Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Sheikh Jarrah-Shimon HaTzadik Neighborhood

From The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 27/7/09, by Nadav Shragai*:

  • The Sheikh Jarrah-Mt. Scopus area - the focus of a dispute between the Obama administration and Israel over building housing units in the Shepherd Hotel compound - has been a mixed Jewish-Arab area for many years. The Jewish population is currently centered in three places: around the tomb of Shimon HaTzadik (a fourth century BCE high priest), the Israeli government compound in Sheikh Jarrah, and Hadassah Hospital-Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus.
  • During Israel's War of Independence in 1948, 78 doctors, nurses and other Jews were murdered on their way to Hadassah Hospital when their convoy was attacked by Arabs as it passed through Sheikh Jarrah. Mt. Scopus was cut off from western Jerusalem and remained a demilitarized Israeli enclave under UN aegis until it was returned to Israel in 1967. The area discussed here has for decades been a vital corridor to Mt. Scopus.
  • To ensure the continued unity of Jerusalem and to prevent Mt. Scopus from being cut off again, a chain of Israeli neighborhoods were built to link western Jerusalem with Mt. Scopus, and Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital were repaired and enlarged. Today both institutions serve hundreds of thousands of Jewish and Arab residents of the city.
  • Many observers incorrectly assume that Jerusalem is comprised of two ethnically homogenous halves: Jewish western Jerusalem and Arab eastern Jerusalem. Yet in some areas such as Sheikh Jarrah-Shimon HaTzadik, Jerusalem is a mosaic of peoples who are mixed and cannot be separated or divided according to the old 1949 armistice line.
  • In the eastern part of Jerusalem, i.e., north, south and east of the city's 1967 borders, there are today some 200,000 Jews and 270,000 Arabs living in intertwined neighborhoods. In short, as certain parts of eastern Jerusalem have become ethnically diverse, it has become impossible to characterize it as a wholly Palestinian area that can easily be split off from the rest of Jerusalem.
  • Private Jewish groups are operating in Sheikh Jarrah seeking to regain possession of property once held by Jews, and to purchase new property. Their objective is to facilitate private Jewish residence in the area in addition to the presence of Israeli governmental institutions. The main points of such activity include the Shepherd Hotel compound, the Mufti's Vineyard, the building of the el-Ma'amuniya school, the Shimon HaTzadik compound, and the Nahlat Shimon neighborhood. In the meantime, foreign investors from Arab states, particularly in the Persian Gulf, are actively seeking to purchase Jerusalem properties on behalf of Palestinian interests.

*Nadav Shragai is the author of Jerusalem: The Dangers of Division - An Alternative to Separation from the Arab Neighborhoods (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2008); At the Crossroads, the Story of the Tomb of Rachel (Jerusalem Studies, 2005); and The Mount of Contention, the Struggle for the Temple Mount, Jews and Muslims, Religion and Politics since 1967 (Keter, 1995).

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