Yishai moves to legalize Beit Yehonatan

Interior minister okays vote on east Jerusalem building’s status next week.

February 9, 2010 05:28
3 minute read.
An Israeli flag is seen running down the facade of

beit yehonatan 311. (photo credit: AP)


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The Jewish-owned Beit Yehonatan building in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan moved a step closer to becoming legal on Monday, as Interior Minister Eli Yishai authorized the Jerusalem District Building and Planning Committee to hold a vote on the building’s status next week.

Yishai said he had been assured that a majority of council members would vote in favor of declaring the seven-story structure, which was built without the proper permits, to be legal, but that an agreement had been reached with the building’s inhabitants to vacate the top two stories.

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While current zoning codes in Silwan prohibit buildings higher than two stories, Yishai said that the council was also expected to deliberate on additional zoning issues in the neighborhood.

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Earlier Monday, the planned distribution of evacuation orders at Beit Yehonatan was called off, and Jerusalem police and the municipality traded blame for an apparent breakdown in coordination between the two sides.

While municipality inspectors were expected to arrive at the house on Monday morning to deliver the orders, which would have given the building’s residents seven days to vacate the property, inspectors said that the distribution had been called off due to “police instructions.”

Jerusalem police however, responded in a statement saying, “Despite reports to the contrary, there was no coordination between the Jerusalem Municipality and police on Monday regarding the distribution of evacuation orders in Silwan. Any activity of this sort must be coordinated with the police, [and] this activity was not.”

Beit Yehonatan, which is named for imprisoned Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, has been at the center of an ongoing struggle between Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Chief Prosecutor Moshe Lador. In late January, Lador had demanded that Barkat uphold an existing court order to evacuate and seal the building off, which Barkat refused to do.

City Attorney Yossi Havilio also joined Lador’s efforts to force Barkat to act, prompting the mayor to declare last week that he would evacuate and seal Beit Yehonatan, and then begin carrying out demolition orders for more than 200 illegally-built Arab-owned homes in the neighborhood.

While that move was widely seen as a bluff tactic to halt Lador and Havilio’s demands, Havilio responded to Barkat’s assertions with a letter he sent to Lador last Friday, calling into question a number of the details contained in Barkat’s declaration.

Among those details, Havilio pointed out that many of the 200 demolition orders Barkat referred to were not even within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries, and instead were located in Beit Shemesh, Moshav Ora, Kibbutz Ramat Rachel and other surrounding areas.

There were some 40 demolition orders for different buildings in Jerusalem, Havilio acknowledged, however 13 of those were in the capital’s west. Nonetheless, Barkat is expected to push forward a plan he floated in the Knesset last month that would effectively legalize some 90 percent of the illegal buildings in Silwan, mainly by re-zoning the neighborhood.

Monday’s apparent error on behalf of the municipality, however, sent right-wing supporters of the eight families who live in Beit Yehonatan into Silwan’s narrow streets, singing and dancing out of sheer joy that the evacuation orders did not find their way to the building’s front door.

City councilman Elisha Peleg along with Jerusalem Deputy Mayor David Hadari were among the supporters, and told reporters that they were pleased with the mix-up and hoped that the issue of illegal building in Silwan – for Jews and Arabs alike – would be settled once and for all.

“We’re opposed to the eviction of Jews from their homes,” Peleg told The Jerusalem Post later on Monday. “And we would like to see this situation resolved without anyone having to be evicted.”

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