An Israeli plan to lease a UNESCO World Heritage Site so that a 200-room hotel can be built on it has been thwarted by legal action initiated by the Palestinians who would have been evicted from their homes if the scheme had gone ahead. The Israel Lands Administration and Ministry of Tourism had announced a tender to lease the site, Khan Al-Umdan, in Akka city (Acre).
However, the Geran Centre for defending the rights of the Akka people confirmed that it has achieved a decisive victory for the people of Khan al-Shauna, who were threatened with eviction. The public prosecutor in the Haifa area ordered the withdrawal of the tender in question. All court fees were ordered to be repaid to the centre after the action by its lawyer Nora Ashkar.
Although the authorities claimed that the complex was to be built in order to "develop and preserve" the historic site, this argument was rejected by the District Court.
Khan Al-Umdan is located in the Old City of Akka; it was built in 1784 during the rule of Ahmed Jezzar Pasha in the Ottoman era. The building got its name from its plethora of columns; Khan Al-Umdan means "Inn of the Columns".
"This is a great achievement for the people of Al-Shauna neighbourhood and the people of Akka in general," said Attorney Ashkar. "There are big legal challenges in the near future to cancel the eviction orders for many other properties in Old Akka, and this step requires more cooperation with all actors locally and regionally to protect the old city and preserve it for its people."
Thirty-six families stood to lose their homes if the hotel development had gone ahead. Even though the court gave the Israel Land Authority and its partners time to see if any actual bids had been made for the project, nothing had been submitted.
The local committee of Al-Shauna not only drew up a petition to demand the cancellation of the project but also held a public demonstration earlier in the month. Protesters insisted that their homes were not for sale; nor, indeed, is Akka. That message appears to have got across to the authorities concerned.