Simon's tomb as it was in 1900
Every week hundreds of Jews, sometimes including famous authors David Grossman and Amos Oz, protest the influx of Jewish 'settlers' into Sheikh Jarrah in 'Arab' east Jerusalem. But the area, also known as the Shimon Hatzaddik quarter, was once home to Jews, the first to be driven out in the 1948 war and their abandoned homes occupied by Arabs. Where is the justice in denying the original owners their rights, asks Elliott Green in The Jerusalem Post?
Lag Ba’omer pilgrimages to the site long competed with pilgrimages to Shimon bar Yohai’s tomb in the Galilee, as it was easier to reach for Jerusalem’s Jews, already a majority in the city by the mid- 19th century.
IN 1876 the Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities joined to purchase the site from the Arab owner, who had until then charged Jews a fee to approach the tomb. Beside enhancing the tomb, homes for poor Jews were built on part of the site, while most of the 18-dunam plot was left undeveloped.
Jerusalem Jews called it the Shimon Hatzaddik Quarter, and it appears by that name in Dan Bahat’s Jerusalem historical atlas. It was adjacent to Sheikh Jarrah but not part of it – contrary to common usage today by thepress and protesters.
In 1947, among the first shots of the Arab war against Jewish independence were those fired at a Jewish bus on the Mount Scopus road adjacent to Shimon Hatzaddik.
Throughout December 1947, Jewish traffic was attacked on the Mount Scopus road, as were Shimon Hatzaddik and nearby Jewish quarters, Nahalat Shimon, Siebenbergen Houses, etc. After hours of intense attack on December 29, Jewish families fled the neighborhood, though some remained for several more days.
The Palestine Post reported on January 4, 1948 that Jews were fleeing Shimon Hatzaddik and other areas. British troops helped induce the exodus by disarming Jews in the quarter. Hence, Jews were the first war refugees in the country who could not go home after the war (Jews also fled in December 1947 from parts of Jaffa and south Tel Aviv, but could go back after the war).
From 1949 to 1967, while Jews could not visit Jewish holy sites under Jordanian rule – in violation of the 1949 armistice accord – the deserted Jewish homes in Shimon Hatzaddik were inhabited by Arab families, while homes for Arabs were built on undeveloped parts of the site around 1955.
After the Six Day War, Jews could again visit Simon’s Tomb, while Arabs remained in the once-Jewish homes on the site. However, in 1998, when an Arab tried to incorporate the synagogue into his own house, Jews moved back, first into the synagogue, which bore clear Hebrew inscriptions, despite claims made to me by an Arab spokesman that Jews never lived there.
More recently, courts ruled that Arab houses on the site belonged to the Jewish land owners. Talented authors Amos Oz and David Grossman have taken part in protests – in the name of peace and justice – against evictions ensuing from refusal of certain Arab tenants to pay rent, thus rejecting the exercise of Jewish property rights. Yet the moral-political stances of authors do not impress.
For example, before World War II equally or more talented French authors Jean Giono and Jean Giraudoux praised Hitler, demanding peace with Germany. Giono even described Hitler as “a poet in action.”
By their protests, Oz and Grossman now implicitly endorse the expulsions of Jews in the War of Independence, the first refugees in that war who could not go home afterward.
Furthermore, is a religious body entitled to maintain the area around its holy places? Do Christians want non-Christians living too close to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other Christian holy places? Are non- Muslims allowed into Mecca? Justice is based on truth, not inconsistent principles.
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