The entire subject — not just of the Shepherd Hotel — but of all of eastern Jerusalem is of great importance because of the issue being made, both by Palestinian Arabs and by their left-wing sympathizers, with regard to Jews living there.
There is, of course, the attempt to represent eastern Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian state. (Although, actually, if you watch the words of the Palestinian Arabs carefully, you will notice that frequently they refer to their right to “Jerusalem.” Make no mistake about it, in the end they want it all.)
And there is apparently even more going on beyond this: an attempt by the PA to gain control of a swath of land that runs from Ramallah, through eastern Jerusalem, to Beit Lehem (Bethlehem) and even beyond to Hevron. Jewish residence in eastern Jerusalem generates a stumbling block to this goal. Let us begin, then, at the beginning, with a definition of eastern Jerusalem. (While it is commonly alluded to as “East Jerusalem,” I decline to utilize this term, as it implies a separate entity that in reality does not exist.)
What eastern Jerusalem refers to is everything within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem that is beyond the Green Line: By the conclusion of Israel’s War of Independence (fought in 1948-49 when the Arab League attacked the new Jewish state), the city of Jerusalem had been divided for the first time in 3,000 years. Israel had gained control of the western, more modern, part of the city, while the eastern part of the city, including the Old City, fell into Jordanian hands, and for 19 years was rendered Judenrein. The temporary armistice line that separated the two parts of the city was the Green Line.
(For the record: While eastern Jerusalem is, obviously, more or less east of western Jerusalem, there are areas of Jerusalem beyond the Green Line that are north or south of western Jerusalem. The world still refers to these areas as “East Jerusalem.”)
In 1967, Israel took the eastern part of the city and reunited Jerusalem. Israeli civil law was extended to eastern Jerusalem, which was now under Israeli administration; full annexation was implemented in 1980, with passage by the Knesset of the Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel. At that time. the municipal borders were extended in anticipation of the development of new Jewish neighborhoods — and, indeed, neighborhoods such as Neve Yaakov and Pisgat Ze’ev were established.
There are presently 108 sq. kilometers within the city’s borders.
While eastern Jerusalem is represented as “Arab” Jerusalem — in good part because it had an exclusively Arab population when under Jordanian control — the reality is far more complicated.
This is, first, because of Jewish history — the ancient history of the Old City and more modern, pre-1948 Jewish history in the area.
And then because of the current population. Today eastern Jerusalem has some 450,000 residents, roughly half of whom are Jewish. (The area is larger than Tel Aviv and has a more substantial population.) Neighborhoods are checkerboard and cannot be divided with a line between Jewish and Arab; in some instances, Jews and Arabs live in the same neighborhoods.
In the news today, there is frequently reference to two neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem that are considered controversial: Sheikh Jarrah and Shimon HaTzaddik (Simon the Just). Often they are alluded to as if they are two names for the same area. In point of fact they are two adjacent areas. Last week, I visited both of these neighborhoods, when I accompanied a tour.
Beginning with a look at the Shimon HaTzaddik neighborhood: It is the site of the tomb of Shimon HaTzaddik — a high priest in the Temple, approximately 350 BCE, he is credited with convincing Alexander the Great not to destroy Jerusalem.
In the mid-1800s, when the Ottoman Empire controlled the region, Jews found it difficult to get permission to visit the tomb of Shimon HaTzaddik. The two chief rabbis of the Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities of Jerusalem cooperated in raising the necessary funds, and, in 1875, purchased the area that contained the tomb and some dunams surrounding it privately from its Arab owner.
Hundreds of Jews lived on that land until the British expelled them in 1948, saying they couldn’t protect the Jews from the Arabs.
In the 1960s, Jordan settled poor Arabs in Shimon HaTzaddik.
In the 1970s, the Israeli courts recognized the legality of the Jewish ownership of this neighborhood. Arabs living in the area, however, were awarded the status of “protected tenants.” That is, they could not be evicted.
There were, however, certain rules to abide by: The tenants were, for example, required to pay rent, and forbidden from expanding the building they lived in without permission.
The first evictions occurred in the late 1990s, when a group of Arab residents challenged the ownership of the buildings they were living in, and went to court to secure title. The court found that the papers that were presented were forged, and subsequently held that the Jewish community had the right to evict them.
In the years since, after long procedures, there have been other evictions approved by the courts because of failure by the Arab tenant to abide by the rules, so that protected status was forfeited. In each instance in which this occurs, the challenge must be brought to the courts separately.
When an Arab family is evicted, a Jewish family is permitted to move in. To date, there are 18 Jewish families living in Shimon HaTzaddik. The goal over time is to see many more Jews return to this area that had been Jewish.
This is an area, my friends, where there are protests because of the “grave injustice” of poor Arabs being summarily driven from their homes to make way for Jews who usurp Arab property.
Or so they say, while playing fast and loose with the facts. Who cares about facts, when it’s possible to grab a good deal of media attention making Israel look bad? And rule of law? No need to respect that when it’s Israeli law.
But let’s look again at this situation, before moving on: Jews were driven off of land that was Jewishly owned, and Arabs moved into their homes when Jordan controlled the area. When Israel gained control, the Arabs were protected legally, given a special tenancy status. Seems to me both eminently humane and decent. Should the tenants fail to abide by the rules — in some instances not paying rent for years, for example — petitions to have them removed from the property require a court procedure.
An important and little known fact: There are over 40,000 illegally built houses in eastern Jerusalem. Arabs and their defenders will tell you they build illegally because they cannot get permits.
But there’s another side to this story. Very often they don’t seek permits because they don’t want to tacitly recognize Israeli sovereignty — who is Israel to say where they can build? — and they don’t want to pay taxes.
We’re talking about a fight for Jerusalem that involves facts on the ground. The Palestinian Authority fosters this illegal building.
Briefly, now, let us look at the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, which was established in the 1870s:
From its establishment, through the 1930s, it was sparsely populated, but became an upper-class area where some wealthy Arab families established themselves.
Today it is the site of several European consulates. It is also where a number of Israeli government offices, such as the police headquarters, are found, having been located here during the time of PM Menachem Begin. Three Jewish hotels are also in the neighborhood.
And, of course, it is the site of the Shepherd Hotel. The history of this hotel is so enormously convoluted that I will provide only a brief summary.
Of primary note is the fact that the building was constructed in the 1930s by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, who actually never lived there. Because of his collaboration with the Nazis — he was involved with an SS unit that murdered 90% of Yugoslavian Jewry — he fled from the British.
The building — which at one point was in the hands of al-Husseini’s secretary, George Antonius — then was utilized by the British as a military outpost; it was actually a Scottish regiment that was housed there.
After 1948, the Jordanians had use of the building. When Israel acquired the region in 1967, it took control of the property under the Absentee Property Law. Two Christian Arab brothers were permitted to take over the building with protected tenancy status. They ran it as a pilgrim hotel until 1982.
The building was then sold to a Swiss firm. What is not entirely clear at this point is whether the family of the Christian brothers (who were deceased by then) had been permitted to acquire the property outright and sold it, or whether the Israeli custodian of the property arranged the sale. What is clear is that the Israeli courts have ruled that the Husseini family has no claim to the property (legally, as I have been given to understand it, the fact that Hajj Amin al-Husseini had fled to the Nazis was a factor in this ruling).
In 1885, Irving Moskowitz legally bought the property. For a period of time, Israeli border police used it, while awaiting construction of a new building.
The property had been designated as residential, and zoned for 20 units. Moskowitz hired a lawyer to secure a change in the zoning so that 100 units might go up. But as this has proved to be difficult legally, the decision was made to go ahead with the 20 units, and municipal approval was received. Legal work to secure permission for additional units will continue.
The demolition of part of the building has now taken place, and hopefully construction will proceed.
I have already written about the ludicrous situation in which local Arabs are mourning the outrage of Israel destroying a piece of Arab heritage. Arab heritage: A building put up by an Arab Nazi collaborator. This is closer to the truth of their heritage than they usually like to admit, but anything to make trouble.
The Husseini family went to court again just days ago to try to stop the construction. Their claim (are you ready?) was that they still owned a piece of the driveway — they’re not even trying to claim the entire building. The court threw it out, saying that this issue had been dealt with already. But it’s unlikely we’ve heard the last from them.
An aside, before closing:
That Nazi collaborator and eager murderer of Jews, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, was a mentor to Yasser Arafat, founder of Fatah and for many years head of the PLO. Arafat addressed him as “uncle,” whether affectionately or because he really was his uncle is not certain. This tells us a great deal that the world would rather not know.