Rocks thrown at MKs touring east Jerusalem

Kadima MK Yoel Hasson: If they destroy illegal buildings in capital, they should do it to Jews and Arabs alike.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
October 13, 2010 06:00
MKS VISIT Beit Yehonatan in Jerusalem’s Silwan.

MKs in Silwan 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

Arab residents threw rocks at a minibus carrying nine Knesset members on a tour of Beit Yehonatan, a Jewish apartment building in east Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood, on Tuesday morning.

A large rock hit the front of the car, but there were no injuries.

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The Knesset members were on an official visit led by Kadima MK Yoel Hasson, head of the State Control Committee, a day before the State Comptroller’s Report on illegal construction in east Jerusalem was set to be released.

The MKs met with residents of the seven-story Beit Yehonatan. In June, the Jerusalem District Court ordered the state to evacuate and seal the building because it had been built illegally – similar to almost every other structure in the neighborhood.

“You have to ask the question, why only Beit Yehonatan? Why only on one house?” said Hasson. “I just want equality. I want to make sure that if they want to destroy the illegal buildings in Jerusalem, they do it equally.”

There are hundreds of demolition orders against houses in Silwan, including 22 houses that are slated to be demolished to make way for Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat’s controversial Gan Hamelech plan, which will turn a builtup residential part of Silwan into an archeological park and public green space.

“We need to decide if we’re dealing with an issue that’s legal or political, and if it’s legal, what is the standard,” said Hasson. “How do we decide which house is destroyed first and second? There needs to be an orderly and clear system.”

Hasson was joined by members of the State Control Committee and representatives of the Jerusalem Municipality, the Prime Minister’s Office, and the Public Security, Interior and Justice ministries. Among the MKs were Marina Solodkin (Kadima), Anastasia Michaeli (Israel Beiteinu), Nissim Ze’ev (Shas), Yariv Levin (Likud), and the National Union Party’s Uri Ariel, Arye Eldad, Michael Ben-Ari and Ya’acov Katz.

“They want to destroy a single house, a house that is owned and built by Jews in Jerusalem,” said Eldad. “If you look around, you will see more than 100 buildings around us that answer the same description, but nobody is going to destroy them. There is selective law enforcement here against Jews. We came to inspect this phenomenon, and to get answers from the Justice Ministry and to understand why.

“Our answer is that the Israeli government is trying to cater to external pressure not to allow Jews to settle in this part of Jerusalem,” he went on. “They are insistent, almost obsessed, by the need to block or destroy Beit Yehonatan.”

Beit Yehonatan, built in 2003, is home to about 35 people. The structure, along with the neighboring Beit Hadvash, is funded by Ateret Cohanim, an organization that works towards reestablishing Jewish life in predominantly Arab neighborhoods. The Jerusalem District Court declared the structure illegal in 2007, but has yet to carry out the eviction.

Since the decision, Beit Yehonatan residents and supporters have worked diligently to show that similar orders to destroy Arab houses have not been carried out.

“The whole essence of Beit Yehonatan is to provoke tension, to make a provocation against Palestinian residents in the village,” said Orly Noy, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit organization Ir Amim, which advocates for a stable Jerusalem.

“It’s not even about legal issues, it’s not about building permits. It’s a reality within a very strictly political framework which was created by 43 years of very biased Israeli policies against the Palestinians,” Noy continued.

“Unfortunately, I cannot tell you that I’m very optimistic about it being evicted and sealed,” she said. “This is not just at the expense of Jerusalem residents, but also at the expense of the region’s stability.”

On June 30, the Jerusalem District Court rejected a petition by the residents to delay the evacuation indefinitely, but granted them a 30-day reprieve that ended on July 30. Ramadan in August and the Jewish holidays in September made the police hesitant to take action to evict the residents.

Though the building could be evacuated and sealed at any time, this action does not seem likely.

“Beit Yehonatan is down a long list of Arab buildings that need to be dealt with first,” Danny Luria, head of Ateret Cohanim, told The Jerusalem Post in July just before the end of the reprieve.

Residents, meanwhile, are demanding to know why their home is being targeted when the entire neighborhood is filled with houses that do not conform to building permits for the area.

“We watch as [Arab neighbors] put up a big blue tarp, and they take it down and there’s another house there,” said Yael, a mother of three who has lived in Beit Yehonatan for two years. “And we say to ourselves, what’s going on here? None of this building is legal!”

While she noted that living in the tense neighborhood was not easy, she said she loved the life she had made here.

“There’s a lot of happiness in this place,” she said. “It’s fun for us, we have a community. But we’re hoping for a solution to the security problem, that they’re throwing rocks at us… it hurts, it hurts your heart, to see kids that are so young taking the law into their hands and throwing rocks. I want the police to come and say to them, ‘This is Israel; here, we obey the law.’”

In response to the rise in rock-throwing incidents, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Jerusalem District Police head Cmdr. Aharon Franco took part in a tour of the Silwan and Isawiya neighborhoods on Tuesday morning, almost simultaneously with the MKs’ tour.

“I walked around to see the places where these events took place, and I was impressed by the highly complex work by security forces,” Aharonovitch told the media.

“There is a rise in the stonethrowing incidents, and that is very upsetting,” he went on. “The security activity is complex also because Jews and Arabs live close to each other, and this causes much tension… We will stop the stonethrowing with covert and overt forces, and we will bring back the quiet.”

The police have been under increasing pressure in east Jerusalem since rock-throwing incidents increased to daily occurrences following the death of Samr Sirkhan, a Silwan resident who was shot by a private security guard after throwing rocks on September 22.

Last Friday, David Be’eri, head of the Elad organization, hit two Arab children who had thrown rocks at his car, lightly injuring them.

At a meeting of the Knesset Committee on the Rights of the Child on Monday, Supt. Yoram Sa’ar, a juvenile officer for the Jerusalem District, said that the police were doing everything possible to halt the rock-throwing incidents, but that the young age of the perpetrators made it difficult.

On Monday, police Insp.- Gen. David Cohen gave full backing to Franco, who has come under criticism for his response to the increase in stone-throwing incidents.

“Cmdr. Franco has been working for years for the safety of all residents of Jerusalem and will continue to do so wisely and judiciously,” Cohen said in a statement.


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