NU lawmakers visit J’lem’s embattled Beit Yehonatan

Opposition: If government can't interfere with Jerusalem, Barkat can't interfere with the law.

National Union MKs at Beit Yehonatan 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
National Union MKs at Beit Yehonatan 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
In a show of solidarity with the Jewish residents of Beit Yehonatan in the heart of east Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood, the four National Union MKs gave a press conference in one of the apartments there on Monday afternoon.
“Before you come and discuss what to do with this building, you have to implement the court orders against all of the other buildings and to destroy the houses that were built illegally on green areas in Gan Hamelech,” said National Union chairman Ya’acov Katz, referring to the numerous illegal buildings in Silwan and elsewhere in east Jerusalem.
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“It’s a shame and a disgrace that we have to travel in bulletproof vehicles inside of Jerusalem, the holy city, because of a few auto mechanics who are throwing rocks,” he added, speaking from the living room of Eldad and Nira Rabinovitz on Beit Yehonatan’s fifth floor.
“People are against the rabbis’ letter that says not to rent apartments to Arabs in Jewish neighborhoods, but they’re also fighting so that Jews can’t live in a neighborhood where Arabs live, and that’s part of the same hypocrisy that’s at the roots of enforcing the law selectively,” MK Arye Eldad added.
Eldad and Katz were joined by MKs Uri Ariel and Michael Ben-Ari. All the lawmakers praised Mayor Nir Barkat’s decision to hold off on evacuating Beit Yehonatan for the time being.
On Sunday, the municipality said it had a numbered list of evacuations and house demolitions planned for Silwan, and Beit Yehonatan does not fall within the top 15.
The press conference came the day after Ateret Cohanim tried to evacuate Arab five families from the Old Yemenite Synagogue, which is located just 100 meters down the street from Beit Yehonatan.
The Old Yemenite Synagogue was part of a collection of buildings that belonged to Yemenite Jews from 1882- 1938. The Abu Naeb family has been living in the building for 72 years.
Ateret Cohanim and the Hekdesh, a 127-year-old council of representatives that acts as custodians for the property, filed a civil case against the Abu Naeb family, which it won in January 2010. According to the court order, police must evacuate the building no later than January 3, 2011.
On Sunday morning, Ateret Cohanim arrived at the synagogue with 60 engineers, contractors, and security guards to evacuate the families. According to informal estimates, 1,000-2,000 policemen came to provide security.
In response to the impending eviction, Barkat sent a terse letter to Ateret Cohanim and the Hekdesh insisting that any attempt to evacuate the Arab families from the Old Yemenite Synagogue would mean the evacuation of the Jewish families in Beit Yehonatan “the very same day, with the full cooperation of the police.”
An court order to evacuate and seal Beit Yehonatan was issued in 2007, though it has yet to be implemented. Barkat has previously said he wants to retroactively legalize many of the illegal structures in Silwan before taking action against Beit Yehonatan.
After the two sides came to an agreement on Sunday afternoon that neither building would be evacuated, most of the police left the area. Left-wing activists who were staging a sit-in at the Abu Naeb residence left around midnight on Sunday night.
Ateret Cohanim head Matti Dan said it was unfortunate that the mayor “couldn’t stand up to the pressure,” and had to force the organization to halt the eviction of the Abu Naeb family.
Dan said that it caused “great financial damage” to the organization, though he declined to say how much it had spent on the 60 professionals to help with the eviction.
“I’m not concerned that they will evacuate this building,” Dan told The Jerusalem Post. “When Barkat deals with the Arab [illegal construction], he will deal with us also.”
City councillor and opposition head Pepe Alalu (Meretz) filed a police complaint on Monday, claiming that Barkat is obstructing justice by not carrying out the court’s order to evacuate and seal Beit Yehonatan.
“We’re not a banana republic, and this is not the Third World,” Alalu told the Post. “If the government can’t interfere with building in east Jerusalem and parks in Jerusalem and sanitary services in the city, then Barkat can’t interfere with the law.”