Sheikh Jarrah, the east Jerusalem neighborhood more recently known for its soaring Jewish-Arab tensions and weekly demonstrations against the eviction of Palestinian families from their nearby homes, was the scene of a far more harmonious occurrence on Wednesday night, as a group of Hebrew University students descended upon a string of area bars to indulge in some strong drink and good conversation.

The unusual scene was spurred on by the announcement of a “pub crawl” – a term coined to describe a tour of local bars – labeled “Crawling in Sheikh Jarrah,” which was organized by the Jerusalem-based Ruah Hadasha (New Spirit) student organization in an effort to promote nightlife in the east Jerusalem neighborhood and, ideally, to foster a glint of coexistence in what has become a turbulent and often tense location.

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Many members of the mostly Jewish-Israeli crowd were not aware that such venues existed at all in Sheikh Jarrah.

They associated the neighborhood with images of raucous protests, clashes between demonstrators and police and the ongoing tussle over more than 20 homes, inside the predominately Arab enclave, which are at the center of intensive court battles regarding the properties’ rightful owners. But none of those issues were on tap on Wednesday night, as groups of seemingly-surprised university students entered a row of Arabesque watering holes along the neighborhood’s Shimon Hatzadik Street and elbowed up with pitchers of beer, glasses of whiskey and the odd nargila, or water pipe, which the capital’s eastern neighborhoods hold in abundance.

“I had no idea any of this was here,” remarked one young woman as she sat at the bar at Gossip, one of Sheikh Jarrah’s more popular night spots, where a crowd of pub crawlers were holding court on and watching South Africa take on Uruguay during a highlycontested World Cup match.

“I’ve actually never even been to Sheikh Jarrah,” she continued. “I was under the impression that it was dangerous here, or that all there was was the protests.”

But Saif Salah, Gossip’s general manager, told The Jerusalem Post that the bar was often host to Hebrew University students, although in the past, the majority of them were east Jerusalem residents themselves.

“That’s our usual crowd,” he said. “Those students, UN workers and members of various nearby consulates. The Israeli students don’t come as often, but hopefully, after tonight, that will change.”

Daniel Greenberg, a spokesman for New Spirit, told the Post that such a change was precisely his movement’s goal.

“In general, New Spirit’s goal is to improve conditions for students in Jerusalem so that they will want to and be able to stay here, particularly after they graduate,” he said.

“So we try to foster that in any way possible, and one of the ways to do that is also through nightlife and cultural institutions. With regards to the bars in Sheikh Jarrah, this place has so much potential, and [Hebrew University] students live a 20-minute walk from this place and they don’t even know it’s here.”

“But it’s right there,” Greenberg continued. “And it features different kinds of bars and restaurants, and it has a great vibe to it, so why not try it out?” Greenberg added that throughout Wednesday night’s event, people also went into nearby bars and restaurants that weren’t officially involved in the pub crawl.

“We had worked out the details with the owners of Gossip, Shalizar and Shababeek,” Greenberg said, listing off the participating restaurants. “But on top of those places getting filled up, people went into some of the other spots as well.”

According to Greenberg, who made his estimate with the help of the bar and restaurant owners’ final count, Wednesday night saw some 200 people enjoying themselves at the different locations.

“That was my goal,” Greenberg said. “I wanted to bring 200 people, so it was definitely a success. I know that the bar and restaurant owners were very happy as well.”

But Greenberg also emphasized that his group was not “oblivious” to the other goings-on in Sheikh Jarrah, nor were the students who arrived on Wednesday night or the bar owners who welcomed them.

“We do have in mind the tense political situation there and we are not in any way disregarding that,” Greenberg said. “We realize that there are issues, the bar and restaurant owners realize that there are issues, but people have lives to keep running, and that’s what we were there to help them do.”

“Just because there are political issues at play, it doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t go to Sheikh Jarrah for other reasons, and I know for a fact that, now, many more people will continue to go there.”
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