City of David
City of DavidIsrael news photo: (file)

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor David Hadari says that if the authorities are so bent on razing the Jewish-populated Beit Yehonatan in the eastern Jerusalem "Yemenite Village" neighborhood, they must also demolish another illegal building: The European Union’s Beit Europa.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat appeared at a Knesset Law Committee session last week, and presented his housing plans for eastern Jerusalem. In the knowledge that there are dozens, and possibly hundreds, of illegally-built Arab buildings there, and that destroying all of them is not feasible, Barkat wishes to retroactively permit buildings there to reach four stories high, instead of the currently mandated two.

Most of the buildings in question are Arab-populated, but one of them is none other than Beit Europa, used by the European Union for various activities.

This raises a red flag for people like Hadari, who is concerned about the ongoing legal proceedings against the Jewish-owned Beit Yehonatan. The building stands six stories high, and because the authorities are unable to find the owner, they are seeking to evict the families.

Named for Jonathan Pollard, Beit Yehonatan stands in the area of the Yemenite Village, below and just to the southeast of the Temple Mount. The area was owned by and home to many Jewish families, mostly from Yemen, from the 1880's until 1938.  On Aug. 11, 1938, following a long period of Arab riots, pogroms and looting, the British evacuated the last 30 families from the neighborhood. "The British gave assurances that the 'Jewish refugees' would shortly return," according to Daniel Lurie, Executive Director of the Ateret Cohanim Jerusalem Settlement Foundation, "but of course, this never happened"- until April 2004, when several Jewish families moved back in.

They enjoyed about two years of peaceful residence, until legal proceedings against them began – on “charges” of living in a house with building irregularities. Hadari says that thousands of other Arabs are living in a similar status, and if the buildings are to be “kosherized,” then Beit Yehonatan must be as well.

“Illegal buildings must be destroyed, period,” Hadari says, “and we can’t overlook the illegality of Beit Europa just because we’re afraid of what the nations will say. The law must be fulfilled – though I am willing to make one exception: If Beit Yehonatan is legalized, then I am willing to accept the legalization of other buildings as well. One law for all. If all the buildings are deemed OK, then fine, but if not, then just as the others will have to be razed, then with great sorrow I would have to accept that Beit Yehonatan must be among them.”

The King's Garden

Another pressing matter for Mayor Barkat is the “clean-up” of the King’s Garden area, south of the Old City-Temple Mount area and just east of the City of David. Empty of homes up until 1970, it now houses some 90 buildings, all illegally built and most of them constructed over the past 20 years. Nearly 40 of them have been served with demolition orders, though only one or two have actually been razed.

Barkat, Hadari and others feel that the area is critical for Israel – both in terms of its past, with archaeological treasures of King David’s period waiting to be uncovered, and in terms of its zoning plans as a municipal park – and there is thus no need to allow law-breaking construction to impede its plans.