Shimon HaTzadik-the Just is the name of a Jewish-Israeli neighborhood, established around the Tomb of Simeon the Just, after whom it was named, in what was part of Jerusalem that was illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967. The neighborhood was established by Jews in 1890 who were forced to abandon it during the 1948-49 Israel War for Independence. At present the Jews’ desire to return to the neighborhood has become a political battle ground.
In the early 2000s, after a lengthy legal battle, Jewish residents settled in the area located in the vicinity of the Arab neighborhood Sheikh Jarrah. And that is when the political battle began.
What does Sheikh Jarrah = Shimon Ha’Tzadik Neighborhood Stand For?
Shimon HaTzadik or Simeon the Just was a Jewish High Priest during the Second Jewish Temple period in Jerusalem, described as one of the last members of the Great Assembly. This assembly of 120 scribes, sages, and prophets, operated during the period from the end of the biblical prophets, starting around 516 BCE, to the early Hellenistic period which began with Alexander’s conquests of 333-332 BCE. Sometimes, the Great Assembly is simply designated as “Ezra and his court of law” (Beit Din), its designation was to engage in legislative proceedings, making laws and fixing the ritual observances. The state of Israel’s Knesset, the Parliament, can be seen as the Great Assembly modern continuation, comprising 120 members of Knesset (MK).
In 1876 the Sephardic Community Council trust and the Ashkenazi Knesset Yisrael trust (General Council of the Congregation of Israel) purchased Shimon HaTzadik tomb and its 17 dunam (4.2 acres) surroundings, near the Cave of the Minor Sanhedrin, the supreme religious body in the Land of Israel during the time of the Holy Temples. The burial contains 26 burial niches, in which the 26 members of the Minor Sanhedrin are said to be buried.
In 1890 the 4.2 acres area was subdivided for the purpose of establishing a residential neighborhood and in 1890 this residential neighborhood was passed to the Sephardic Community Council. The Sephardi Jews community went ahead and built on the slope above the tomb six houses for people who suffered economic difficulties known as “בתי הקדש שמעון הצדיק” (Homes of Simon the Just), translated, “shelters for the poor and needy, widows and orphans.” Simultaneously, people started to build private houses in the area, and the rest was converted to Agricultural land and an olive tree harvest site.
In 1851, the cornerstone for the “shelters for the poor and needy, widows and orphans” homes was laid in the presence of the city’s rabbis, greats and dignitaries. Rabbi Shlomo Suzin collected donations in the cities of Gibraltar, Kaza-Blanka, Mazgan, Izomer and Mogador. He brought and handed over a total of 10,000 francs to the head of the committee. With this sum they began to build several houses.
During the early days of the 20th century one other neighborhood, named Nahalat Shimon, was built on land purchased and developed by Jewish bankers. Consequently, dozens of Jewish families established their homes on this land. Prior to the violent 1936-1939 Arab revolt in the British Mandate for Palestine, hundreds of Jews lived there.
At that time it was strictly a Jewish-speaking neighborhood.
Mandate for Palestine British Authorities Outfoxed the Jews
Prior and during the Israel War for Independence, 1948-1949, the residents of Shimon Hatzadik neighborhood had suffered attacks from Sheikh Jarrah’s Arab residents, an Arab neighborhood named after Hussam al-Din al-Jarrahi, the personal physician of Saladin vanquisher of the Crusaders * (*Al-Nasir Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, better known as Saladin, was a Sunni-Muslim Kurd who became the first sultan of both Egypt and Syria, and founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. Saladin led the Muslim military campaign against the Crusader states in the Levant). Out of concern for their lives, on February 11, 1948, the British authorities ordered the residents of the “Shimon HaTzadik” and “Nahalat Shimon” neighborhoods to leave their homes.
During the last week of April 1948 Passover holiday, Palmach troops (the elite fighting force of the Haganah, the underground army of the Yishuv [Jewish community] in the land of Israel during the period of the British Mandate for Palestine) held strongly to the territory of Sheikh Jarrah and the Jewish neighborhoods.
With the promise to update the Palmach when they finished transferring their forces through what was claimed to be a needed transport passage, the British forced the Jewish fighters to retreat from the area. However, when the British forces finally left, they did what they always did, they gave the Arabs preference over the Jews. They only updated the Arabs who rushed to occupy the neighborhood and with Israel losing this part of Jerusalem to the Arabs when the ceasefire was signed, Jordan was left to illegally occupy and control the heretofore Jewish neighborhood.
In 1954, the Jordanian Commissioner for Enemy Property, in cooperation with UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency), allowed Arab refugees, who fled the land during the Israel war for independence and who were not permitted to return to their homes in what was already the state of Israel, to settle in the Shimon HaTzadik and Sheikh Jarrah area and build a two rooms dwelling units, each based on a 33-year lease agreement.
Shimon Ha’Tzadik and Sheikh Jarrah Neighborhood Six-Day War Outcome
During the June 1967 Six Day War, the Israeli military regained the area which was illegally occupied by Jordan and the neighborhood became part of the municipal area of the city of Jerusalem.
With Israel’s June 67 War victory, Jewish assets that were illegally held by the Jordanian authorities were transferred to Israel.
Since Jordan did not expropriate the said land, rather appointed the “General administrator of the UN” in charge of it, in September 1972, the Israeli Administrator General returned the rightful ownership of the land to the Sephardic Community Committee in Jerusalem and the Knesset of Israel.
In 1982, the Sephardic Community Committee in Jerusalem and the Knesset of Israel filed a lawsuit to realize legal ownership over the 17 apartments built in the area. The parties reached an interim agreement, with force of a judgment, according to which the Arab residents recognize the Jewish ownership of the place while the tenants will be granted “assisted living” status, according to which they have to pay rent to the committees and adhere to the property’s maintenance and renovation agreement.
But the residents of the dwellings opposed the agreement, strongly claiming that it was signed without their consent, behind their backs and them being unaware of it.
A decade later, in 1993, the two committees filed an eviction lawsuit, claiming that the residents lost their “Assisted living” status because they simply didn’t pay rent, and also that some didn’t, as agreed, maintain the properties properly or made changes to the structures without a permit.
More than a decade later, in 1997, following years of lawsuits filed for rent payment and eviction, an Arab named Suleiman Al-Hijazi filed a challenge to part of the building’s Jewish ownership claim, which the court rejected in 2002. Al-Hijazi did not give up; he appealed to the Israel Supreme Court and his appeal was rejected and dismissed. Simultaneously, other Arab residents attempted to repeal the 1982 agreement but were rejected in court, which ruled that the agreement was binding.
As a result, in 1998 the Israeli police evacuated the Arab tenants from the Shimon HaTzadik neighborhood, and Jewish tenants settled there; the return of the Jews to their legally owned property provoked a worldwide protest.
However, the ongoing dispute surrounding the Sheikh Jarrah area goes back to the first years of people -Jews and Arabs – settling outside of Jerusalem’s Old City walls, starting in the 19th century. And this ongoing property ownership disagreement has multiple contributory factors all of which are entrenched in the conflict the Arabs have had with the Jews who established the state of Israel, the third Jewish commonwealth in the land, in their promised land where they have been the only sovereigns.
And this ongoing Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood’s real estate and housing property rights dispute collates the most prominent and incendiary mix of ingredients.
Sheikh Jarrah, a Crying Rallying Ground
The question is, why has Sheikh Jarrah become a crying rallying ground for Arabs and their supporters in Israel and echoing around the world?
Al-Jarrahi’s grave is located in the neighborhood, where a Sufi shrine was erected to him. During the latter third part of the 19th century, the first private Arab houses began to be built in the vicinity of the shrine when in 1865, Rabah al-Husseini, a splice of the prominent Husseini family, built one of the first dwellings in what was to become the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
While this particular first building is now the location of the American Colony Hotel, additional members of the Husseini family followed him and built their homes in the area, which made the neighborhood particularly associated with the Husseinis. It is worth noting that other Arab notables, to mention the Nashashibi family, known to be the Husseinis’ rival, also moved to Sheikh Jarrah’s expanding neighborhood.
Conterminously to the Husseini’s area, the Shimon HaTzadik and Nahalat Shimon Jewish neighborhoods were growing. And the Jewish Shimon HaTzadik and the Muslim Hussam al-Din al-Jarrahi revered gravesites served as settling ground magnets.
In contrast to Sheikh Jarrah’s notable residents, Shimon HaTzadik and Nahalat Shimon residents were characterized by poverty, difficult conditions and overcrowding.
In the 1948 Israel War for Independence as the Transjordanian Arab Legion British-officered advanced through Jerusalem, to protect the Nahalat Shimon and Shimon HaTzadik neighborhoods’ Jewish residents the Hagana called on them to leave their homes for refuge on safer ground. Remaining under Jordanian control the Shimon HaTzadik and Nahalat Shimon areas lay abandoned by their Jewish owners until Israel regained the area during the Six Day War of 1967.
The Jewish organizations that originally purchased the area’s land began proceedings to return ownership of their real estate to them. In 1972, their claims were accepted, the ownership of the areas was returned to them, as the lawful owners, and the property was recorded in Israel’s Land Registry.
In the meantime, Arab families continued occupying the Jewish owners’ property with no tenancy responsibilities. In 1982, the two Jewish trusts sought to remove 23 Arab families from the trusts’ rightful property. The Arab families remained residents in the Shimon HaTzadik area. Negotiations took place and an agreement was finally reached: the Arab families would recognize the ownership of the trusts, and in return they received a protected tenant status. The court afforded the agreement’s status ruling and on this basis, the trusts’ petition to remove the Arab tenants from their property was rejected. Additionally, as part of the agreement, the residing families were afforded long-term rental rights, and they undertook to pay rent to the owners and to maintain the apartments.
So far the Jews have been progressively straightening their property rights that were simply stolen from them due to a war in which they were the innocent victims.
But the Arabs did not adhere to the newly drafted property rental agreement. No rent was paid and according to the owners renovations and alterations to the buildings were made by the tenants without a required permit. More so, as the trusts claimed, the tenants had damaged and sought to destroy the old Jewish neighborhood structures, including a synagogue building.
New Legal Proceeding
In 1993, three decades after Israel regained control of its own sovereign territory, the trust-owners initiated further legal proceedings seeking to have the tenants evicted due to rent nonpayment. But the court stretched out the case for eight more years. In 2001, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court accepted the demand of the trusts: that failure to pay rent is a cause for legal eviction.
This court’s ruling produced a series of subsequent appeal lawsuits that sought to ensure the expulsion of the non-rent-paying residents. Many have become entangled in the appeals process as well.
Subsequently, the original owners of the property, the two Jewish trusts, sold their properties to the Nahalat Shimon International organization. In 2008, the organization presented a plan to remove the non-paying rent families, of some 500 people, and also a plan to build an additional 200 housing units in the area of the Jewish neighborhoods.
Only four Arab families were evicted; eviction notices have been issued to other dwellers, but have not been executed. Once all legal appeal avenues have been exhausted, an additional 13 households, numbering some 300 people, face the prospect of eviction.
In recent days the case’s prominence has returned to the headlines because the Supreme Court was about to rule on the three families’ appeal petitions. In the event of the Supreme Court dismissing this appeal, no further legal avenues will be available to them and the eviction decree will ensue.
As for the Arabs who, in 1964, changed their name to be called “Palestinians” and their supporters, the Sheikh Jarrah matter has become part and parcel of their 1948 and 1967 war gripe; they regard the matter emblematic of what they regard as the built-in injustice arrangements put in place by Israel.
Israel Legal and Administrative Matters Law
In 1970 Israel passed the Legal and Administrative Matters Law that allows for Jewish-Israeli property owners who owned properties that in 1948-9 were transferred to Jordanian control to claim them back from the Israeli Administrator-General. Property that was used and abandoned by Arabas in the 1948-9 war was transferred in its entirety to the Abandoned-Absentee Property’s Custodian, in line with the 1950 Abandoned-Absentee Property Law.
On the basis of the properties’ value of November 29, 1947, an amendment to the law was made allowing Arab-Israeli citizens and residents of what was known as ‘east’ Jerusalem that was controlled by Jordan under illegal occupation, to claim monetary compensation for properties they used and were transferred to the Custodian. No legal path for such restitution of properties exists.
In the meantime, the Jewish efforts to reclaim property left abandoned in then ‘east’ Jerusalem continued. Backers of the Jewish efforts maintain that they are following existing legal means to maintain their right for injustice, namely, the refusal of the protected tenants to pay rent, as required by law. They claim it is a simple property owners vs tenants’ case undertake without reference to any other situation or larger political context.
But let us put aside the legal niceties. The harsher, less diplomatic reality is the reason that many Israelis feel the pain of morality in the ongoing Sheikh Jarrah event.
The legal discussions regarding property restitution lost in the course of the long conflict between Jews and Arabs mostly arises where Israel has control.
The Other Side of the Property Loss Coin
In the cases where Arab countries that participated in Israel 1948-9 War for Independence had and still have jurisdiction, the matter of any claims to properties Jews lost when they were expelled from those countries is a closed subject, it is never on the legal chopping block.
Properties lost by Jews to Arab states fall under greater force of law. The states in question, all autocracies, are not interested in discussing the right and wrong of the Jews’ property loss issue. Though they have the ability to enforce this discussion, no such discussion ever takes place.
For instance, during the period of 1948-67, when Jordan illegally occupied ‘east’ Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, AKA West Bank, there was no available legal avenue to recompense Jews who lost their property as a result of Jordan expelling them from their homes.
According to an Israeli investigation carried out in 2019, the combined value of Jewish-owned property loss in the Arab world and Iran may reach $150 billion. However, these properties, owned by Jews who were expelled from Arab countries, starting in the 1948 war, such as Iraq and Egypt, remain beyond the legal reach of their rightful owners. No path for compensation was created or has become available.
Let us take an expelled Iraqi Jew seeking jurisprudence case to petition the Iraqi ethos. The Baghdad government would quickly claim the futility of any such effort to compensate an Iraqi Jew for the loss of his property, incurred during the 1951 expulsion of Iraq’s Jews.
For anyone who understands the Middle East ethos, the very idea of attempting to seek compensation is just absurd.
Balancing the Imbalance
Where Israel has control, the property matter is a discussion subject and offers a legal process path, though imperfect. As crazy as it sounds, the Shimon HaTzadik Arab tenants find it unfair or unjust that they are required to pay rent to the property’s owners. Should they pay rent, their resident’s rights will be protected by the law.
On the other side, the Arab Muslims’ automatic assumption of the absolute justice position translates into an automatic dismissal of any legal process for individuals associated with their enemy’s camp. This is the usually unstated harsh ethno-religious conflict’s accounting.
As to how the current round of Sheikh Jarrah tenancy issues will play out, Israel, in control, constantly fearing violent Arab riots and a tense Jerusalem atmosphere, is always in a postponement mode. If the court dismisses the current petition Israel sees it as inflaming the flames further. The issue thus continues to await resolution that could not be clearer, pay rent or leave.
Speaking candidly, the ongoing Sheikh Jarrah dispute points to one fact: the city of Jerusalem is and remains the historic focal point of the unresolved battle between the Israeli-Jews, who after the Six Day War declared the city UNDIVIDED under Israel’s rule of sovereignty, and an assortment of Arab and non-Arab Muslim agitators who use any and all tactics available to them to halt and reverse the city’s declared unification.
In the meantime, the government of Turkey, quietly and behind the scenes, is working to grow its influence in Jerusalem. Through TIKA* development fund (*Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency, a government department subordinate to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, focusing on development cooperation, working in more than 150 countries) and the help of associated local Muslim Brotherhood bodies, Ankara is making inroads to strengthen and extend its own power, and the power of the Sunni political Islam it favors, in Jerusalem’s Arab communities. Funds and foundations financed by Qatar, Morocco, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are emulating Turkey’s trend. Additionally, wealthy Arabs are actively purchasing property and supporting construction for the Arabs in Jerusalem.
It Is a Tit-for-Tat Silent War
This tit-for-tat decades-long silent war is nowhere nearing conclusion. It is totally removed from the norms of legal and political sovereignty rules. It is always the exercise of the will that is the fluid and temporary balancing of power.
One could argue that the very same elements that 150 years ago led to the establishment of distinctive and rival communities around the tombs of Shimon Hatzadik and Hussam al-Din al-Jarrahi are active at present, and are today in conflict over Jerusalem.
The supporters and backers of the Sheikh Jarrah’s tenants, and the Jews who see it only rightful to rebuild Shimon HaTzadik and Nahalat Shimon neighborhoods will definitely continue their ongoing contest of will, even if, when and after the current tense period in the city has passed. This vicious circle will continue; one tense period will pass until the next erupts once again.
In All Fairness, When It Comes to Jews Fairness Disappears
Ezri Tubi of ‘Boomerang Fighting for Israel‘ has recently visited the Arab-populated Shimon HaTzadik, the burial place of ‘Simeon the Just’ and his students.
Ezri visited the Jewish family Yushuvayev who are trying to make their home in the Shimon HaTzadik neighborhood. The Yushuvays’ should be tough and rough people but they are not; it is not easy being a sheep among wolves.
On Friday, February 18, 2022 someone tried to burn the family’s dwelling with several Molotov cocktails that landed right in their children’s bedroom. Miraculously, the Yushuvayevs were not home that weekend.
The variety of human rights and peace-loving organizations did not pay a visit to the Jewish family under attack. When it comes to Jews, human rights and the claims to achieve peace vanish. These hypocrite organizations, with deceiving names, are the ones who incite the Arab masses to attack Jews and cause mayhem.
The intricacy of Sheikh Jarrah’s legal issues, as described above, should be solely within the domain of the facts, the law and the court. However, this is far from being the case. This dispute will not be solved. It is a tool used to incite the Arabs and is the fuel that causes the Arabs to constantly riot and increase the uncalled for tension between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem and beyond.
Until the Arabs wipe out from their mind their desire to annihilate Israel, this small Jerusalem neighborhood simply mirrors the larger question; who will be the final sovereign in Jerusalem, perhaps even in all of Israel?