311_Jewish home in Silwan.
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Not for the first time, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is trying to ignore explicit
instructions from an attorney-general or a state attorney to execute a court
order to seal up the illegally built Beit Yehonatan apartment building in Silwan
and evacuate its occupants.
RELATED:Barkat faces off with A-G over Beit YehonatanAnalysis: Two years already?
This time the victim of Barkat’s wiles is the
new attorney- general, Yehuda Weinstein.
He has already succeeded in
tap-dancing past former attorney-general Menahem Mazuz and current State
Attorney Moshe Lador, not to mention the law, by ignoring their orders as
On Wednesday, Weinstein told Barkat and the Jerusalem District
Police in no uncertain terms that Beit Yehonatan must be sealed up and its
occupants evicted at an “early date.”
The idea is anathema to Barkat.
From the day he entered office in 2008, the mayor has been doing everything
possible to save the structure built illegally by right-wing families seeking to
increase the Jewish presence in the neighborhood, part of which is located on
the biblical site of the City of David.
Weinstein tried to assuage Barkat
by adding in his letter that the mayor should also identify Palestinian
buildings in Silwan guilty of gross building violations and take action against
them as well. Not only would this demonstrate that justice is blind, but it
would also comfort right-wing supporters of Beit Yehonatan who have accused the
attorney-general of showing favoritism to the Arabs, who have built many more
But in a reply to Weinstein sent shortly after Barkat
received the attorney-general’s letter, the mayor, somewhat obliquely, indicated
that he had other ideas altogether. The municipality, under Barkat, has drawn up
new plans for Gan Hamelech, the site of the biblical garden of King Solomon in
the southeast corner of Silwan, and for the densely populated, old village
center of Silwan on the western slope of the hill, where Beit Yehonatan is
His idea is to rezone the two areas, register the ownership of
the land and the houses, including those built without permits and demolish only
those illegal ones standing in the way of badly needed, modern infrastructure,
including roads. The plan for Gan Hamelech calls for removing the roughly 110
illegal structures currently occupying the land, building a new housing,
commercial and tourism project for all the squatters on about half of the
original garden and creating an archeological park in the other half.
Barkat has made his development plans conditional on the fact that the state
prosecution agrees to suspend all demolition orders, or seal orders in the case
of Beit Yehonatan, from start to finish of the planning process, which could
take many years and may never succeed. The state prosecution has agreed to treat
all requests to stay demolition orders sympathetically but refuses to commit
itself to a total moratorium.
As long as it does not, Beit Yehonatan
remains in danger, as Weinstein’s letter to Barkat on Wednesday proved
Instead of telling Weinstein that he would carry out the
court order without delay, as the law bids him to, and as he already should have
done in the past when ordered to by Mazuz and Lador, Barkat effectively told the
attorney-general that he would follow his own timetable. Not only that, but he
added that the Knesset State Control Committee agreed with him on this
Barkat wrote that he had told the committee “he needed the
cooperation of the attorney-general and those who are answerable to him in order
to advance the plan according to the policy that will be agreed upon by all the
elements dealing with the matter and according to the priorities which they
determine. I should add that this position won the support of the committee
which called on the government to help implement the recommendations of the
state comptroller regarding the replanning of Silwan.”
that Barkat was referring to was Weinstein’s agreement to freeze all demolition
orders in Silwan.
Barkat added that members of the Knesset State Control
Committee and attorney Hovav Artzi, a senior Justice Ministry official, would
meet to discuss the demolition orders and building violations in all of east
Jerusalem and devise a uniform policy and an order of priorities.
was as much as telling Weinstein that not he, but a Knesset committee whose
active members on the subject of illegal construction in Silwan all belonged to
right-wing parties except for its chairman, Yoel Hasson, who belongs to the
right wing of Kadima, would determine the priorities for implementing court
orders, rather than the attorney-general, whose mandate is to be the
government’s interpreter of the law and its foremost law enforcement
Barkat’s letter makes it clear that he hopes to use the Knesset
State Control Committee as a sword and a shield to protect him from having to
implement the attorney-general’s insistent and repeated demand that Beit
Yehonatan be evacuated and sealed up.
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