Nir Hasson
February 9, 2010 - 1:00am

Interior Minister Eli Yishai resolved Monday to use his powers to thwart a court-ordered evacuation of an illegally built home erected by nationalist Jews in a predominantly Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

The Shas chairman said he plans to raise the matter of legalizing the structure, known as "Beit Yonatan," during the next meeting of the ministry's district planning commission in Jerusalem. Yishai believes he will be able to void the evacuation orders which the municipality intends to distribute to the building's residents.

Nonetheless, officials with intimate knowledge of the matter said the chances that Yishai will succeed are virtually nil, given that zoning approval for Beit Yonatan would require the approval of a long list of building violations.
Beit Yonatan, a seven-story residential structure that houses eight Jewish families, was built illegally in the heart of the predominantly Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan by the nationalist association Ateret Cohanim. The courts issued an evacuation order for the building last July.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat initially refused to enforce the evacuation order, though he later yielded after considerable public pressure from the attorney general and state prosecutor.

"Just as Nir Barkat is not above the law, Eli Yishai is also not above the law," said a source familiar with the issue. "The interior minister cannot intervene in a court ruling and he will need to learn this lesson just like Barkat did."

Even if the structure is legalized, the building's residents would need to undergo a lengthy process in order to obtain the necessary permits from the Jerusalem municipality. These permits are a prerequisite for nullifying a court order.

The Jerusalem District Court has already turned down the residents' appeal to strike down the evacuation order so that they can win approval for a new building plan.

In a letter to State Prosecutor Moshe Lador, Barkat pledged last week to enforce the court order to evacuate the structure, though he added that he was doing so under protest. Barkat also wrote that the municipality would tear down some 200 Palestinian homes slated for demolition in East Jerusalem. The letter essentially ended a power struggle between Barkat and the judicial system, especially the Jerusalem municipality's legal consultant, Yossi Havilio.

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem municipality canceled a planned visit by inspectors Monday to the home. The municipality originally dispatched officials from its construction, licensing and inspection department to "Beit Yonatan" to distribute evacuation and seal orders to its residents, however sources in City Hall said the police requested the trip be postponed due to security concerns.

Meanwhile, residents of the house are enlisting the support of right-wing activists and public figures. The dwellers said they would not initiate violence should the evacuation proceed as planned.

Since Barkat's letter was made public, right-wing members of the Jerusalem municipality have lobbied the mayor to delay the sealing of the building. Deputy Mayor David Hadari (National Religious Party) and city councilman Elisha Peleg (Likud) paid a solidarity visit to the site Monday. "We have come to protest the expulsion of Jews in East Jerusalem," Peleg said.

"Everybody agrees that there cannot be discrimination against Jews in Jerusalem," Hadari said. "This is not an issue just for the extreme fringe of the right wing."

One of the Israelis residing in the building gave a tour of the site. "Look around," he said, pointing toward the neighboring Palestinian homes. "Everything you see here is illegally built structures."


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