I felt two very dear people were missing in last week’s press conference where Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat presented his King Garden’s plan: The city’s Legal Advisor, Yossi Havilio, and State Prosecutor Moshe Lador.
They were supposed to be there to praise the plan, or at least show moral support with their very presence. After all, one of the plan’s most prominent aims is to impose law and order in the wild construction market of east Jerusalem, and both of them thus far appeared to be zealous supporters of this challenge. Yet they did not show up.
Havilio, as we know, is the uncompromising fighter against Beit Yehonatan in Kfar HaShiloah. His office has been turned into a war room against the mayor’s aspirations to legalize the building. Havilio did not agree to any compromise on the matter, even when the overall regularization of construction in the area – both Jewish and Arab – was discussed.
Meretz’s representative in City Council actually endorsed the compromise, yet Havilio objected on behalf of the law.
At a certain point, Lador too joined the campaign. Some very harsh warning letters were sent from Lador’s office on Salah al-Din Street to Barkat. The Mayor was asked to immediately seal Beit Yehonatan. “Any further delay constitutes grave damage to the values of the rule of law,” Lador reprimanded Barkat recently.
Sudden patienceKing’s Garden, an ancient site that in the past was declared a green zone, includes 44 illegal structures. Their status is identical to that of Beit Yehonatan. Final demolition orders were issued against all of them.
The thing is, the illegal homes in King’s Garden house Arabs, and therefore their life expectancy is much greater. Europe and America are granting them an international umbrella against bulldozers, Havilio does not charge at them, and Lador does not send any letters.
When the prime minister called Barkat last week and ordered him to forget about the plans of moving the illegal structures to the edges of the Garden, we did not hear even a hint of protest from Lador or Havilio. Both of them suddenly became very patient. The homes are standing there for 20 years now, so they might as well stay there for another 20 years. What’s the big deal?
The moral of the story is this: Construction laws are the most relative thing in Jerusalem. If you are a Jew living in Kfar HaShiloah, the rule of law will embitter your life in case you build something without a permit. Yet if you’re a Palestinian, you can build a whole illegal neighborhood in a national garden and comfortably grow older there. The prime minister will grant you immunity for diplomatic reasons, while legal advisors will grow silent.
And by the way, Beit Yehonatan was not built by Jews. They merely purchased it for its full value from an Arab construction offender. In order to save the building, they must not quickly sell it back to the Arab, or move King’s Garden in the middle of the night.