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beit yehonatan 311.(Photo by: AP)
Court again rules against residents of Beit Yehonatan
Jerusalem municipality to seal 7 story illegal structure erected in Silwan.
One more, and perhaps final, effort of Beit Yehonatan tenants to avoid a court order calling for their evacuation and the sealing up of the building, failed on Tuesday, when the Jerusalem District Court for Administrative Affairs turned down their petition to reject Mayor Nir Barkat’s decision to enforce the order.

Beit Yehonatan is a seven-story residential structure built without a permit in the Silwan neighborhood in east Jerusalem.

On February 11, 2007, the Magistrate’s Court for Local Affairs rejected petitions filed by the tenants in the building against orders issued by the municipality to vacate and seal up the building. The decision was upheld in appeals against it to the Jerusalem District Court and the Supreme Court.

Barkat refused to enforce the court ruling, despite the opinion of his legal adviser, Yossi Havilio. However, on February 3, 2010, under strong pressure from State Attorney Moshe Lador, he finally gave in and said he would implement the court order even though “it was not worthy or just.”

In response to Barkat’s decision, two of the tenants, Ephraim Ben-Shahar and Yoel Danenberg, petitioned the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court for Local Affairs to reject Barkat’s decision. When the court turned them down, the petitioners applied to the Jerusalem District Court for Administrative Affairs.

On Tuesday, Judge Nava Ben-Or rejected their petition.

“It appears that the only aim of this petition is to bypass the judicial decisions that were handed down on the matter of Beit Yehonatan and to try to postpone the end,” she wrote. “In my opinion, this in itself is enough to justify rejecting the petition out of hand for lack of any real basis as far as the main remedy asked for by the petitioners is concerned.”

The main remedy asked for by Ben-Shahar and Danenberg was to rule that Barkat’s decision to implement the court order was invalid because it violated the mayor’s right to decide policy matters for himself, was discriminatory and stemmed from extraneous considerations.

But according to Ben-Or, the tenants had raised the same arguments in the criminal procedure leading to the Magistrate Court for Local Affairs’ original decision to seal the building and evict the tenants. Their arguments included the fact that there were many other illegal buildings in Silwan and that according to the city’s order of priorities, those that had been built in areas designated for public use should have been dealt with first.

Ben-Or wrote that the lower court had heard and rejected those same arguments before handing down its ruling to evict the tenants and seal the building.

“The court unequivocally ruled that there is no basis to the claim that the city was guilty of selective enforcement, that the order of priorities established by the city’s law enforcement system were reasonable, that the enforcement with regard to Beit Yehonatan was compatible with these priorities,” she wrote.

Ben-Or also pointed out that the tenants had moved into Beit Yehonatan after the order to seal it up had been issued, and therefore knew in advance what the consequences would be.

Attorney Ze’ev Sharaf, who represents the residents of Beit Yehonatan, said in a statement released after Tuesday’s ruling that he was “disappointed by the decision.”

“We’re talking about a ruling that is flawed from its foundation,” Sharaf said. “And that is in light of a decision by the High Court, which [recently] saw the rejection of a petition filed by Meretz MKs, who had asked to have the building sealed immediately.

“[That ruling] also articulated the need to strike a balance between the considerations of the local council and the mayor, and the considerations of the court,” he said.

“Additionally, there are currently dozens, if not hundreds, of outstanding court orders against Arab homes in Silwan,” Sharaf added.

“And throughout this whole process, the residents [of Beit Yehonatan] have expressed their surprise over the fact that only one such court order, the one issued against them, is being pursued with such vigor.”
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