‘I support the law’

Local Meretz leader Pepe Alalu on why he wants Beit Yehonatan to be sealed – at the expense of more Palestinian homes.

pepe alalu 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
pepe alalu 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Pepe Alalu came onto the local political scene by mistake. Toward the1998 elections, Ornan Yekutieli, then chairman of the local Meretzparty, left and Alalu was asked to replace him.
Alalu has been there ever since, and following the 2008 elections hehas been a deputy mayor. For many, this decision was not easy toswallow. The left-wing Alalu, with his long ponytail and beard (henever misses an opportunity to say that he was close, at leastideologically, to Che Guevara), is criticized by many in his camp forserving as a foil to the right-wing mayor, who supports Jewish presencein the Arab neighborhoods, such as Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan.
There have been inconsistent reports in the media as to whether Alalusupports the mayor’s plan to cancel the High Court’s ruling to seal theJewish-occupied Beit Yehonatan in return for retroactively approvingillegal construction of homes and allowing the addition of two storiesto existing buildings in Silwan, where only two-story structures arecurrently permitted.
On the recent issue of the Beit Yehonatan and construction planning in Silwan, Meretz is divided.
No, it is not totally accurate that [Meretz city councillor] MeirMargalit and I say two different things. The problem is complex, andthe situation forces us to look at it differently, but we share thesame goals.
And what are those?
We share the same vision of separating Jerusalem into two capitals fortwo peoples... The question is how and what should be done to achieveit. There, we sometimes disagree.
On the issue of the mayor’s planregarding Silwan, you and Margalit disagree, at least judging from yourrespective statements. While he publicly called for canceling theexpulsion of the Jewish residents of Beit Yehonatan, you support legaladviser Yossi Havilio’s call to close it.
I don’t agree with him, but I can understand him. I am caught in a trap here.
You are against the mayor’s steps, but at the same time you are his deputy and part of his coalition.
The situation is not simple. The mayor’s plan is the best plan we haveever heard. But the problem is Beit Yehonatan. And that is thedifference between me and Meir. For him, it is an issue of housedemolitions. For me, it is about the law – it is not about Left orRight.
So you agree with Havilio?
Absolutely. I believe that the law prevents me from considering any other aspect.
So in the case of Beit Yehonatan andthe mayor’s proposal to legalize it in return for a building solutionfor the Arab residents there, you have no doubts?  And despite yoursupport for the Arab residents, you will not support this plan?
I was the one who revealed the story of Beit Yehonatan, and at thebeginning Havilio didn’t even pay attention to it. I had to insistagain and again until he decided to take care of it. So what do youexpect me to do now? I was the one who initiated the whole issue – Icannot withdraw.
But people who share your opinions saythat perhaps it is better to leave the Jewish residents of BeitYehonatan where they are and, in return, make some improvements in theArab residents’ conditions, including building permits.
Today it is a construction permit in return for Beit Yehonatan;tomorrow it will be another Jewish resident’s house in an Arabneighborhood in return for a work permit for Arabs – where do you drawthe line? Where does it stop? I know what I’m talking about. I have metPalestinians who told me, ‘You have a house, a job – I don’t haveanything. What do I care about your principles? Let me live, let mefeed my children, what do I care about these settlers?’
And what do you answer?
I say it’s a slippery slope. I support the law. I, of course, do notrenounce my right to protest – like when I go to demonstrate againstthe Jewish residents in Sheikh Jarrah, though I know it is legal [forthem to live there], since the High Court ruled it. I respect the HighCourt, but I can protest – the law allows me to. 
Is that what you expect your fellow party members to do?
We don’t have a choice. Look at what is happening already, such as theviolence against the judges. Where do you think it comes from? Becausepeople disregard the law. The court ruled once, twice, three times –this house should be sealed. That’s what should be done. There is noother way to respect the law.
Barkat says if the law has to beapplied and Beit Yehonatan is to be sealed, then 200 demolition decreesof Arab homes also have to be implemented.
I could be evasive, arguing that, after all, I am deputy mayor incharge of culture. But I want to answer this question honestly. I bringabout change, I make a difference. I am also in charge of education ineast Jerusalem. I spend a lot of time improving the situation there –adding classrooms, additional schools and funding for informaleducation…