As you walk north out of the Old City of Jerusalem through the Damascus Gate on Route 1, you see a massive tourist hotel development area on the right side of the road, and the ultra-Orthodox Meah Shearim area on the left side.
A little further up the road you see the entrance to Sheikh Jarrah. After that you come to the central headquarters of the Israel border police, and finally the prestigious French Hill neighborhood and the Hebrew University. The whole walk takes only about an hour, covering just over 4 kilometers. Everything is very close.
People with diametrically opposing world views and even intense mutual hatred, live a stone’s throw from each other. The Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood is located in an overlapping area, bordering Arab-populated East Jerusalem and Jewish-populated West Jerusalem. The neighborhood is rather well-to-do with different international consulates as well as the famous American Colony hotel.
The current dispute over the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood has a complicated history. As I sat down to write this explanation, a news report came up on the television about a terrorist car plowing into a group of policemen in the neighborhood, wounding 6.
The story starts all the way back in 1890, during the Turkish Ottoman rule. A group of Jews bought some property to build a neighborhood around the site of the grave of “Shimon the Righteous”, high priest from the Second Temple period.
This area was next to the Arab neighborhood named after Sheikh Jarrah, personal doctor of Salah A-din from the 12th century. The two neighboring communities lived in relative, albeit uneasy, harmony until the war of Independence in 1948.
Then the Jewish families fled, and Jordan took over the area from the British. Jordan recognized the Jewish ownership of the homes, yet moved Palestinian refugees into the houses. In 1967 during the Six-Day War, Israel recaptured the area.
Oversight of the property was given to two committees, one for Sephardic Jews and one for Ashkenazi Jews, yet the Palestinians living in the homes were given special privileges as long term renters with rights to continue living there.
Over time the residents refused to recognize Jewish ownership and thus refused to pay rent. In 2001, the conflict over the area grew as other Jews wanted to develop the properties. Palestinian groups and Israeli leftist activists began to hold protest demonstrations in the neighborhood.
The Israeli Supreme Court tried to delay a decision, but ultimately had to recognize the Jewish legal right of ownership. This brought right wing extremist groups into the area, demanding to remove the Palestinian residents.
It should be noted that the houses currently in question number only 13, with the total number in controversy since 2001 being less than 60. The recent violent confrontations between left and right-wing protestors in these disputed neighborhood erupted right before the outbreak of the missile attacks, and were part of the incitement leading up to the war.
While I am a strong believer in the biblical, historical and moral right for Jews to live anywhere in the land of Israel, it doesn’t seem to me personally that there is enough practical advantage to evict the families who have been living there for 70 years. It might be the better part of wisdom to search for a compromise in this particular situation.
On a personal note, when we arrived in Israel in the early 90s, my own family including our young children, lived within easy walking distance of Sheikh Jarrah.
Please join us in praying for wisdom for the judges and the government in this matter, and in praying for the hearts of Jews and Arabs alike, in this land.