On 9 March an initial court hearing took place in Ashkelon after the Sderot Municipality opened a case against City of Life Ministries (CLM) and pastor Michael Beener for alleged zoning regulation violations.
The judge recognised this case is the only example of Sderot Municipality pursuing alleged violations of zoning regulations in this area, implying there had been discrimination. The judge allowed a period for CLM to appeal to the regional council, giving 7 September as the date of the next hearing.
CLM rents a large space in the industrial area of Sderot for humanitarian work and congregational meetings. In June 2020 CCTV picked up an ultra-orthodox Jew who had illegally entered the building and was using his phone to record videos. CLM reported the incident to the police and filed an official complaint. A July 2020 court treated the intruder leniently, forbidding him from approaching within 300 metres of the building for a one-month period.
In August 2020, Yad L’Achim, a Jewish organisation opposed to evangelistic activity for allegedly stealing Jews from Judaism, staged a protest outside CLM. A chief rabbi also visited the property owners in an attempt to get them to cancel the rental agreement. On 12 August 2020 CLM received a letter from the municipal Department of Works summoning pastor Michael Beener for questioning following an “investigation” (no official investigation had taken place).
Sderot Municipality then brought two legal cases (against Michael and against CLM) claiming they do not meet zoning requirements for a public place of prayer.
Negotiations with the municipality initially seemed hopeful but at a council hearing on 28 February 2023, a representative from Yad L’Achim demanded the closure of CLM, claiming it is a “missionary sect which bribes with gifts and destroys Jewish souls.” He requested that the Russian-speaking congregation be deported to Russia. On 8 March the Sderot Municipal Council declared CLM’s presence in the industrial area to be illegal.
Michael and the ministry team:
- are thankful the court in Ashkelon did not order the building to be sealed, stopping the humanitarian aid and meetings
- request prayer that the regional council will reject the opposition of Yad L’Achim and Sderot Municipality and allow their humanitarian and congregational activities to continue unhindered.