MY FIGHT TO PURCHASE

I learned from my father that one should always purchase the place one lives in. Otherwise, one will be paying off someone else’s mortgage. Even though I only intended staying in Liverpool in the 1970s for a limited period of time, I purchased a house there.

When I returned to Kiryat Arba in 1978, I immediately intended to purchase the Amidar apartment I was living in. Amidar is one of the state-owned housing companies in Israel, who owns apartments which they sell and rent out. The 1978 “Guide for the Oleh (New Immigrant)” brought out by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption clearly states: “PURCHASING AN IMMIGRANT APARTMENT: Once you have decided to purchase an oleh apartment … you must begin in the following procedure: 1) Send a written request to Amidar … stating that you would like to know the price of the apartment. Be sure to send this letter registered and keep a copy for your records. (emphasis in original) The price of an apartment is determined when the oleh makes his application for purchase…”

I soon learned however that in practice this was not the case! On 28 November 1978, even though I was ill at the time with a serious attack of jaundice and my wife had broken her leg, I wrote (in Hebrew) to Amidar, Kiryat Arba branch: “I am a new immigrant and I am interested to purchase the apartment which I now live in. Please send me the details.” As instructed in the Guide, I sent the letter by registered post and kept a copy for my records. On the same day I sent an identical letter, also by registered post, to the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption.

Just over two weeks later, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption replied that I should go to the Amidar Kiryat Arba branch to get further details. They obviously did not realize that I had already written to them.

Having received no reply from Amidar, on 8 January 1979 I sent them a reminder again by registered post. I was still ill with jaundice and had even been in hospital for nearly three weeks and had just been released. Even to this second letter, there was no response and on 29 January, I sent them a third registered letter, this time with copies of all three letters to Amidar Jerusalem branch and to the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. The latter replied that they were not involved in the selling of apartments by Amidar, whilst Amidar Jerusalem branch replied that my apartment was not yet for sale. I received no reply from the Kiryat Arba branch of Amidar.

I could see that the price of apartments in Kiryat Arba was rapidly increasing and I wanted to do the maximum to try and ensure that I would be able to purchase it at the price obtaining as at my first letter to Amidar. I was also concerned that my immigrant rights, which would have given me better financial conditions to purchase an apartment, would expire before my apartment could be purchased.

I therefore on 25 February 1979 wrote a letter to the then Minister of Immigrant Absorption, David Levy. In it I first quoted from his Ministry’s Information Bulletin “All about Housing” where it is stated “you have the right to purchase the apartment which you are renting at any time”. I then went on to quote from the “Guide for the Oleh” regarding the price being the amount obtaining at the time the oleh makes his request. I gave a résumé of my correspondence to date regarding my application to purchase. I concluded by asking him for two assurances. Firstly, that the purchase price would be as of the date of my request to Amidar, and secondly that I would still be able to use my immigrant rights for the purchase of the apartment.

I then decided that I needed to write to the newspapers to publicise what was happening in this matter. On 18 March 1979, I wrote the following letter to the “Jerusalem Post”:

“A lot is being written and said about the small number of Olim at present arriving in Israel. One of the major factors deterring potential Olim is the serious housing problem.
“According to the information issued by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, an Oleh has the right at any time to purchase the Amidar/Amigur apartment he is renting. In practice, however, Olim in Kiryat Arba, which is a development town, are being prevented from exercising this right. Olim who wish to purchase the apartments they are renting are informed by Amidar that they “do not yet possess the necessary information” for the sale of these apartments. Meanwhile the prices of the apartments in Kiryat Arba and also all over Israel are rising fast, which means that these Olim will have to pay considerably more for such apartments or in many cases will then be unable to afford to buy them. Such an attitude by Amidar can only do considerable harm to the Aliyah campaign in the Diaspora.
“Olim in Kiryat Arba have in the past experienced the same problem, but when they were finally permitted to purchase their apartments, they were able to do so at the price appertaining to their date of entry to their apartments.
“In the interests of justice and for the sake of Aliyah, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption should give the following two assurances.
“1) Olim in Kiryat Arba who at present are being prevented from purchasing their apartments, should, as was in the case in the past, be given the opportunity to purchase them at the price appertaining to their date of entry to these apartments.
“2) Should this opportunity only arise after the expiry date of their immigrant concessions, they should still be granted full immigrant conditions of purchase.”

At about the same time I wrote out my letter in Hebrew, duplicated numerous copies, and sent it to the various Israeli newspapers. I also sent copies to the Prime Minister, various Government Ministers and selected Knesset members, adding a note that they should ask a question in the Knesset on this subject. I know that at that period “Maariv” and “Hamodia” published my letter. About a month and a half later, I again sent a copy to the newspapers who had not published my letter and as a result “Haaretz”, “Yediot Acharonot” and “Davar” and published it.

On 20 April 1979 an article had appeared in the “Jerusalem Post” entitled “Knesset register” giving the attendance record of Knesset members at the various Knesset Committees, including of course the “Immigration and Absorption Committee”. I therefore also sent a copy of my letter to the good attendees at the meetings of this Committee, asking them to submit a question in the Knesset.

I also sent a copy of this letter for information to Sybil Marcus of the Israel Office of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain. Her reply dated 13 March 1979 stated, “I am very sorry to hear about your difficulties with Amidar – and regret even more that they are not isolated ones”. About a month later on 25 April 1979, I had a meeting with her at which she told me that the problem of Amidar not answering requests for purchase and then putting up the price had happened elsewhere. She added that she had spoken to Geula Cohen about this and Geula Cohen would bring it up in the Aliyah and Absorption Committee of the Knesset. She informed me that the British Zionist Federation could not take part in legal action – individual olim would have to do this.

I also mentioned to her that on 2 April 1979, a news item had appeared in the newspaper “Omer”, a newspaper designed for new immigrants and thus written in easy Hebrew with vowels, under the heading “Olim are able to purchase apartments in Kiryat Arba” and stated that an agreement on this matter had been made between the Director Generals of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and the Ministry of Housing and it had been made three months previously. Following the appearance of this news item, my wife spent weeks in trying to contact Amidar in Kiryat Arba! Finally on 24 April she was successful, but their answer was that they knew nothing about what was written in “Omer”, but they would inquire in the Amidar Jerusalem office. Two days later she went to the Amidar office in Kiryat Arba, but they said that even Amidar Jerusalem knew nothing about this matter!

I mentioned above that I had asked a number of Knesset members to submit a Question on this subject to the relevant Government Minister. Geula Cohen indeed submitted such a question, on 1 April 1979, to the Minister of Housing. She began by stating that olim in Kiryat Arba had been denied their rights by Amidar to purchase their apartments and meanwhile the prices are rising. “I wish to ask: 1) Are these facts which have been given to me - correct?” 2) If so, does not the Minister hold that such conduct damages the aliyah and the settlement of Yehudah and Shomron?” I never saw what answer the Minister gave to this question.

I had sent my duplicated letter to the Prime Minister, a number of Government Ministers and Knesset members and following an acknowledgement of my letter to the Prime Minister by the Director of his Office, Yehiel Kadishei, I wrote him a longish letter on 23 May 1979. After stating what the various olim booklets, which the potential olim received before making their aliyah, and which spoke about the rights of olim regarding purchase of their apartments at the price obtaining at the day they put in their application to purchase. I then mentioned Amidar’s delaying tactics to sell their apartments, and that “we are very concerned that Amidar will require today’s prices” and not the price obtaining when the oleh made his application to purchase. Such a situation would be especially severe due to the unprecedented rise in the price of apartments at that period, and thus in many cases olim would now not be able to purchase the apartment. I pointed out that this would lead to dissatisfaction amongst the olim, since they will have received incorrect information from the olim booklets, prior to their making their aliyah. I concluded that it would be in the interests of justice, for olim to be able to purchase their apartments at the price obtaining at the time that they made their first application to Amidar.

I was not the only oleh in Kiryat Arba who wanted to purchase his apartment. There were a large number and like me they were naturally also concerned with the rapidly rising prices. A notice in both Hebrew and English therefore appeared on 31 May 1979 in Kiryat Arba’s weekly bulletin, “Olim who are interested in buying their apartments at the price obtaining at their date of entry to the apartment should please contact [Max] Simon … or [Chaim] Simons…” On 10 June 1979, t a large number of olim wrote a joint letter to the Minister of Housing and Immigrant Absorption, (David Levy held both offices), requesting a meeting with him. On the following day, I personally took this letter to his office. It was on the 14th floor of the Rasco building on Hillel Street, Jerusalem and I recollect walking up all the stairs to reach his office – maybe the lift was not working that day! Apart from a formal acknowledgment, we received a letter from the Director of the Housing Ministry, Jerusalem area, Shmaryahu Cohen, telling us that the sale of apartments was in the hands of Amidar. Following an unanswered second request for a meeting, I together with another oleh, wrote, on behalf of the other olim, on 19 July 1979, to the Minister of Housing, the following letter:

“We have just received the enclosed letter from Mr. Shmaryahu Cohen.
“Olim in Kiryat Arba have been writing to Amidar regarding the purchase and the price of their apartments for the last year without obtaining any results. Hence Mr. Shmaryahu Cohen’s letter referring the Olim back to Amidar does not advance the matter whatsoever.
“For the third time we are asking for a meeting with you. We would like to be able to inform potential olim in the Diaspora that the Minister is at least prepared to meet with olim to help solve their problems. Let us not have a situation where we have to inform the world Jewish press and the various aliyah groups that the Minister is not even prepared to meet with olim.”

But we still did not get a meeting with the Minister of Housing!

I did however get a meeting on the following day (20 July) with Shmuel. Prudovsky, who was the Director of Amidar Jerusalem branch. At that meeting he told me that Amidar was not bound by the booklets brought out by the Absorption Ministry, and that since Amidar had not sold apartments (apart from in a certain area) in Kiryat Arba), they had no price for them. At that meeting, he handed me a letter which he was about to send to all the other Amidar apartment dwellers, regarding an option to buy their apartments, an offer which was open until 19 September 1979.

Just over a week later on 29 July there was a “phone-in” programme (“Kav Yashir”) on the radio (“reshet bet”) where one could ask questions to the Chairman of the Immigration and Absorption Committee of the Knesset, Roni Milo. I utilized this opportunity and asked Milo a question. I began by stating what was stated in the olim booklets, and Amidar’s refusal over the course of many years to sell olim apartments in Kiryat Arba “and now Amidar was asking for a much higher price than that obtaining when the oleh put in his application. What are you going to do in this matter?”

Milo answered that this was not the first time that he had heard about my problem, but it had only came to his knowledge recently. He continued that it was difficult at that stage to give a clear definite answer to the question that I had raised, but he promised me that he will make a thorough investigation of the matter. He then added that there were enough problems facing an oleh and one does not have to add problems. If a price is fixed for an apartment and it was on this basis that an oleh makes his financial considerations, then one has to stand by that price and he hoped that his opinion will be accepted by those dealing with the absorption of olim.

A few weeks later, on 19 August, I wrote to Milo thanking him for his answer and reminded him that he had promised to thoroughly investigate the matter. I then asked him whether there were any developments.

The “Jerusalem Post” was planning to write an article on the problems of housing and somehow we made contact together on this matter. I cannot remember exactly how, but possibly as a result of my letter I had sent them several months earlier. I then had a meeting with a member of their staff, but I do not remember who it was.

At this meeting they told me that for most articles they have to search for people to interview but in this case there was no shortage of people. They asked whether they could quote my name in this article and I readily agreed. In contrast, I could see from the article they published that most of the interviewees did not want their names to appear in print. I began by telling the reporter that I had heard that Prudovsky, the Director of Amidar Jerusalem, did not like my criticising Amidar in the media and media and had wanted me to stop doing so! The staff of the “Jerusalem Post” were amused by this. I was interviewed by the “Jerusalem Post” reporter on this subject and on 30 August 1979, an article entitled “Tortured by Bureaucracy” appeared in this newspaper. About one quarter of the article dealt with what I had told them, although a number of errors had crept into the article, one of them being that I was a dentist! I pity anyone who would have come to me for a filling or an extraction!

The part dealing with me was as follows:

“In the same way as lower-middle-class Jerusalem complains about Prazot, new immigrants who don’t buy on the private market complain about Amidar, the government agency that sells public housing to olim.
“‘Amidar is supposed to sell public housing to them,’ says Dr. Chaim Simons, a dentist from England who immigrated to Kiryat Arba a year ago with his wife Dina, and their five children. Dr. Simons was allocated a four-room, 89 sq. m. apartment in a block owned by Amidar. Other immigrants were allocated almost identical flats in a nearby block owned by another government company, Shikun Upituah.
“Dr. Simons, clutching a fat file of correspondence, pulls out a well-worn copy of ‘Guide for the Oleh,’ an Absorption Ministry publication. ‘It says here clearly that once I have lived in a government flat for three months, I have the right to purchase it. So last November 29 I wrote [to] Amidar asking for the price. That letter, which I registered, was ignored, and so was a similar registered letter sent on January 8.
“‘Finally I got smart, and so on January 29 I sent a third letter, not to Amidar in Kiryat Arba but to Amidar Jerusalem, with a carbon copy to the Absorption Ministry.’
“When Amidar Jerusalem informed Simons they did not have the necessary ‘data’ in their office, the dentist wrote angrily to Housing and Absorption Minister David Levy. He also sent letters to the daily papers and several Knesset members.
“The Absorption Ministry finally answered him in March. ‘The houses are now for sale,’ they wrote ‘but Amidar cannot be forced to sell them to you at the November price, even though this is when you applied.’
“Apparently the houses were indeed for sale. One immigrant bought his Shikun Upituah flat in March for IL332,000. Simons estimates that his own flat, which is smaller, was therefore probably worth IL310,000.
“However, Amidar insisted that they could still not set a price. The head of the authority, Shmuel Prudovsky, also told Simons that no flats had been sold in Kiryat Arba ‘for years.’ Finally, after Simons and his friends had bombarded the Absorption Ministry, the Housing Ministry, the Kiryat Arba Local Council, and numerous Knesset members with letters, Amidar did set a price for the immigrant flats.
“‘I was shocked,’ says Simons. ‘IL425,000 for my flat. I figure that is probably twice as much as Amidar would have asked in November. And Amidar insists these are the June prices, so we are not eligible for the mortgages which went into effect on July 1. This means I have to come up with IL235,000 in cash. Last November I would only have needed something like IL80,000. Even in foreign currency, the difference is enormous – I have to pay about three times as much as I would have had to then.’”

It was not only olim in Kiryat Arba who were concerned about the rapidly rising prices of apartments. There were also many non-olim who were waiting for the apartments owned by Amidar to be available for purchase. On 4 May 1979, it had been announced in Kiryat Arba’s weekly bulletin, of the intention of Amidar to sell apartments in Kiryat Arba. In the following week’s bulletin, Shimon Yefet, a potential buyer had written that he had heard that the prices were high and it was thus necessary to set up a committee (an “Actions Committee”) who would be in contact with Amidar on this question of prices. Such a committee was set up – I was not yet on it – and on 16 August 1979 a meeting took place between representatives of the Ministry of Housing, Amidar, the Kiryat Arba Local Council, and this Actions Committee, at the Ministry of Housing in Jerusalem at which Amidar agreed to look again at the prices of apartments.

Although Amidar had originally stated that one only had until 19 September 1979 to take up the purchase option, due to the disagreements regarding the pricing of the apartments, they gave an extension to an unspecified date.

On 2 October 1979, a further meeting took place, this time at Amidar Jerusalem between representatives of Amidar, the Ministry of Housing, a representative of the Kiryat Arba Local Council, and this Actions Committee – the latter group now included me.

The official minutes of this meeting stated that representatives of the tenants had appealed about the sale prices which were being asked for the apartments arguing that Amidar had not enabled them to purchase their apartments at an earlier date when the prices were lower.

At the meeting Amidar put forward various possibilities for purchase. One of them was that tenants who had been in their flats before April 1978 could purchase them at the prices which Shikun Upituah sold apartments in March 1978 plus the cost of living increments from March 1978 until the date of purchase.

I then proposed that olim who had moved into their apartments between April 1978 and December 1978, would also pay this same price. This was agreed to by Amidar provided that there were not too many. However, unfortunately when the minutes of this meeting were published, this part of the agreement was missing from them. Olim were however mentioned in a long letter sent to the Actions Committee which stated in paragraph 7: “In this arrangement [i.e. which had been agreed for those who entered their apartments before April 1978] are also included Amidar tenants who are olim, in accordance with the dates that they entered their apartments.” As one can see, this is not the same as what was agreed at the meeting.

Indeed, it became clear during December 1978, that olim, not only would they not get the price agreed at the meeting, but in accordance with Amidar’s interpretation of the agreement (as stated in paragraph 7 of their letter), would have to pay even a higher price than that originally asked for by Amidar prior to the agreement! [They did leave us with the option to ignore the agreement and pay the original price asked for.] I therefore wrote a letter to Amidar, pointing out that they were ignoring what was agreed for olim at the meeting, and requesting that they indeed honour it. I even took this letter in person to Amidar Jerusalem and got them to sign they had received it. Incidentally they had lost it the first time I gave it to them and I had to send them a copy!

In a duplicated letter with details filled in in ink, dated 30 December 1979, Amidar “absolutely rejected” my appeal on the price of my apartment and clearly informed me that I had to finish the various stages of purchase no later than 6 January 1980, otherwise they would cancel the price they they had offered me for its purchase.

Apart from my family, there was only one other oleh family – my immediate neighbor – who had moved into their apartments after March 1978. We wrote a joint letter to Amidar on 6 January 1980 pointing out the agreement regarding olim which had been made in the meeting of 2 October 1979, and again asked that Amidar should honour it. Notwithstanding this, so that we should not lose the opportunity to purchase our apartment, we agreed, under pressure, to pay the original price demanded by Amidar for the apartments. In reply, Amidar wrote that as with anywhere else in Israel, they cannot give special prices to olim. If that is the case, why did they agree to my proposal at the meeting on 2 October 1979?!

During the course of the arguing with Amidar, I took advice from a lawyer in Rehavia Jerusalem. I went to this lawyer together with another oleh (who had entered his apartment prior to April 1978, but who wanted to help in this fight) and another person, who for a completely different reason was not included in this Amidar agreement. At this visit to this lawyer (which was an expensive visit!) I brought up as my argument what was written in the “Guide to the Oleh”. The lawyer answered, as Amidar had said to me earlier, that Amidar was not bound by what the Ministry of Absorption wrote in their guides. I then asked the lawyer whether we could complain to the State Controller about what was written in this guide. The lawyer answered that the State Controller would tell off the Ministry of Absorption but it would not help us.

I mentioned earlier that all these delays could result in my benefits as a new oleh to run out and the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption informed me that I could request an extension of my period of benefits. I wrote such a letter on 14 May 1979 to the Appeals Committee of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. About a couple of months later on 2 July, I had a meeting with them where they told me that I could have an extension of my rights for three months. However, this was insufficient due to the time which was passing due all the arguments with Amidar, and so this item went off the agenda.

The price I had to pay for my apartment was IL425,152 (which included VAT). Amidar gave a mortgage of IL150,000 and, because Kiryat Arba was a development town, there was also a standing loan of IL40,000. If one stayed in Kiryat Arba for a certain period, this loan became a grant.

Since I was a new immigrant from Britain, I could get an additional mortgage of IL110,000 from the British Olim Society. This mortgage was at a considerably higher interest rate that the Amidar mortgage and I was hesitant whether to take it or not. I asked my brother-in-law, who worked in a bank, what to do and he said that I should take it. As will be seen later, I was very glad I took his advice on this matter.

There was an enormous amount of bureaucracy to get these mortgages and it all had to be done quickly. This included filling up numerous forms, going to a notary, going to the mortgage bank, paying the VAT and getting a number of guarantors together with their particulars and their wage slips.

I remember going to the bank on the day my wife gave birth to one of my daughters. It was a winter’s day with wintry weather during Chanukah. Early that morning, my wife began having labour pains and we immediately ordered an ambulance to take her to Jerusalem. I quickly grabbed my Tephillin and Tallit, and also the papers the bank in Jerusalem wanted. My wife kept telling the ambulance driver to hurry and he answered that he could not go any faster due to the weather conditions. We finally safely reached Jerusalem and soon after she gave birth to a daughter. I then went to the Kotel and gave her a name. On the way back I went through Jaffa Road and handed the papers into the bank.

On 26 February 1980, I went together with my wife to Amidar in Jerusalem to sign the purchase contract. It was six pages long, typewritten, and was duplicated onto duplicating paper. (This was prior to the universal computer era.)

The mortgages in those days were unlinked to the cost of living. In the following years the inflation in Israel reached an “astronomical” level and so one was effectively paying less and less each month in the mortgage repayments. A time came when the administrative costs for the mortgage companies were more than the repayments they were receiving! They wrote to me saying that I should pay a very small sum and this would finish off the mortgage. I preferred to pay “a few agorot” each month! The mortgage companies did not even bother to collect it!

Sometime later, I happened to mention this subject to the British Olim Society. They told me that they had to stop giving new mortgages, since because of this galloping inflation they had lost all their money.

The Ministry of Immigrant Absorption is an Israeli Government Ministry and Amidar is an Israeli Government Company. It is thus ludicrous that one Government department can claim that it is not bound by the publications of another department of the very same Government! It is because of this situation that my above mentioned problems arose.

However, in conclusion I can say that although I had to pay Amidar’s original asking price for my apartment, this was compensated for by the relatively small amount I had to pay in my mortgage repayments. “What you lose on the swings, you gain on the roundabouts.”

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