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Reprieve for Beit Yehonatan - and for Arab Synagogue Squatters

Jews in Beit Yehonatan get to stay for now – if Arab squatters in a nearby synagogue may stay as well.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 12/26/2010, 7:24 PM / Last Update: 12/26/2010, 7:29 PM

Flash 90

Jews living in the six-story Beit Yehonatan apartment complex in Shiloach (Silwan) in Jerusalem will be allowed to stay for the time being, Mayor Nir Barkat announced Sunday. Barkat delayed the execution of an order to seal off the top stories of the building.

Police had gathered earlier in the day and prepared to carry out the order.

The reprieve came after the Jewish organization Ateret Cohanim threatened that if city officials sealed Beit Yehonatan, Ateret Cohanim would seek to enforce an order to expel Arab squatters from a Yemenite synagogue in the same neighborhood. The order in question is civil, not municipal, meaning Jerusalem city leaders would have had little chance to block it.

On Sunday afternoon the group reached a compromise with city officials, promising to allow the squatters to remain in the Ohel Shalom synagogue if Jewish families may remain in Beit Yehonatan.

The families are expected to be allowed to remain until the implementation of neighborhood-wide program to deal with widespread illegal construction in the area. The program will legalize an estimated 90% or more of buildings that currently lack permits, and will allow buildings to reach a height of four stories instead of the current two.

Buildings six stories tall or higher will be required to remove their top floors under the new plan. Beit Yehonatan will be among 20 buildings that must lose their top stories in order to comply with the rules.

The Shiloach neighborhood, located next to Jerusalem's Old City, was once a Jewish neighborhood populated largely by Yemenite immigrants. However, Jews were forced from that part of the city by Arab pogroms, and in 1948 Jordan seized control of the neighborhood and allowed Arab families to take over the remaining Jewish homes.

Shiloach came under Israeli control again when Jerusalem was reunited in the Six Day War of 1967. Since then many Jewish families have moved back in to the area, including the residents of Beit Yehonatan.

After Jews moved in to Beit Yehonatan city officials announced plans to force the closure of the top four stories of the building, claiming that the structure violated building code. Jews protested and accused the city of discrimination, pointing out that hundreds of Arab structures were left untouched despite similar violations of code.

The struggle appears to have ended for now, with Sunday's compromise.