Group calls for restoration of Silwan synagogue

Ateret Cohanim: Police refuse to evict Arab residents as court ordered.

May 12, 2010 09:59
2 minute read.
Miri Regev at Beit Yehonatan

Miri Regev Beit Yehonatan 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

Members of the Ateret Cohanim organization on Tuesday morning said that if Jerusalem Police continued to balk at a court order calling for the eviction of Arab residents currently living in a historic Yemenite synagogue inside the Silwan neighborhood, the organization would undertake the eviction on its own.

During a tour of the neighborhood’s Jewish-owned Beit Yehonatan structure, which was built without the proper permits and is currently the focus of a municipal squabble over a court order to evacuate and seal the building, Ateret Cohanim member Assaf Brochi told reporters, “We’re talking about a historic Yemenite synagogue that was built in 1890, whose structure has remained intact throughout the years.

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“During the Arab riots in 1938, the British evacuated the Yemenite residents of the area and Arabs took over the structure,” he continued.

Brochi added that since then, the Arabs residing in the former synagogue had added on to the building illegally.

“A year and a half ago, the [district] court ruled that the synagogue should be returned to its former status,” and that the police should assist in evicting the residents and demolishing the illegal construction that has been added to it.  “But for a year and a half now, the police haven’t upheld the court’s instructions,” he said. 

“Recently the police informed us that they would carry out the order when they saw fit, but in the end, it seems that we won’t have a choice – we’ll have to take care of it ourselves. We can’t allow the court to be humiliated,” he said.

While Brochi’s comments focused on the Yemenite synagogue in particular, the tour in general was meant to give reporters and Knesset members a better look at what Ateret Cohanim and the residents of Beit Yehonatan have described as “discriminatory policy” with regards to building laws in the east Jerusalem neighborhood.

The residents and their supporters have cried foul at efforts to carry out the court order to evacuate and seal the seven-story structure, while they say hundreds of illegally built, Arab-owned structures have escaped such scrutiny.

MK Miri Regev (Likud), who helped organize Tuesday’s tour and was also in attendance, touched on those issues in her comments to reporters.

“The rule of law has to be respected,” Regev said. “But with that, the law must be equal regarding Arabs and Jews. I’m sorry to say however, that there is a discriminatory enforcement [of the law] when it comes to Jewish building and Arab building [in Silwan].”

In that vein, Regev said she was joining Mayor Nir Barkat in his efforts to present a wide-reaching plan that would deal once and for all with the rash of illegal building that plagues the neighborhood.

“Israel is striving for peace,” Regev said. “And Jerusalem, as its capital, shouldn’t be the obstacle in the negotiations leading to that peace. Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people and is the medium that will lead to peace. MK Yariv Levin (Likud), who also took part in the tour, echoed Regev’s comments, stressing the importance of upholding the rule of law in Silwan.

“If we allow this to become the wild west, we’ll begin to find the wild west in other places as well,” he said. “And attempts to single out Beit Yehonatan undermine the very foundations of the rule of law.”

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