Mazuz to Police Chief: Evacuate Beit Yonatan Now

Beit Yonatan, a seven-story residential structure, was built illegally in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood.

The attorney general has instructed Police Commissioner David Cohen to take immediate action to evacuate the illegal structure known as Beit Yonatan in East Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood.

"This is a grave ongoing case of flouting court orders and cannot be allowed to continue," Attorney General Menachem Mazuz wrote Cohen. The letter was also sent to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

Beit Yonatan, a seven-story residential structure, was built illegally in the heart of the predominantly Palestinian neighborhood by the nationalist association Ateret Cohanim. The court already issued an evacuation order for the building last July.

Barkat and the municipality's legal adviser have been embroiled in a dispute for the past few months over carrying out the court order to evacuate the building.

The mayor recently managed to have the city's planning and construction committee approve a plan permitting the construction of four floors in the Beit Yonatan building, instead of the two permitted today. His intention was to legalize - at least partially - the seven-story structure.

Jerusalem's legal adviser Yossi Havilio told Barkat, in writing, that the new plan was illegal. In any case, he added, the city was obliged to seal Beit Yonatan without delay.

The police said they would assist in carrying out the order as soon as the city requested it.

Law enforcement authorities are the only ones authorized to implement orders against illegal building, Mazuz wrote to the police chief, adding that there should be no political interference in the matter.

In recent talks between American and Israeli officials about the demolition of Arab houses in East Jerusalem and the evacuation of residents from Sheikh Jarrah, Israeli officials said they were not authorized to intervene in matters of law enforcement or in implementing court orders.

However, the mayor of Jerusalem and even Knesset members exerted pressure on the law enforcement authorities not to carry out the order to evacuate and seal off Beit Yonatan.

When the municipal prosecutor sets out to execute a court order, Mazuz wrote, he must coordinate the move with the city's inspectors or the official in charge of demolitions. He is not to receive instructions from any other party, Mazuz continued.

Mazuz ruled that after reexamining the Beit Yonatan issue with the state prosecutor he found no cause or justification to hold up the court order further.

Barkat argued against carrying out the evacuation order saying, among other things, it could lead to clashes between right-wing activists and Silwan's Arab residents.