Sheikh Jarrah and its problems are only one part of the fabric of East Jerusalem, an immense area that was annexed to the municipal domain of Jerusalem in 1967. The annexation of the Eastern part of the city to Israel has brought long years of house demolitions, inequality in planning and the allocation of resources, severe violation of political and personal rights of the inhabitants and so on. The organization “Ir Amim” and other organizations publish a lot of information about East Jerusalem, and we recommend to everyone to continue reading beyond the text here.
But Sheikh Jarrah belongs to a more local issue inside East Jerusalem, a particularly hard and intensive issue: The take over by the government and the settlers of “the Holy Basin”. The Holy Basin is the area that surrounds the Old City from the north, east and south and includes Palestinian neighborhoods like Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, Ras Al-Amud, Abu Tor, A-Tur and Jabel Mukaber as well as many Holy Sites.
In an attempt to strengthen Israeli sovereignty in the Holy Basin, in order to prevent the handing over of the Old City to a future Palestinian State and to prevent any chance of a political arrangement, rightwing organizations and activists started a process of changing the face of the area, a process that can be called “Judaization”. Their hope is to establish a “chain” of Israeli sites and settlements around the Old City, in the area that is seen by the international community as heart of the capital of a future Palestinian state. To achieve this, the rightwing activists use their connections to municipal and state institutions, sue the courts for property rights and sometimes also resort to threats, falsifications and violence in order to expel Palestinians and let Jews settle in the area. The inhabitants of these neighborhoods are, as in all East Jerusalem, permanent residents (and not full citizens) of Israel, but because of the growing interest of the Right to take over their neighborhoods they are the primary target of attempts of expulsion and different kinds of harassment on the part of the government and the settlers.
On the use of archaeology as a means to take over sites and neighborhoods, like the Bustan neighborhood on whose ruins the Jerusalem municipality plans to build the archaeological park “the King’s Garden”, its recommended to read the website of “Emek Shaveh”, an organization of archaeologists who oppose the settlers’ activities. In Sheikh Jarrah, the settlers use two different methods to expel the Palestinians and establish settlements: the Law and Administrative Matters Law, which enables Jews to make claims on property that they owned in East Jerusalem before 1948 and the “Absentees’ Property Law”, which allows the expropriation of Palestinians no longer living in Jerusalem.
As of now, the settlers’ efforts are concentrated on three different areas in Sheikh Jarrah:
The Al-Ja’ouni Grove on which the Jordanian government built in 1956 houses for Palestinian refugees; the disputed Mufti’s Grove and the Shepherd’s Hotel which was expropriated by means of the Absentee Property Law and the “Um-Haroun” compound, which before 1948 was the site of the Sephardic Jewish “Nachlat Shimon and Nahlat Yitzhaq” neighbourhood, and for the past sixty years has been inhabited by Palestinian refugees. This map shows the three areas of settlement.
The link between the Sheikh Jarrah settlements and the whole issue of judaization of the Holy Basin is not only political, but also personal. Irwin Moskowitz, the owner of the settlement in the Shepherd’s Hotel, is also the initiator of the settlement at Ras Al-Amud. Arye King, who promotes the settlement at “Nachlat Shimon”, is also one of the settlers’ leaders in Silwan. These people and others close to them have already declared in the past that their aims go beyond acquiring one or another piece of land or house, but that they want to prevent by all means the establishment of a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem.
Therefore, the issue of the Palestinians who live in Sheikh Jarrah, in Silwan and in other parts of the Holy Basin is a personal as well as a national one. While they are fighting for their right to remain in their houses and to live their lives, they also stand at the forefront of the struggle against the erasing of the Palestinian identity of East Jerusalem and against the settlers’ efforts to destroy every possibility for a political arrangement in Jerusalem.