Mayor Gives Settlers in Beit Yonatan Last-minute Reprieve From Eviction

The residents of Beit Yonatan, located in the heart of Silwan, East Jerusalem, yesterday received yet another last-minute reprieve from eviction, this time from Mayor Nir Barkat.

The High Court of Justice and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein had stated unambiguously that the order to evict and seal the apartment building should be carried out immediately.

silwan - Olivier Fitoussi - December 27 2010
Olivier Fitoussi

Barkat saved Beit Yonatan by linking its eviction to that of a nearby building that has housed dozens of Palestinians for the past 50 years but is registered in the name of Ateret Cohanim members. That organization is itself behind Beit Yonatan, which was built illegally and is inhabited by Jewish residents. Leftist critics of Barkat say he linked the two evictions as part of a scheme to keep Beit Yonatan's residents in place.

Weinstein has invited Barkat, State Prosecutor Moshe Lador and a representative of the Israel Police to a meeting today to discuss whether the mayor's decision is justified.

In November, Weinstein sent a letter to Barkat and the Jerusalem District Police commander stating that the eviction and sealing order must be carried out. Barkat said in a press release Saturday night that Beit Yonatan would be evicted not because of the directives by the High Court and the attorney general, but because Ateret Cohanim had requested the eviction of the Palestinian apartment building, the Abu Nab house.

Early yesterday it appeared that the double eviction was inevitable. Dozens of police officers were deployed to the outskirts of Silwan and blocked entry to the village. Neighborhood organizer Adnan Jit was ordered to leave Jerusalem by the Home Front Command of the Israel Defense Forces, and word of the impending eviction spread throughout Silwan. The Abu Nab house's residents - members of the extended Abu Nab family - stayed home from work, joined by neighbors and Israeli leftists, who gathered in the alley joining the two buildings.

Firefighters arrived in the afternoon to size up access routes in the event that their assistance would be needed. The tension increased when a group of children began throwing rocks at Beit Yonatan. A few people were detained for questioning.

Two announcements

The tension was broken by two announcements issued in the late afternoon. The first, from Ateret Cohanim, said the organization was temporarily withdrawing its demand for the eviction of the Abu Nab house. "We do not know Barkat's current stance," the announcement said.

The mayor's response came within a few minutes, in the form of a detailed press release in which he explained, "With the request by Ateret Cohanim to postpone the execution of the order against the Arab inhabitants, it was decided not to expedite the sealing order against Beit Yonatan and to carry it out in the future, in accordance with the criteria set by the Jerusalem municipal council, which apply to the entire city."

"It's a masterpiece that if I had to give it a title it would be 'Barkat's stories for retarded children," Jerusalem councilman Meir Margalit said in reaction to the announcement. "Undoubtedly this entire affair was staged from beginning to end. Every two months [Barkat] looks for an excuse not to evacuate Beit Yonatan. Now he pulls this story out of his sleeve to buy another month or two until the next 'spin.' The problem is that he apparently genuinely thinks that the people are stupid," Margalit said.

"Postponing the eviction of Beit Yonatan is a premeditated move by Barkat and the settlers to use the Palestinians as an excuse to avoid the court order," Peace Now leader Yariv Oppenheimer said.

The city's legal adviser, Yossi Havilio, who sought to expedite the eviction of Beit Yonatan, told Barkat he was "amazed" by the mayor's decision and urged Barkat not to interfere with the court's ruling.