Sons of the Emir Sheikh Jarrah – a brief history of the neighborhood
The Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem would have been no more notable than any of the old areas in the city occupied since 1967, had it not been for the fact that it jumped to the forefront of global events at the beginning of May 2021, after its people, who number no more than 500, decided to confront the policy of expulsion sought by the occupying Israeli authority.
According to the book ‘The Galilee in the History of Jerusalem and the Galilee,’ Sheikh Jarrah, al-Quds neighbourhood, is named after emir and physician Hussam al-Din bin Sharaf al-Din Issa al-Jarrahi, who bore the title of Sheikh Jarrah.
In the same book, the writer Mujir al-Din al-Hanbali mentions that Sheikh Jarrah died in 598 AH and is buried in the ‘Surgical Corner’ currently located in the Jerusalem neighborhood, which has come to bear the name of Sheikh Jarrah.
The tomb of Sheikh Jarrah was built in the thirteenth century, after which the neighborhood was established, then taking the name of the Sheikh. It became a symbol for successive Arab generations around 700 years ago.
The current neighborhood was established in 1865 and became the residence of some of the most distinguished families of Jerusalem, such as the house of the Mufti Sheikh Amin al-Husseini, and the families of the Nashashibi, Jarallah, and Nusseibeh.
The Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood is located on the slopes of Mount Scopus to the north of the Old City of Jerusalem. Many of its residents are from Palestinian families who owned homes in Haifa, Jaffa and West Jerusalem. They were displaced during the Nakba in 1948.
But the story of the neighborhood begins decades earlier. Since 2001, the neighborhood has experienced a relentless influx of settlers, who have seized many homes and evicted their residents. The community constantly suffers from the terror and attacks of these settlers.
The importance of the neighborhood stems from its geographical location, and Israel has sought, since 1948, to occupy it, as it links East and West Jerusalem, and as an essential strategic monitoring point, where the Hebrew University is located on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem.
Israel was not able to occupy it until 1967, when it cut off the connection of the Jerusalem neighborhoods with each other and from the entire West Bank and surrounded it with settlement units, eighteen in all, in addition to intrusions into Old Jerusalem.
In 1956, Jordan settled Palestinian refugees in the neighborhood, in agreement with UNRWA, in exchange for the ownership of their homes after three years. The 1967 war prevented these homes from being registered in the Jordanian Land Registry books.
In 1997, the Palestinians of Sheikh Jarrah went to the Israeli courts, demanding the return of the waqf lands, but the petition was rejected. While the families appealed the decision, in 2010, the court granted the land to Jewish settlers coming from Georgia.
Although the people obtained from Turkey – once, as Ottomans, affiliated with Palestine – information that refutes the story of the settlers’ groups regarding the ownership of the land, the Central Occupation Court issued several decisions to evict the Jerusalemite families who live in the neighborhood and gave their residents until May 2, 2021, to implement the decision to replace them with the settlers. All appeals were rejected.
Even though more than four decades have passed since the case was first brought, the occupation courts did not discuss land ownership. Instead, they declared themselves satisfied with a document submitted by the settlement associations, even though it was proven that there was no mention of it in the Ottoman archives, through which they claimed the registration and ownership of the land in 1972.
The residents of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood have been waging a continuous battle for half a century to defend their existence, over which hung the constant threat of eviction.
It is a battle in the face of the settlement attack against them, while the occupation deals with the presence of Jerusalemites as an ‘evil’ that must be eliminated. The people raised their voices against their displacement, hoping that their cry would receive a global ear. As part of their efforts, they launched the “Save Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood” campaign on social media, which was at the core of the last intifada, to a mass of Palestinians responded in the West Bank, the 1948 lands and Gaza.
A member of the Defense Committee for the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, and one of the owners of the homes threatened with eviction, Jacob Abu Arafa, considers that the families’ struggle with the settlers is an integral part of the issue of Jerusalem and Palestine in general. He says: “What the people of Sheikh Jarrah suffer from is also suffered by the people of Silwan, the neighborhoods of Wadi Al-Rababa, Al-Bustan and Wadi Al-Joz, and what the occupation calls the Holy Basin area that surrounds the entire Old City of Jerusalem, and intends to seize it, implement special projects, settle settlers, and establish the Biblical Garden in Silwan, and the Silicon Valley project in Wadi Al-Joz”.
Abu Arafa explains his opinion of Israeli courts: “During our presence in these courts, we feel that the judges are settlers. They are fighting to Judaize Jerusalem more than the settlers’ lawyers. However, “we have a small glimpse of hope today – this is to go to the International Criminal Court and seriously think about this experience.”
The Israeli Supreme Court was scheduled to issue a final decision regarding the evacuation of four Palestinian families from the neighborhood in favor of settlers claiming ownership of the land at the height of the confrontation provoked by the attempt to seize the area, which extended to Al-Aqsa Mosque before the launch of a barrage of missiles and destructive Israeli air raids on Gaza. Still, the government decided to postpone this for a month, considering that the issuance of a ruling by the Supreme Court would add fuel to the fire of confrontation.
So far, twelve Palestinian families in the neighborhood have received eviction orders from the Israeli Magistrate’s Court and the District Court. During a visit to the community by European officials, residents of the Sheikh Jarrah demanded they take practical steps if the Israelis continued to violate the rights of the Palestinians.