NGO petitions High Court over Silwan buildings

Regavim documents illegal Arab building in east J'lem.

By DAN IZENBERG
May 13, 2010 02:15
4 minute read.
Silwan neighborhood planned for demolition

Silwan 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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The Regavim organization, which campaigns against Arab encroachment on what it calls the “national lands,” recently petitioned the High Court of Justice against the government and Jerusalem municipal authorities demanding that it implement demolition orders against two illegally built Palestinian apartment buildings in Silwan.

The buildings were constructed by Ahmed Sheikh on a plot of land that he owns, not far from the seven-story illegally built Beit Yehonatan, which, according to a court order, is to be sealed up and its Jewish occupants evacuated.

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One of the reasons Regavim filed the petition was to give credence to the contention of defenders of Beit Yehonatan, who claim that the Palestinians have built dozens of illegal structures in Silwan without measures being taken against them.

They say the Israeli legal authorities, particularly State Attorney Moshe Lador, former attorney-general Menahem Mazuz and Jerusalem legal adviser Yossi Havilio, are discriminating against Beit Yehonatan by insisting that the city execute the court order against it, while allegedly ignoring similar orders against illegal Palestinian construction.

Leaving politics and ideology aside, the Regavim petition is a disturbing document, because it demonstrates that it was possible to build two buildings of six and seven stories without a permit and despite demolition orders, under the very noses of the municipal authorities and the courts, which were aware of the illegal construction from almost the very beginning.

The following is a chronological outline of how this happened:

September 21, 2000: The Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee gives Sheikh a permit to build one two-story structure, of 218 sq.m., on a plot of land that he owned in Silwan.



May 10, 2001: The authorities issue stop-work and demolition orders after discovering that Sheikh has laid the foundations for one building and constructed a two-story frame of a second building.

June 7, 2001: Sheikh files a request to cancel the demolition order. He denies that the foundations are for another building. The municipality agrees to postpone execution of the order pending a hearing.

June 19, 2001: The municipality agrees to postpone the demolition order for one month, in return for a promise that Sheikh will stop building.

July 12, 2001: The Local Affairs Court extends the postponement for four more months, following an agreement reached between the Sheikh and the authorities.

Unspecified date: The municipality discovers that Sheikh has violated the agreement and continued building. Its request to the court to advance the demolition date is accepted. Sheikh appeals to Jerusalem District Court. The court rules that the countdown for the demolition will begin on January 1, 2002.

December 31, 2001: Sheikh requests another postponement of demolition order. On March 24, 2002 and on May 15, 2002, he petitions to cancel demolition order altogether.

Unspecified date: Sheikh’s petitions are denied. He appeals to the Jerusalem District Court. The court refers the matter back to the Local Affairs Court.

November 3, 2002: The Local Affairs Court rejects Sheikh’s petition and orders the demolition to be executed within 30 days of December 10, 2002.

Unspecified date: Sheikh appeals Local Affairs Court decision. Jerusalem District Court rejects his appeal but gives him 30 days from February 20, 2003 for demolition.
While all these legal maneuverings were going on, the two buildings were completed and occupied.

In 2004, the state filed criminal charges against Sheikh. On November 11, 2006, he was sentenced to eight months in jail and fined NIS 2,467,800. The court also ordered the municipality to destroy the building, but set the deadline for September 1, 2007.

Sheikh fled the country. On June 20, 2007, one of the occupants petitioned the Local Affairs Court to postpone the demolition. The court postponed the execution of the order until July 5, 2008. The state appealed the decision to Jerusalem District Court, which cancelled the lower court’s postponement.

On January 14, 2008, Sheikh himself filed a request to postpone the demolition. The Local Affairs Court agreed to the request and set the deadline for the demolition for May 15, 2009.

Once again the state appealed the decision and once again, the Jerusalem District Court upheld the appeal. Sheikh appealed the district court decision to the Supreme Court, which turned him down.

In its summation of this incredible saga, which has lasted more than 10 years, Regavim attorney Amir Fisher wrote, “Despite the especially grave circumstances of this affair, and despite the enormous resources invested by state authorities in general, and the municipality in particular, to obtain the demolition orders against the buildings that are the subject of this petition, to defend the orders in a host of courts, to conduct a lengthy criminal action against [Sheikh] and obtain a conviction, the government and municipal officials have refrained up until now from carrying out their fundamental duty to demolish the illegal building in accordance with the final court ruling.”

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