Police officers standing guard outside Beit Yonatan
Police officers standing guard outside Beit Yonatan in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. Photo by Gil Cohen Magen
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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 yesterday.

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

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."