cooperation.
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Photo by NCF’s staff members