We all live in Shimon Hatzaddik

Every neighborhood in the country could one day face the same challenges and protests the east Jerusalem neighborhood, also known as Sheikh Jarrah, faces today.

March 9, 2010 12:26
3 minute read.
A house belonging to Jews in east Jerusalem's Shei

sheikh jarrah jewish house 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

A traditionally Jewish territory, with historical significance to the Jewish people, was violently conquered and settled by foreign Arabs, and is now being reclaimed by rightful Jewish owners. Now this territory is becoming a source for international condemnation and denial of Jewish rights. Sound familiar?

The Shimon Hatzaddik neighborhood, also known as Sheikh Jarrah, is an area of Jerusalem just north of the Old City. The neighborhood is named for, and centered around, the tomb of Shimon Hatzaddik (Simon the Just), a venerated high priest who served in the Second Temple (in either the fourth or second century BCE). The tomb and its compound were purchased in 1876 and settled in 1891 as a Jewish neighborhood, at a time when the Old City had become dangerously overcrowded.

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In 1936, the neighborhood was attacked by Arab rioters and later conquered by the Arab Legion in 1948, before being annexed to the kingdom of Jordan in 1950. The Jordanian conquerors allowed Arab families to occupy abandoned Jewish homes, in violation of the rights of the property owners. When Israel retook the area in 1967, the committee that originally purchased the land began working to evict Arab tenants and to resettle the neighborhood with Jewish residents, as intended at the time of the original purchase.

Israel’s Supreme Court has upheld these evictions. However, left-wing activists and Arab supporters have recently made these legal evictions a flashpoint issue in the general Israeli-Arab conflict. And why shouldn’t they?

THE ENTIRE country of Israel was brutally conquered by Rome in 64 BCE and, later, by the Arabians of the Islamic Caliphate. Between these conquests, the Jewish residents repeatedly attempted to regain their sovereignty, but were slaughtered and expelled in stages after each revolt against the foreign occupiers.

Since the mid 1800s, our struggle to wrest back our property has received international legitimacy through the Balfour Declaration and the San Remo Conference, to name two examples. However, the Arabs, various anti-Semitic groups, and even the anti-Zionists in our midst have consistently opposed these efforts.

If we cannot uphold our rights against squatters from the 1950s, how can we effectively defend our claims against those of the seventh century?

The very foundation of Zionism has to be that we, as Jews, have been dispossessed of our land and have every legal, historical and moral right to reclaim it, by force if necessary.

While we can generally agree to give basic freedoms to non-Jews who wish to live peacefully under Jewish sovereignty, we cannot grant anyone extralegal rights to our territory without compromising the fundamental right of Israel’s existence.

People may be upset, protest or even riot, but there is no justification to forego this right. Temperance in justifying one’s existence is no virtue and, in fact, threatens the state’s very
existence. Shying away from controversy only encourages violent confrontation and further historical revisionism.

ON SATURDAY, the prime minister of Turkey encouraged the Arabs to riot because of Israel’s inclusion of ancient religious sites in Hebron and Bethlehem on a list of heritage sites slated for restoration. The Turkish leader also denied any Jewish connection to these sites, which Jews used as sites of pilgrimage and prayer continuously since the Second Temple period.

The audacity of such a statement shows that even the slightest hesitation in asserting our fundamental right can cause an immediate threat to our existence. The American and European governments also criticized the inclusion of these sites on the National Heritage list as problematic and counterproductive to peace efforts.

Clearly, such comments are not as biased or anti-Semitic as the statements issued by the Turkish government, but they point to the same central issue: In the world’s eyes, Israel cannot make peace with the Arabs without giving up its fundamental claim to the territory. A peace based on our denial of our own rights cannot last and will bear tragic results, especially since our claim to sovereignty in Hebron is sounder than our claim to sovereignty in Haifa, Ashdod or the Shimon Hatzaddik neighborhood in Jerusalem.

Every neighborhood in the country could one day face the same challenges and protests that Shimon Hatzaddik faces today. We are all residents of some “Shimon Hatzaddik” neighborhood.

So, for the sake of our entire country, the most prudent move is to give our complete support to the residents of Shimon Hatzaddik today.

The writer was a candidate for the 18th Knesset with Israel Beiteinu. He is a research fellow at the Galil Institute (www.gogalil.com).

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