Located on the slopes of Mount Scopus just north of the Old City, a-Sheikh Jarrah is mainly composed of Palestinian families who fled during the Nakba. Since 2001, there has been an influx of zealous Zionist settlers who have been responsible for forced evictions and terrorism in the neighbourhood.
The neighbourhood is named for the personal physician of Salah Edin, Sheikh Hussam Adin ِBin Sharafi, who was dubbed ‘Jarrah’, meaning surgeon. He was a Kurdish Muslim leader who became a hero for many Arabs 900 years ago, The modern neighbourhood was founded in 1865 and became a residential center for Jerusalem's elite. Some of the most prominent and affluent Palestinian families in Jerusalem kept homes in a-Sheikh Jarrah including the Nashashibi, Nuseibeh, and Jarallah families.
Refugees in a-Sheikh Jarrah
Following an agreement reached between Jordan and UNRWA in 1956, 28 Palestinian families who fled from areas of Jerusalem occupied by Israel during the Nakba were relocated to the neighbourhood. The refugees were moved into houses built by the Jordanian government on lands once leased by two small Jewish communities who had fled during the Nakba.1 2 According to the terms of the agreement, the Palestinian families received the newly built houses in exchange for renouncing their refugee status with UNRWA. According to the agreement, the Jordanian government was supposed to hand ownership titles to the Palestinian families after three years, but it failed to do so.3
Since the early 1970s a number of Zionist colonialist organisations have attempted to ‘reclaim property’ lost to Jewish families in 1948. That the dubiousness of historical Jewish ownership has been doubted by Israel’s own legal system is itself an indication of the subterfuge now used to colonise Jerusalem. This practice also highlights the nature of that very legal system - while Jews can reclaim property lost in 1948, based on dubious and often counterfeit documents, Palestinian refugees like those in a-Sheikh Jarrah are explicitly prohibited from reclaiming homes in Jaffa, Haifa or anywhere else.4
One notable example is theal-Kurd family who were forced to flee in 1948 during the ethnic cleansing of Haifa. Rifqa al-Kurd, known as Umm Nabil, was a teenager when her family was forcibly displaced from Haifa. She still vividly remembers her family house in Haifa, the smell of the sea, and hikes up the Carmel Mountain. The emotional scars caused by her displacement in 1948 are inscribed in her heart and in the collective memories of all the refugees living now in a-Sheikh Jarrah. They are indelible scars, constantly awakened with each threat of another displacement and with every attack by a Zionist settler. The al-Kurd family have experienced this threat on a daily basis since 2008, when a group of settler-colonialists actually took over the front section of the family home.
In February 2014, the planning and building committee of the occupation authority approved the plan of establishing a religious jewish school on 4 dunums of land between al-Hayat Medical Center and the al-Asmar gas station.5
Some areas of a-Sheikh Jarrah are among the most prosperous in Jerusalem, lined with hotels, restaurants, cafes, consulates, and NGOs. Juxtaposed to this are the areas that house the refugee families from the 1950s. There the streets have no sidewalks, the homes are in disrepair, and the conditions are squalid. The imminent threat of eviction combined with oppressive economic circumstances and regular violence by settlers who are protected and enabled by the occupation forces, put these marginalised communities on the frontline of the colonial onslaught.
The disparities have meant that community life in a-Sheikh Jarrah is different from other Jerusalem neighbourhoods: weak social ties and inter-familial solidarity characterize the neighbourhood. Nevertheless, a-Sheikh Jarrah is home to many cultural institutions including the College of Hind al-Husseini for Women, an arts college affiliated with Al-Quds University, and the Centre for Islamic Archaeology.
Colonial expansion and forced eviction
In 1970, three years after the rest of Jerusalem was occupied and illegally annexed by Israel in 1967, a law was passed allowing Jews to make claims on properties owned prior to 1948. For the Palestinian refugee families living in a-Sheikh Jarrah, no such law allows them the right to return to their homes they were forced from in 1948. While Jewish Zionists are legally allowed and financially supported to reclaim lands supposedly owned by Jews prior to the 1948 nakba, multitudes of Palestinian refugees are not afforded the same as guaranteed by International Humanitarian Law.
Since the first eviction in 2009, as many as 28 Palestinian families from a-Sheikh Jarrah who live in the eastern Karm al-Jaouni area have faced the threat of eviction. The most recent case which drew widespread attention was the case of Muhammad Shamasneh, his parents, wife and six children. After a long legal battle including a petition to the Supreme Court, Shamasneh will be forced to leave his home to make way for settlers in just over one year.
The Shepherd Hotel
The Shepherd Hotel and the land adjacent to it was originally the house of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin AlHusseini, who fought the British and Zionists in the early twentieth century. Al-Husseini was one of the most prominent Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem. He owned a house in the a-Sheikh Jarrah Neighbourhood in 1930, but he didn’t live in it because he was chased out by the British. After 30 years, a Palestinian company bought the house from the al-Husseini Family and established the “Shepherd Hotel” next to it.6 The Shepherd Hotel was expropriated by the Israeli authorities in 1967 under the ‘absentee property’ law. The title was transferred to an Israeli firm which sold it in 1985 to Irving Moskowitz, a Florida businessman and patron of Jewish colonization.7 8 In January 2011, parts of the building were demolished in order to construct 20 housing units for settlers. After the IOF demolished the Shepherd Hotel in order to establish a Jewish neighbourhood, a-Sheikh Jarrah is now facing an Israeli plan to confiscate more of their land in order to construct a parking lot for an alleged Jewish tomb.9
Karm el Mufti
The Karm el Mufti, meaning ‘grove’ in Arabic and named after its former owner - the Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin AlHusseini, was confiscated by the Israeli authorities and transferred to the Ateret Cohanim settler association. Although the land is currently zoned as a green area, which restricts construction, the association has initiated a process to allow for the building of a new settlement of 250 housing units on the premises.10
a-Sheikh Jarrah is a neighbourhood with two very disparate realities. Areas in ‘upper’ a-Sheikh Jarrah are well maintained and the infrastructure is functional. They have large hotels, consulates and the international headquarters of “the quartet”.
For the refugees living in the neighbourhood, life is not so simple. Many live in “disputed” homes - those to which settler organizations have made claims. This label bars the residents from making building “improvements” or changes. For many this means living with leaking roofs and pipes. While these residents suffer from evictions, violence and squalid conditions, Jewish organizations continue to lay stake to properties in the neighbourhood. In February 2014, plan 68858 was introduced which calls for the construction of a 13-story Jewish seminary in the neighbourhood.11 Hence, the community of a-Sheikh Jarrah is on the frontline of the Zionist initiative which is working fastidiously to make life for Palestinians in Jerusalem unbearable, with the final aim of creating a homogenous Jewish centre.
a-Sheikh Jarrah to the West: “Kubaniyat Im Haroun”
Kubaniyat Im Haroun, located in the western side of a-Sheikh Jarrah, constitutes a target for settlement similar to the eastern side of a-Sheikh Jarrah. The latter area is where 11 families, totaling 65 people, have been displaced since November 2008 in eviction proceedings led mainly by the Nahalat Shimon Company.12 The remaining 25 families live under a similar threat of displacement.
10 See Supra note 5.
11 POICA (2014) Israel unstoppable colonial activities in the occupied West Bank during the nine-month peace talks.
12 In 2008 and 2009, the Nahalat Shimon Company obtained any rights or obligations in the property from two Jewish organisations which succeeded in obtaining a ‘primary’ registration over the land from Israeli authorities in 1972.