On Pollard's 7,998th Day in Prison, "His" Jerusalem Building Okayed

Hillel Fendel - IsraelNationalNews - Arutz7 - October 16, 2007

(IsraelNN.com) Beit Yehonatan, a building named for Jonathan Pollard in the eastern Jerusalem "Yemenite Village" neighborhood, has passed the first stage of a two-stage approval process.

The Jerusalem Municipal Zoning Board convened Monday for a stormy meeting, in which it was finally decided to recommend that the "five-floor building" - the building is actually six stories tall, with a synagogue and kollel on top - be approved.

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, the British evacuated the last 30 families from the neighborhood, following a long period of Arab riots, pogroms and looting. "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 moved into two buildings, one named Beit Dvash and another later named Beit Yehonatan. Two city officials then took it upon themselves to keep the area Jew-free, despite the area's rich Jewish past; when attempts to evict the tenants failed, they were charged with illegal use of the property.

"The authorities couldn't find the owners," Lurie told Arutz-7, "and so they decided to charge the tenants instead. This, despite the fact that there are dozens of similar cases ready to be filed against Arabs in the area, but which are purposely left unopened."

Now, with the city's decision to recommend that the Regional Zoning Board issue a final decision to approve the buildings, the tenants are hopeful they will be left alone, free to take part in the historic process of making all of Jerusalem Jewish once again.

The Name "Beit Yehonatan"

The story behind the building's name occurred during the tense months preceding the move, when the Arab builder appeared to be reneging on his word to sell - even though he had already received huge sums of money. Ateret Cohanim chairman Mati Dan was scouting out the building from afar, together with Esther Pollard, wife of imprisoned Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard. Dan said to her, "If we ever get to move in to this building, we will name it for your husband."

And so it happened. Now, says Lurie, "just as we have merited the first stage of the redemption of buildings in the Yemenite Village, so too we pray that we see the redemption of Jonathan Pollard from prison."

The occasion and prayer come at a dramatic time for Pollard, who tomorrow will mark his 8,000th day in US prison. He was convicted of precisely one count of passing classified information to an ally - Israel - and he was sentenced to life in prison, in blatant violation of his plea bargain agreement.

Pollard, nearly 22 years in prison under the most difficult of conditions, has been the subject of many public campaigns in Israel and the United States, but to no avail. In response to the wife of his former handler, current Cabinet Minister Rafi Eitan, who once said that the Israeli government has always wanted Pollard out of prison, Esther Pollard said at the time, "Not true. It's inconceivable that if an Israeli government wants something, with all the brilliant minds there, that it cannot achieve it."

In another Pollard-Jerusalem connection, Lurie said, "There is no shortage of what can and will be done to build up the areas in and around the basin of the Old City. With Olmert agreeing to place Jerusalem on the negotiating table, the Jewish world must wake up and see how much there is to be done here - just like it must wake up to Jonathan Pollard already and do what is necessary to free him."

Living in Beit Yehonatan

Eight families currently live in Beit Yehonatan, and another one in nearby Beit Dvash. They are protected with 24-hour-a-day security guards stationed in the building - "just as are the other residents of the country," Lurie emphasizes, "though in our case, the government has decided to station the guards in an individual building." When the residents have no minyan - ten-man quorum required for prayers - they walk 12 minutes to nearby Ir David (City of David).

An Israeli court ruled some years ago against an Arab who wished to purchase a home in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, because "there is nothing wrong with having separate neighborhoods for separate groups - Arab neighborhoods for Arabs, Jewish neighborhoods for Jews." Asked if her residence in eastern Jerusalem means she doesn't accept this ruling, one resident of Beit Yehonatan told Arutz-7, "First of all, this ruling may still be applicable in the Jewish Quarter, but in the rest of Israel, Arabs are buying freely and moving into Jewish neighborhoods and towns - such as in Lod, French Hill in Jerusalem, and many other places. Secondly, in our case, much of the land here was purchased over 100 years ago by Jews, and is still owned by them. Recently, an elderly woman came here who lived here until she was about 6, and she remembers that her father once took her back for a visit when she was 11 years old. It was very moving to see her return for her first visit since then... In addition, Beit Dvash is next to the old synagogue of the neighborhood; four Arab families currently live there, but they know that it's ours. We were once able to see the distinctive domes of the building, but they have since covered them up. Now a court order has been issued preventing them from making changes."

The Yemenite Village is just one of several initiatives to rebuild old Jewish neighborhoods in Israel's capital. Ateret Cohanim is also behind the Maaleh HaZeitim project; 51 families already live there, between the Temple Mount and the Shomron/Judea Police station, and a similar number of Stage 2 apartments are being sold. Stage 3 will get underway on its own once the police station is relocated to an area near Maaleh Adumim.

In addition, Jewish families reside in the Shimon HaTzaddik neighborhood (just to the east of Route 1 connecting the Old City with northern Jerusalem); Beit Orot , the first living Jewish presence in 2,000 years on the Mt. of Olives; Hoshen, also on Mt. of Olives; and the largest concentration of families - the 40 families of Ir David. Ateret Cohanim is also behind the six families living in Kidmat Tzion (east of Ir David), and is awaiting an archaeological excavation in the northern part of the Old City, in preparation for a 21-unit project near Flowers Gate