Justice in Israel, Legal Work

His day in court: Legal victory marks step forward in the fight to save public housing

0 Comments 06 October 2014

RHR Advocate Becky Cohen-Keshet specializes in public housing in Israel. On Thursday October 2nd, the day before the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, where Jews atone for their sins and believe their fates for the coming year to be sealed, she achieved a victory for public housing at the High Court. It is our hope that this case will act as a stepping stone in our struggle to save public housing in Israel, so that all those in need of a stable, safe home will have one.  

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By Advocate Becky Cohen-Keshet

The asking of questions is associated more with the holiday of Passover than with Yom Kippur.

However, today in the Israeli Supreme Court we obtained the right to question those who make decisions that affect the lives of poor people, especially those fighting for a roof over their head.

In the case of an individual suing a government agency the assumption is that the government agency acted lawfully. The burden of proving otherwise lies with the private citizen. Furthermore, the law stipulates that in cases of administrative law the parties do not have the automatic right to cross-examine the other side’s witnesses. The outcome of this policy is that it is exceedingly difficult for an individual to receive a fair hearing of his case.

Today we went to court with Uri –who is fighting to keep a roof over his head in the public housing apartment where he has lived all his life.

Uri (63) is disabled, and a drug abuser who has been rehabilitated. He lived in a small apartment in Yafo with his mother. After his mother passed away in 2008, Amidar (one of the companies that deals with housing for the state) accepted him as a successor tenant and later suggested that he could buy the apartment — within the framework of benefits extended to tenants of public housing.

However, when he disputed their calculation of the sum of the benefits that had been extended to him, the government suddenly produced two forms, signed by his mother –stating that she lived alone –i. e. he did not live with her — and therefore he did not have any rights to her apartment.

Uri has many documents proving that he indeed had lived in the apartment and that at that time his mother signed the form she was suffering from dementia.

In the lower court, the judge did not allow us to question the other side (Amidar), accepted the two forms and ruled against Uri.

We therefore submitted an appeal on Uri’s behalf to the Supreme Court. The court heard the case today.

As a lawyer working for many years with Rabbis for Human Rights, I have been specializing in the field of public housing, in cooperation with Rabbi Arik Asherman, Rabbi Idit Lev, Rabbi Kobi Weiss, and Nitsan Tanami .

Working in the field of public housing is often very frustrating. First of all, the government does not invest sufficiently in public housing.Then,  its representatives come to court and claim that since there are not enough apartments, they need to be very stringent in regard to criteria for allocating public housing. The result is that Uri and others like him are evicted from these apartments even though they have nowhere to go.

Today we enjoyed a moment of victory when the Supreme Court accepted our appeal and returned the case to the lower court with the stipulation that this court should seriously consider allowing us to cross-examine the other side.

Too often poor people do not obtain due process; Uri was not even allowed to appear in person before the committee that decided that he had no rights to the apartment. But now, he will finally get his day — in court.

Hopefully tomorrow (Yom Kippur), when we are all standing before the true High Court, we will have our pleas for mercy heard.

Gmar Hatima Tova,

Becky Cohen Keshet

Lawyer, RHR Department of Socioeconomic Justice

Rabbis for Human Rights

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