Barkat faces off with A-G over Beit Yehonatan

Weinstein orders building constructed illegally by Jews in e. J'lem Silwan neighborhood be evacuated and sealed up.

November 17, 2010 21:06
4 minute read.

Beit Yehonatan 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat gave a general response on Wednesday to an order by Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to evacuate and seal up “at an early date” Beit Yehonatan, the seven-story building constructed illegally by Jews in east Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood.

Instead of saying that he would do as the attorney-general said, Barkat replied in a letter to Weinstein, “It is superfluous to state that the Jerusalem municipality is obliged to take action to implement this order and all the other [demolition or sealing up] orders that have been issued in the city. As we have always made clear, the municipality has acted and will continue to act according to what it must legally do and will implement the court rulings in accordance with the priorities, resources and police assistance that it will receive.”

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Earlier in the day, the Justice Ministry issued a statement giving details of Weinstein’s letter to Barkat, the Jerusalem municipal legal adviser and the Jerusalem district police chief.

“Further to meetings held in his office and after considering the matter again, the attorney-general continued to hold the same opinion that the principle of the rule of law made it obligatory to uphold the court order to evacuate and seal up Beit Yehonatan quickly,” the statement said.”

“Once the court handed down its verdict, there was no room to maneuver but only to uphold the order word for word and not to deviate from its instructions.”

The court order that Weinstein was referring to was handed down by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on February 11, 2007, in a lawsuit filed by the city against the residents of Beit Yehonaton. Their appeals to the district court and the Supreme Court were rejected, making the lower court ruling final.

Despite that, Barkat has not done the court’s bidding. In the past, he explained that he was preparing a plan to legalize most of the illegal construction in Silwan as part of an overall reform of the neighborhood, including saving the biblical site, Gan Hamelech, which had been overrun by illegal housing. Most of the illegal structures are inhabited by Arabs.

Beit Yehonatan is located in the other section of the Silwan that the city is replanning. In that context, the mayor said he wanted to freeze all orders regarding illegal construction in Silwan until his plans received final approval.

Barkat repeated this position on Tuesday, in a meeting of the Knesset State Control Committee during which he complained that the Justice Ministry was not cooperating with him. Barkat was referring to the fact that Weinstein had refused his request to grant a blanket moratorium on the implementation of all demolition (or sealing up) orders in Silwan, including for Beit Yehonatan.

One day after the meeting, Weinstein instructed him to carry out the court order regarding Beit Yehonatan.

But Weinstein added that Barkat should also investigate “other structures in the area regarding which there were complaints of significant building violations.”

Weinstein was referring to illegal structures built by Arabs in Silwan, including several that are also seven-stories high. This, he said, would demonstrate that justice was being done and take into consideration the allegations that the state prosecution was discriminating against the Jewish residents and supporters of Beit Yehonatan.

Barkat was apparently not mollified by this. He pointedly referred to the meeting in the Knesset State Control Committee the previous day and referred to the position he expressed there “that he needed the cooperation of the attorney-general and those who are answerable to him [a reference to outgoing Jerusalem municipal legal adviser Yossi Habilio, who insisted all along that Barkat carry out the court order regarding Beit Yehonatan] 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 that have been determined.

“I should add that this position won the support of the committee that called on the government to help implement the recommendations of the state comptroller regarding the replanning of Silwan,” the mayor said.

Barkat also told Weinstein that the committee and attorney Hovav Artzi, head of the Justice Ministry unit to enforce the land laws, had agreed to meet and discuss all the demolition orders and building violations in Gan Hamelech, Silwan and all the other east Jerusalem neighborhoods where replanning has begun, “in order to create a uniform policy and establish priorities in order to move ahead on this matter [i.e. the issue of illegal construction in east Jerusalem].”

Late on Wednesday night, Two Molotov cocktails were thrown at the roof of Beit Yehonatan. The flames were put out by security personnel, and police were searching for the attackers. There were no casualties or damage.

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