Israeli Court Rejects Settlers Bid to Postpone Eviction of East Jerusalem Home

Border Police stationed across East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan; many anticipate long-waited evacuation of illegally constructed building of Beit Yonatan.

The Supreme Court on Sunday rejected an appeal filed by Israeli settlers requesting it postpone again a long-awaited order to evict an apartment building they constructed illegally in a predominantly Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

The evacuation of the building's Jewish residents has been held up for several years due to pressure from Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and right-wing groups. The issue came to a head after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein ordered the city and the police to carry out the eviction order and seal the premises without further delay.

Beit Yonatan-  Daniel Bar-On- Feb. 8, 2010
Daniel Bar-On

Israel stationed border police across the Silwan neighborhood on Sunday and many anticipated that the building would be evacuated this week. The residents of the Beit Yonatan building petitioned the court, however, to hold up the order pending a ruling on an earlier appeal they had submitted over the matter. Although the court rejected this latest appeal, it still gave the state 24 hours tor respond to the request.

Israel Police chief David Cohen said earlier Sunday that his forces were indeed preparing to carry out the eviction. "The police will complete all of the necessary preparation and coordinates to carry out the ruling on the proscribed date," said Cohen. "We must take the path of dialogue or legal means and try to prevent any brewing illegal demonstrations."

Cohen called on public leaders and religious figures to "show responsibility and influence their supporters" into showing restraint and using only "legitimate" forms of protest.

The Border Police stationed forces across the Silwan neighborhood, blocking the entrance to the area. It was not yet clear whether the police was preparing to evacuate Beit Yonatan or an adjacent Palestinian home.

It appears that at the same time that Jewish occupants are evicted from Beit Yonatan, police intend also to evict dozens of Palestinians from a nearby building so that it can be turned over to Jews. It is thought that such a move could spark violence in the neighborhood.

This second building was constructed in the 19th century. It once housed the Ohel Shlomo synagogue, which served a small congregation of Yemenite Jews who lived in Silwan until the neighborhood came under Jordanian control in the 1948 War of Independence. For the past 50 years, it has been home to members of the extended Abu Nab family. They enlarged the structure, which now contains six apartments.

Individuals associated with Ateret Cohanim, which encourages a Jewish presence in and around Jerusalem's Old City, found that it had been registered in the name of a Jewish charitable organization from before 1948.

The Custodian General began legal proceedings in 2001 to return the property to the charity. Individuals associated with Ateret Cohanim were appointed to run the charity, making it likely that Jews would move in if the current occupants are evicted. Ahmed Abu Nab, who lives in the complex, said he thought the building was now home to 60 of his relatives. He vowed Saturday not to leave the building.

In a statement issued Saturday, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said Ateret Cohanim had been pushing for the eviction of the house where the Abu Nab family currently lives and that the municipality had asked the police to carry out the eviction at Beit Yonatan concurrently.

The municipality said the law was being uniformly enforced against Arabs and Jews and if Ateret Cohanim was insisting on the eviction of the Abu Nab family, the eviction of Jews would be carried out at Beit Yonatan on the same day.

In the past, Barkat opposed the eviction of residents of Beit Yonatan, saying it ran contrary to plans to renovate the neighborhood, which would enable current residents to remain on at least the lower floors of the building.