Crisis, talk of possible "conflagration", in Silwan today – defused by nightfall?

Israeli Border Police in large numbers were deployed in and around the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan today, as a constellation of pending events portended possible grave troubles ahead.

In the morning, the Police delivered a military notification to Silwan community activist Adnan Gheith that an order to expel him from his home for four months would be executed by 5 pm today. The measure was taken under emergency military orders issued in 1945, during the British administration of the Mandate of Palestine, prior to the proclamation of the State of Israel (in mid-May 1948).

Haaretz reported today that a letter handed to Gheith by the Police on behalf of the IDF Home Front Command a few weeks ago stated: “On November 25, security forces presented the military commander with defense-related material regarding your activities in the Jerusalem sector,” the letter read. “In light of the information contained herein, the military commander, the Home Front Commander [Maj. Gen. Yair Golan], is considering making use of the authority granted to him – and to order your removal from the Jerusalem city limits and its environs for a period of four months”.

According to Haaretz, Gheith was told earlier this week by the police “that he had two weeks to appeal the decision. ‘They claim to have classified information and all sorts of things’, he said. ‘But the truth is that I’m not leaving Jerusalem. Nobody can take a person away from his home and his family’.”

East Jerusalem Attorney Rami Othman said that a decision arrived this morning saying that the order would be carried out by 5 pm today. Othman then made an emergency appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court.

UPDATE: In the late afternoon Sunday the Court issued a temporary injunction against Gheith’s expulsion from Jerusalem by 5 pm.

Gheith is a long-time member of the Fatah organization headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Earlier, Othman told Haaretz “If they had enough evidence to bring an indictment, they would serve him [Gheith] with an indictment”.

Haaretz reported that “In response to the army order, Othman wrote a letter to the Home Front Command demanding that it turn over evidence against his client … In response, the IDF Spokesperson said: ‘The Home Front commander was presented with defense and intelligence information that ties Mr. Adnan Jith [Gheith] to activities related to public order within the city limits of Jerusalem, such as disturbances in the neighborhood of Silwan. The Home Front commander is thus authorized, by the power vested by defense regulations of 1945, to order the expulsion of Mr. [Gheith]’.” This Haaretz report is posted here.

Adding to the high tension in Silwan, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat issued a statement on Saturday night saying that if evacuation orders were carried out against some 60 members of a Palestinian family headed by Abdallah Abu Nab, who have lived for over 50 years in a Silwan home that was once a Yemenite synagogue (in the 1940s, before the area fell under Jordanian control on 15 May 1948), then he would simultaneously order the evacuation and sealing of the 7-story-high Beit Yonathan, a building constructed in same Silwan neighborhood by the Ateret Cohanim settler organization (in violation of construction codes which, among other things, presently prohibit buildings over 2 stories high. Mayor Barkat has proposed a new zoning arrangement for Silwan which would raise the maximum height of the buildings there to 4 floors, but which would also result in the demolition of 22 Palestinian homes to make way for an archeological garden).

Beit Yonathan – photo taken in February 2010 + published here in Haaretz on 26 December 2010:
Beit Yonathan - photo taken in February 2010 - by Daniel Bar-On + published in Haaretz on 26 December 2010
How many stories does Beit Yonathan have? Count them: it is visibly seven stories high.

The Mayor’s latest statement apparently also works in reverse — that is, if Beit Yonathan is evacuated, he will also order the evacuation on the same day of the Abu Nab home.

YNet reported that “A statement issued Saturday evening says the mayor is relieving himself of all responsibility for Beit Yonatan, placing it instead on the Ateret Cohanim movement which housed the Jewish residents there. ‘Barkat has coordinated with the police that if Ateret Cohanim members demand the government carry out evacuation orders applying to the Arab residents… then the sealing of Beit Yonatan will be carried out on the same day’, the statement says … Barkat has so far ignored court orders that state Beit Yonatan must be sealed immediately. ‘We will not discriminate in favor or against Jews. If we are not allowed to wait for a general arrangement… then both the orders for Arabs and Jews in Silwan will be carried out on the same date’, the statement says. Opposition member Meir Margalit, of the Meretz faction, responded to the statement by saying that the mayor was not actually behaving in an egalitarian manner. ‘Dozens of (Arab) homes have been destroyed while not a single Jewish building has been razed’, he said. ‘This announcement stinks of vengeance and pettiness and is aimed more at being liked by settlers than really performing justly. You cannot compare between settlers who built a home from the ground up to Palestinian refugees who have been living in the same home since the ’40s. Barkat is playing with fire’.” This is posted here.

On Sunday morning, a spokesperson for Ateret Cohanim issued a statement, reported by the pro-settler Israel News Network (INN), saying that “We were shocked to hear about the strange connection Barkat made between the enforcement of a civil order, to which all parties agreed, to restore an ancient synagogue in Kfar Shiloach [Silwan], with an order to seal Beit Yehonatan – one of thousands of such orders to seal buildings”… This was reported

Silwan is on the slope of a hill descending just outside the south-east corner of the wall around the Old City of East Jerusalem, which also was taken by Jordanian forces in May 1948, and it therefore did not become part of the State of Israel at its founding. Israeli forces took East Jerusalem and the entire West Bank from Jordanian troops in fighting during the June 1967 war.

Israeli-American Attorney Daniel Seidemann, founder of the Ir-Amim organization which works for an equitable sharing of Jerusalem between its two peoples and three religions, told The Independent that he saw this as “an attempt to ‘transform a Palestinian neighbourhood into an evangelical settlers’ theme park, and the Palestinians are not playing the roles designated to them as extras in this pseudo-biblical pageant’.” This was reported by Donald MacIntyre here.

There are at least two Israeli settler organizations working now in Silwan – Ateret Cohanim, which built Beit Yonathan further down the hill, and ElAd, which is behind the massive “City of David” up at the top, right under the Old City walls (and right under where Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are located).

Ir-Amim wrote on its website that “Archaeological excavations have been an important instrument of control since Israel gained control of East Jerusalem in 1967. Since then, the Israeli Antiquities Authority or various Israeli universities have initiated all excavations in the Old City and its environs. Following government budget cuts, private players, especially the settler organizations, began to take part in excavations. The Elad organization, for example, which is active in settling many Jewish families in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, is employed as a subcontractor of the Israeli government to administer the archaeological site City of David (also located in Silwan). Elad developed the project and the City of David National Park, today one of the most visited sites in Jerusalem. Elad also initiated additional archaeological excavations in Silwan, including digging a tunnel that is supposed to connect the City of David with Temple Mount [the Haram ash-Sharif, or plateau where the two mosques have stood for 1,400 years]. These excavations often run under the homes of Palestinian residents without their knowledge, causing heavy damage to private and public property in the village”. This is posted here.

Ir-Amim has written elsewhere on its website that “There is no doubt that the construction of an archeological garden on the ruins of demolished Palestinian houses aims, amongst other things, to strengthen the Israeli hold over this area, which lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinians as well as the international community will interpret these steps as a provocation by Israel, which exploits its power in the area to dictate the reality on the ground unilaterally, and which may have severe consequences for both the city’s political future and its present stability. These concerns are magnified given the fact that state authorities, including the Jerusalem Municipality, have already given away national assets of great importance in this area to extreme right-wing organizations, which exploit their presence there in order to promote a far-reaching political agenda. In light of this, it is not unfounded to speculate that the archeological garden that the city plans to build on the ruins of the residents houses in Al-Bustan might be handed in one way or another to right-wing organizations active in Silwan”. This is posted here

Ir-Amim also wrote that “In May 2009, Ir Amim disclosed government plans, done in cooperation with settler organizations, to surround the Old City with nine national parks, gardens, paths and sites, intended to change the status quo in the city. The plan seeks to create a territorial contiguity of Jewish historic sites, and connect them to strategic settlements around Jerusalem. This includes the Ben Hinnom Valley in the south, Mt. Zion, City of David/Silwan, Mt. of Olives, Jerusalem Walls, King’s Valley, Zedekiah’s Cave, Garden of the Tomb, Emek Tzurim, the Qidron Salient and Mt. Scopus, connecting at its end to the E1 area north of Maale Adumim. Establishing the national parks in East Jerusalem increases Israeli control of the area, while severely curtailing future Palestinian development by redesignating areas reserved for Palestinian development as green zones, where building is not allowed. Furthermore, given the fact that the Elad setter organization operates both the archaeological site of the City of David and the national park of Emek Tzurim, Ir Amim is concerned that control of the future national parks will also be given to settlement organizations to promote its political agenda in the area. As a result of these trends, the balance of control in the Old City and its environs is gradually changing. Settler groups are playing an increasingly important role in the administration and development of some of the most important sites in Jerusalem. This is all done with the overt or covert support of the Israeli government. This policy threatens to transform the conflict from a controllable and resolvable one into a hopeless and dangerous confrontation … In July 2010, Ir Amim submitted a petition to the Israeli High Court, requesting that the control of the CIty of David National Park be removed from the private settler association, Elad, and be returned to the administration of the Israeli Parks and Nature Reserves Authority”. This is posted here.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said in his statement on Saturday night, as reported by YNet, that “We won’t discriminate against Jews, for good or bad,” he said. “Everyone is equal in the eye of the law.” YNet wrote that “Barkat thus relieved himself of the responsibility for the implementation of both of the court-ordered warrants, and laid the groundwork for the sealing of Beit Yehonatan, which is expected to take place in the coming week”. An edited and shorter version of the YNet article, which originally appeared in a longer form, is now posted here.

Haaretz reported in another article on Sunday that “In the past, [Jerusalem Mayor] Barkat opposed the eviction of residents of Beit Yonatan, saying it ran contrary to [his] plans to renovate the neighborhood, which would enable current residents to remain on at least the lower floors of the building”. This is posted here.

However, the Israeli Supreme Court decided, also on Sunday, to reject an appeal against eviction submitted by the eight Jewish families living under protective armed guard in the Beit Yonathan building. The Supreme Court gave the State Attorney 24 hours to respond to the decision.

UPDATE: Then, later on Sunday afternoon, Jerusalem municipal officials reportedly reached an agreement with the settler organization Ateret Cohanim [!] that would leave the Jewish families in Beit Yonathan and the Palestinian Abu Nab family in their home, the former “Ohel Shalom” Synagogue according a story by INN here.

INN also noted in its report — apparently erroneously — that Beit Yonathan is six stories high, rather than seven. Its reporter wrote that under Mayor Barkat’s proposed new “neighborhood-wide” plan (which is now in abeyance, though the Mayor apparently intends to pursue it), “Buildings six stories tall or higher will be required to remove their top floors under the new plan”. The residents of Beit Yonathan reportedly agreed to remove the two upper floors [or the four upper floors], to conform with Mayor Barkat’s proposed new plan for the neighborhood.

Apparently, this is to allow further time for discussion about the plan proposed by Mayor Barkat. Both Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai (of the Shas religious party) have been involved in discussions about the plan, or about delaying implementation of the plan.

In 2005, Silwan residents got together and hired an architect to prepare their own neighborhood plan — East Jerusalem residents requesting any kind of building permit must fund their own plan development, even at great expense. This is one of the main reasons why it the Jerusalem municipality requirements present such an almost-insurmountable obstacle for Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.

However, the Silwan residents plan was rejected by the Jerusalem municipality in 2008, as Ir-Amim noted “without any serious discussion, and with only a partial argument that it ‘clashes with the municipality’s position, which does not support the legitimization of illegal construction’.”

Nir Barkat had not been elected Mayor at that point. After he took office, he uses a language of equality, but maintains the mantra of wanting to do away with “illegal construction” in Jerusalem where ever it is, and by whomever it was done..

The dramatic, alarming cliff-hanging tension of today’s pending expulsions and evacuations has done nothing to calm the atmosphere.

Rabbi Arik Asherman of Rabbis for Human Rights has just commented on Facebook that “Mayor Barkat again defies courts and his own legal advisor to postpone the evacuation and sealing of ‘Beit Yonatan’ in Jerusalem. Police sources told us to expect “Operation Price Tag” actions against Palestinians if the eviction had taken place”.

Sporadic stone-throwing continues on Sunday night in Silwan between Palestinian youths and Israeli security forces.

Daniel Seidemann tweeted in apparent frustration after the announcement of the evacuation compromise: “Silwan settlers ‘call off’ Pal eviction, Barkat ‘calls off’ Beit Yehonatan eviction. How f***ing stupid do they think the public is? con’t – pretty f***ing stupid, ’cause tom’w settlers meet w Israeli AG. Once again the settlers above law, the Palestinians their hostages”…

And, still fresh in everyone’s mind was the shooting and killing on 22 September of Samer Sarhan, a Palestinian resident of the neighborhood earlier this year by one of the private Israeli armed security guards working for ElAd in Silwan. The guard said that Sarhan was part of a group who started throwing stones at his car, at dawn earlier this year and, he said, he felt his life was being threatened, so he shot. After a brief detention following a even briefer investigation, the Israeli security guard was freed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *