Silwan faces crisis-point: two simultaneous evictions + evacuations

The East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan is facing a new crisis point.

According to a late-night report from the Silwan Information Center (Silwanic), posted on their website here, “Silwanic has been informed that the illegal settlement of Beit Yonatan in the Baten al-Hawa neighborhood of Silwan will be evicted at 9am either tomorrow [16 January] or [Monday] 17 January. Beit Yonatan is not the only illegally-built settlement in the area, it has stood at the heart of the settlement issue in Silwan, its continued existence a telling example of the double standards of the Jerusalem Municipality, who have issued hundreds of demolition orders to date to Palestinian homes on the strength of questionable licensing issues”.

We have previously reported on this matter on this blog, including here.

Late last week, Israel’s Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein — who has previously pressed Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to execute court orders requiring the eviction of several settler families from Beit Yonathan, and the sealing of the building which does not comply with Jerusalem municpal building codes — again called on Mayor Barkat to carry out the evacuation order.

YNet reported, here, that Weinstein hinted that the Mayor could be charged with violation of the law if he failed to act to enforce the court order. Weinstein reportedly stated that “the implementation of the order was ‘an obligation set by the court’.”

At the beginning of the new year (2011), Barkat linked the eviction and evacuation of Beit Yonathan with the the fate of the Abu Nab family, whose 60 members have been living for decades in a compound they built that includes a structure that formally served as a synagogue for Yeminite Jews in Silwan before the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 (when all Jews were evacuated from the area).

Barkat, who continues to want to implement an earlier plan he has proposed for the Silwan neighborhood that would reduce the number of pending Palestinian home demolitions [from something like 88 to something around 20] in exchange for retroactive “legalization” of all other structures there (including Beit Yonathan), did manage to temporarily persuaded the Aterit Cohanim settler organization to withdraw a civil suit they had filed to compel the eviction of the Abu Nab family.

YNet reported last week that “Despite a compromise proposed by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat the State insists on implementing the sealing order imposed on Beit Yonatan in east Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein sent a letter to Barkat Thursday stating that a date in the near future must be set for the implementation of the order”.

But, the Attorney General has apparently accepted the logic of the Mayor’s linkage of the fate of the two neighboring structures — one inhabited by East Jerusalem Palestinians, and the other one housing Israeli Jewish settler familes and their private (though state-salaried) security guards.

YNet reported that Weinstein added: ” ‘I have asked the enforcement elements to try and have the implementation of the order be performed at the same time another order is being carried out‘ … He was referring to the evacuation of Arab residents from the Abu Nab house which is adjacent to Beit Yonatan. He stressed that the sealing order must be implemented ‘without the intervention of unauthorized elements’ and noted that he has informed the political rank of this decision. Weinstein even hinted to Barkat that he should be careful for his actions over the Beit Yehonatan issue could come to criminal proceedings. He referred the Mayor to the Attorney General’s directive which stated that “an elected representative’s attempts to intervene in favor of one defendant or another in criminal proceedings carried out by the criminal prosecution has no place and is inappropriate. ‘These actions harm the independence of Israel’s criminal prosecution system and could harm the parity of the criminal process, coloring it with political opinions, if in essence, if outwardly and in certain cases, the actions themselves could become a felony. Last month Barkat prevented the evacuation of Beit Yonatan at the last minute after the Ateret Cohanim foundation lifted its demand to evacuate the residents of Abu Nab house which previously served as a synagogue. Barkat declared that should the foundation not agree to temporarily withdraw their demand he will evacuate both sites on the same day”.

Silwan organizer Adnan Gheith, who is also a Fatah activist, withdrew his appeal at the end of December — apparently with the support of the Fatah movement — to an Israeli military order banning him, or deporting him, for a period of four months from his home and from all of the “Greater Jerusalem Municipality”, and arrived in Ramallah this week.

Heads held high – three activists

UPDATE: Jonathan Pollack was released one month early (even more than one month early, actually), for good behavior, on Thursday 24 February…

(1) Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak, convicted for protesting the Israeli-military-administered sanctions against 1.5 million people in Gaza, reported to jail at Hermon Prison this morning to start serving a three-month prison sentence, apparently for “illegal assembly”. He previously told the court, in a statement he made at his sentencing on 27 December, that he had no regrets and would go to jail “head held high” for opposing Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory and lives. A Haaretz editorial today here, entitled “Shameful Imprisonment”, denounced Pollak’s jail term.

The Haaretz editorial said that “His arrest should trouble every citizen who cares about human rights in Israel. Pollak had participated in a peaceful, non-violent demonstration, which is not merely the right of every citizen, but also the duty of everyone who wishes to fight against wrong. In similar demonstrations that took place on highways, such as that of the motorcyclists against raising insurance rates or the demonstration by firefighters, no one was arrested. The fact that Pollak was the only one arrested in the cyclists’ demonstration raises serious suspicions that he was being singled out by police and the courts because of his long struggle against the occupation … Pollak’s incarceration is a dark day: not only for Pollak but for all those who fear for democracy in Israel”.

UPDATE on Wednesday: To mark the start of Pollak’s jail sentence, a “critical mass” bicycle protest — in reference to the January 2008 event at which Pollak was arrested and for which he was sentenced to jail (this arrest activated a previous suspended sentence for a previous anti-occupation protest, and he received a separate sentence for the January 2008 event) — was held in Tel Aviv on Tuesday evening. A video was posted on Youtube here.

(2) Abdallah Abu Rahmah, who was not released from prison some weeks ago when he finished serving a one-year prison sentence at the end of November for “incitement” due to his role in leading weekly protests from his West Bank village, Bil’in, against The Wall (which has cut off about half of the village’s agricultural land), was sentenced by today to an additional three months at the request of the Israeli military prosecutor. Amnesty International has now declared him a “prisoner of conscience”. Late last year, the European Union’s Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said Abu Rahmah was a “human rights defender” — therefore, an activist that is supposed to receive support and protection from the UN human rights bodies and from the international community.

More than three years ago, the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the Israeli military to re-route The Wall in the Bil’in area to release back to the village some portion (but not all) of its confiscated land, which has been used an extended security zone to protect Israeli settlements in that area of the West Bank (Modi’in Illit + Matityahu East). The Israeli military began “work” last February, nearly a year ago, to carry out the Supreme Court order, and have just said it will take at least another three months.

(3) And Silwan activist Adnan Gheith is due to leave his home in Jerusalem tomorrow for four months according to an order issued under military emergency regulations dating back to the British mandate. Whatever this is called, this is deportation — and as such it is an Israeli violation of the Road Map (Phase One) which the U.S. + EU developed and then promoted within the Quartet (along with Russia + the UN)… Gheith, upon advice, withdrew his appeal against the order to leave Jerusalem — because of “lack of confidence in the Israeli justice system”, as reported here.
“I was a bit surprised”, commented one Israeli lawyer who has been active in supporting rights for East Jerusalem Palestinians in the city, “because I thought he had a decent chance” of winning the appeal.

Mairav Zonstein, who follows Silwan developments, wrote in +972 Magazine, here, that “The decision, according to his lawyer [Rami Othman, apparently], stems from the fact that Adnan was convinced he would lose the appeal, among other things, because Israel’s General Security Service was expected to submit classified documents that he would not be able to view and therefore not be able to refute – effectively barring him from due process in making a case in his defense. Furthermore, he argued, the legal proceedings would constitute recognition of the court’s authority and would set a legal precedent for more Palestinians like him to be expelled on the same grounds. Rumors have been going around that the GSS has composed a list of a few hundred Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem to be targeted for similar expulsion orders.”

East Jerusalem Palestinians have what they believe is a very fragile permanent residency status (but not citizenship), in Israel since 1967. As non-citizens, the East Jerusalem Palestinians do not have the right to participate in Israeli national elections, for the Knesset, whose winners form the next governments. But, East Jerusalem Palestinians do — in theory — have the right to participate in Jerusalem municipal elections. Since the start of the occupation in 1967, the vast majority has decided to boycott these Jerusalem municipal elections — and there is considerable social and political pressure to maintain this line, though the net result has been a loss of any political influence in decisions that affect their daily lives as residents of a Jerusalem which the Israeli government unilaterally expanded after its victory in the 1967 war…

[The Palestinians living in the occupied Palestinian territory have the theoretical right to participate in two elections: Under an interpretation of the Oslo Accords urged by the American government (among other powers), the Israeli government has in principle agreed to allow East Jerusalem Palestinians to participate in Palestinian “national” elections held since 1996, both for the currently-dormant Palestine Legislative Council and for the Palestinian Authority [PA] President. However, Israeli authorities have put substantial roadblocks in the way of the participation of East Jerusalem Palestinians in the PA elections.]

UPDATE on Wednesday: Gheith, who is a member of Fatah as well as an activist in his own Silwan neighborhood, reportedly arrived
in Ramallah by 11:00 am “in compliance with the Israeli military 4-month deportation order from Jerusalem”, according to the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center in Ramallah. Ma’an News Agency later reported, after speaking briefly with Gheith in Ramallah, that he said “his move comes as an implementation of the Israeli decision … [and that] immediately before his deportation he was in the Al-Bustan sit-in tent holding a meeting when the Israeli police arrived to drive him out. He said the officers chased him in the streets of the village. His lawyers decided that he should move to Ramallah immediately. He also said that the Israeli prosecution decided to expel five more young men from Silwan including his brother Hani Ghaith”. This Ma’an News report is posted here.