After Sunday’s service, Yuval, our Israeli guide, took us on a bus ride to Sheik Jarrah (named for a 13thc religious leader during the time of Saladin). We passed his tomb and the mosque from which we hear the call of the muezzin from the minaret several times a day.
Near the mosque is the small tomb of a revered Jewish sage, Shimon the Righteous. After the 1948 war, this part of Jerusalem fell under the control of Jordan and most Jewish residents left. In 2009, a right-wing settler organization found the original deeds to houses owned by three of these families. It forcibly evicted the Palestinian residents and moved young settlers into the houses, adjacent to the tomb of the sage. The Israeli Supreme Court ruled that since the deeds were valid the organization could claim contemporary ownership. According to Yuval, Palestinian activists elsewhere in Israel initially welcomed this decision, assuming it would give refugees from the wars in 1948 and 1967 the right to return to properties for which they still held the deeds (and in many cases, the keys). Unfortunately, as Yuval put it, there is no symmetry in the law as applied to Israelis and Palestinians.
For the most part, the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood remains predominantly Muslim. For several years after 2009, pro-peace Israelis and Palestinians demonstrated near the settler houses, but Israeli police were always quick to turn them back or arrest the more persistent among them. Eventually this “Sheik Jarrah Solidarity” movement dwindled, but it set a precedent for collaborative protests in later settler disputes. Today the police keep a watchful eye on the sage’s tomb and the three settler houses from across the Nablus Road. But further settler incursions in this area appear to have abated.