Silwan Settlers Plan Passover Festival in Bid to Curry Favor With Public

Despite Jerusalem tension, Jewish tenants of Beit Yonatan in heart of Silwan plan to hold a happening during intermediate days of Passover.

Despite the tension in Jerusalem, Jewish tenants of the Beit Yonatan building in the heart of the Arab neighborhood of Silwan plan to hold a happening there during the intermediate days of Passover - taking their case to the public. The Jewish residents have had their case repeatedly rejected by the courts, which ruled the seven-story structure should be evacuated and sealed off.

The settlers, who are funded by the nationalist Ateret Cohanim association, have hired publicist and former journalist Meir Suissa to promote their opening the building to holiday pilgrims for a "Yemenite village" festival.

The festival is named for the small Jewish neighborhood established at the end of the 19th century, some of whose original buildings are still in use in the Arab village. The Jewish residents fled in the wake of the Arab Revolt of 1938. Beit Yonatan settlers and those from the nearby Beit Dvash (Honey House), occupied by two families, view the former Jewish neighborhood as the rationale for the right to live there now. For the festival, they will serve Yemenite food and dress up as the original Jewish residents. But security and geographic facts limit any festival in the accepted sense of the word. Beit Yonatan and Beit Dvash are squeezed into a narrow alley in the heart of Silwan.

The settlers there are subject to harassment in the throwing of stones and Molotov cocktails, living under constant watch from guards supplied by the Defense Ministry. They plan to admit guests in groups of 50, with security provided by the police. Visitors will be taken to a lookout on the roof, will hear an outline of the neighborhood's history and visit Beit Dvash.

On Sunday, the settlers' attorney, Yehiel Guttman, sent a sharply worded letter to Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, protesting against the latter's failure to respond to a suggestion the settlers themselves seal the upper two floors of Beit Yonatan, in keeping with a plan offered by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. The city's legal adviser, Yossi Havilio strongly opposes the idea.

Meanwhile, Meretz MKs - Haim Oron, Ilan Gal-On and Nitzan Horowitz - called on the prime minister and the government to have the three-year-old court order to evacuate Beit Yonatan executed immediately. If their demand is not met, they plan to petition the High Court of Justice.