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Attorney General warns Mayor Barkat over East Jerusalem building

AG Weinstein says failure by Jerusalem mayor to implement eviction order on Beit Yonatan could constitute a criminal offense.

By Nir Hasson 

13 January 2011

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat may face criminal proceedings if he continues to delay implementation of a court order to evict the residents from Beit Yonatan and seal the building, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein advised the mayor in a letter on Thursday.

Implementing the order "is not subject to your discretion as mayor," Weinstein wrote.

Beit Yonatan- Emil Salman

Beit Yonatan in Silwan.

Photo by: Emil Salman

Beit Yonatan is an illegally built home erected by Jews in the predominantly Arab neighborhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem.

Weinstein's letter came in response to the agreement Barkat reached three weeks ago with the right-wing group Ateret Cohanim, which had placed the Jewish residents in Beit Yonatan. The agreement stipulated that Ateret Cohanim would give up its demand to evict dozens of Palestinians from a building it owns nearby, known as the Abu Nab house or the Yemenite synagogue, if Barkat delayed implementation of the eviction order for Beit Yonatan.

After the agreement was reached, the Jerusalem police canceled a major operation to
evacuate both buildings at the last minute.

A day after the operation was canceled, the attorney general summoned police and municipal officials to a meeting in his office to examine the legality of the arrangement Barkat had reached.

Weinstein wrote Barkat that the eviction had been repeatedly ordered by the court, and "having found that the case does not meet the criteria for delaying implementation, it is also not subject to my discretion as head of Israel's law enforcement system."

Barkat is also required to enforce other eviction orders, including those involving Palestinians, Weinstein wrote, but implementation of the order for Beit Yonatan is not conditional on implementing any of these other orders: They are completely independent.

In the last paragraph, Weinstein drew Barkat's attention to a 2007 directive issued by the Interior Ministry's director general, which stated that intervening in the implementation of a court order "may constitute a criminal offense by the intervening party." He also cited a 2006 directive by the then-attorney general that reached a similar conclusion.

Barkat's office said "the Jerusalem municipality and the mayor respect the court's rulings and the attorney general's directives. Barkat has directed the municipal experts dealing with the issue to proceed in accordance with the law, municipal procedures and the attorney general's directives."


Israel applies the “price tag” strategy in East Jerusalem


Since this morning, large numbers of Israeli security forces have been blockading the village of Silwan in anticipation of the eviction of the Abu-Nab house, inhabited by dozens of Palestinian residents and adjacent to the settlement of Beit Yonatan. Like other properties in East Jerusalem, this one has also found its way – with the help of the Israeli Custodian – into the hands of extreme rightwing settler organizations; before 1948 the house had served as a synagogue for the small Yemenite Jewish community in the area.  After the eviction, the house is expected to be populated by Ateret Cohanim members; it is likely that the settlers living in Beit Yehonatan will simply cross the street and move into the Abu Nab house.

The correlation made between the eviction of Beit Yehonatan and the eviction of the Abu Nab house reflects the adoption of a dangerous “price tag” policy made famous by extreme settlers in the West Bank, and now being applied in Jerusalem by Israeli authorities.

According to a peremptory order issued by the courts, Beit Yehonatan should have been evacuated and sealed off years ago. During this time, the Jerusalem Municipality, especially under Mayor Nir Barkat, has done everything in its power to thwart enforcing the court’s order on Beit Yehonatan. Linking this decision with the eviction of the Abu Nab family from their home adds insult to injury; the decision regarding the Abu Nab house is indicative of Israeli policy that allows only Jews to reopen property ownership records from before 1948. The settlement in Beit Yehonatan is another link in the ideological chain that seeks to undermine the national character of Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and prevent any opportunity for an agreed political solution in the city.  

By making the eviction of Beit Yehonatan contingent upon the eviction of the Abu Nab house, the authorities are making an appalling correlation between two injustices with one common victim.

Ir Amim sharply condemns the decision to stipulate the eviction and sealing off of Beit Yehonatan on the eviction of additional Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, and calls on the Israeli authorities to come to their senses and apply sound judgment in the most sensitive area of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

For more about the eviction of the Abu Nab family and the correlation with Beit Yehonatan, see here.