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Al Jazeera reporter who arrived at the scene. Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Jerusalem Hotel. Photo by Rhonda Spivak.


By Rhonda Spivak, April 1, 2010

I  was sitting in the Ken Zaman Restaurant in the Jerusalem Hotel on Nablus road in East Jerusalem on August 2 this past summer - a café that is a nerve centre for Palestinian nationalism. On the wall there was a map of Palestine that includes pre-67 Israel.

A group at the next table was talking about Palestinians being evicted in Sheikh Jarrah from their homes, “not very far from us—just down the street from here.”

I decided to go to the scene, walking down Nablus Road, past the U.S. and British Consulates, the American Colony Hotel, a gas station, and a few little stores. There I found myself in the eye of a storm that was broadcast on CNN and Al -Jazeera and other international media.


Israeli Police and IDF soldiers had blocked off the area near “Shimon Hatsadik’s Tomb” and Palestinians from the evicted Hannun and Gawi families and other neighbors had gathered. Two Jewish families had moved in and were going through the blockade.

Hashem Salimh, a friend of the  evicted families, said: “These families [originally]  used to live in  Lod and Ramle and they were thrown out and then they  moved to West Jerusalem and after 1948, they became refugees.”

Salimh  explained that  after the 1948 War of Independence, Jordan occupied East Jerusalem and seized plots of land  in East Jerusalem pursuant  its  Enemy Property Law.

“In 1956, Jordan agreed with UNRWA [United Nations Works and Relief Agency]  to  give this land to the Palestinian refugees and UNRWA would build the houses for them and these [Hanoun and Gawi] families have been living in these homes since 1956….They are being kicked out because the Jews and their courts say they bought this land over 120 years ago,” he said.
Evicted families
The evicted families and neighbors gather near the police barricade. Photo by
Rhonda Spivak.


Nassar Ghawi
Nassar Ghawi, evicted Palestinian.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

Khawla Hanoun
Khawla Hanoun
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.
In fact, Zionists founded the Shimon Hatsadik neighborhood in 1891 by purchasing the land from Arabs, but abandoned the homes during a spate of  Arab riots in the 1920’a and 30’s. As of 1890, the Jewish Sephardic community committee owned the land and had 19th century Ottoman-era documents showing ownership.

The Jewish connection to Sheikh Jarrah predates the founding of both Christianity and Islam  as Nadav Shagrai documents, in the “Jerusalem Issue Brief” published by the Jerusalem Centre for  Public Affairs (  

But, in 1956, when this land was  under Jordanian control,  28 Palestinian families,  who had been receiving refugee assistance  from UNRWA were selected to benefit from a relief project, in which they  forfeited their refugee aid and moved onto homes built on formerly Jewish land.

The agreement of 1956 stated that the ownership of the homes was to be put in the families’ names, a step that never took place.

Salimh directed me to Nassar Ghawi.

“I was born in this house… We gave  up our  refugee card in 1956 to get our house…I was thrown out here like garbage,” he said.

Khawla Hanoun, standing beside him, said emphatically “I have lived here for 23 years.”

As I spoke to Salimh, a religious Jewish woman walked through the police barricade to pray at Shimon Hazadik’s tomb.

A Jewish man in a black hat and coat, who identified himself as belonging to the non-Zionist Neteuiri Carta sect (that doesn’t recognize the State of Israel) came up to Salimh.

“I am sorry that we weren’t here demonstrating with you against  Israel,” he said, handing me a card that that said “A Jew Not a Zionist.”



As I was speaking to the Hanoun family, an Al-Jazeera cameraman and  female reporter, Shiri  pulled up , as did Ziad Al Hammouri, Director  General of the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights said.

Al  Jazeera televised an interview with Al-Hammouri, just as a large group of  French activists arrived, with their group leader wearing Palestinian symbols.

Al-Hammouri  said “The Israelis want to take over Sheikh Jarrah so they can  drive right through it up to the Regency Hotel and  the French Hill neighborhood and then build a road all the way to Ma’aleh Adumin in the West Bank.”
Al Jazeera reporter with AlHammouri
Al Jazeera reporter with AlHammouri.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

He told Al Zazeera that “the Israelis want to evict over 200,000 Arabs of East Jerusalem.”

He added, “Prior to 1948, Arabs owned many homes in West Jerusalem. Israeli courts are upholding claims  by Jews to property that belonged to them prior to  1948, but the courts aren’t applying this to Palestinians who owned land in Jerusalem prior to 1948.”

The Israeli police gave Al Jazeera unimpeded access to film the scene. But as the French activists moved closer to the police barricade, I heard an officer say to a young woman, “I will arrest you.”

By the next day, several people were arrested during the ongoing protests.


Already back in 1972, the Jewish Sephardic Community Committee, which had purchased the land in 1890,  began notifying the Arab residents that they owed rent  and initiated proceedings to have title registered in their name.  In 1982, they brought a lawsuit against 23 families for non-payment of rent.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Itzhak Toussia-Cohen, the lawyer who represented the Palestinians, did not contest the legitimacy of the Sephardic committees’ ownership claims. Instead, he arrived at a court ordered settlement-a binding agreement that can be appealed only if proven to be based on false grounds-that secured “protected tenancy” status for the residents.”

The families contend that  Toussia-Cohen did not have their consent to make this agreement, but it has served as the precedent for rulings on subsequent appeals, including the present-day cases.

The Sephardi committee claimed that the families violated their tenancy status by not paying rent and demanded their eviction which was upheld by Israeli courts, after a slew of legal battles.


Some analysts say that this is really all about  Sheikh Jarrah’s strategic connection to the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus

Just up the main road where the Hanoun and Gawi  Familes were evicted is Shepherd Hotel,  now owned by  right-wing religious American Irving Moskowitz, who just got approval to build apartments for Jews there.

Shepherd's Hotel 
Shepherd's Hotel
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.  
Shepherd’s Hotel is where Jerusalem’s pro-Nazi Mufti, Amin Al-Husseini put  a building in the 1930’s, that later became a hotel housing  Christians.

After 1967, the Hotel was  designated “absentee property” and  Moscowitz bought the land in 1985. This past summer, Moskowitz received final permission from the Jerusalem Municipality to renovate the land and build 20 apartments.

Does Israel want  to create a continguous  Jewish presence from Shimon Hatsadik’s tomb to the  Moskovitz apartments?  It could well be. 

Why might Israel want to control Sheikh Jarrah ? Because Shepherds Hotel is at the base of  the Mount Scopus Campus of the Hebrew University. In between Shimon Hatzadik’s tomb and the Shepherds Hotel is where  during the 1948 war Arabs massacred 78 doctors  who were heading by convoy to Haddassah Hospital, also on Mount Scopus.

Does Israel want to insure that if and when Jerusalem is ever divided or shared, Israel will have unfettered access to Mount  Scopus, through Sheik Jarrah? Is this is a strategic imperative?

Or, alternatively, is the master plan to ensure that Jerusalem will never be divided?


Many nations of the world strongly condemned the evictions of the  Hanoun and Gawi families. They have also condemned Israel for giving approval to Moskovitz’ to build apartments in Sheikh Jarrah for Jews. In fact, the approval of construction at Shepherd’s Hotel in Sheikh Jarrah was announced recently just before Netanyahu’s visit with Obama in Washington at the end of March, 2010 and became another bone of contention between the two countries.

There are certainly many Israelis who question the wisdom of  plunking a group of orthodox Jews in Sheikh Jarrah.

Ir Amin, a  left-wing Jerusalem based group, issued a statement saying  that  Jewish settlement in Sheikh Jarrah, “will have grave consequences on the stability of the city and on its political future.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu and many others have said it is unthinkable that Jews can’t buy property and settle anywhere they want in Jerusalem.

It was painful to witness the Hanoun and Gawi families being on the street, after the eviction. After all, when they got their homes from UNRWA, they had no reason to believe the homes could ever be taken away.

I am not at all surprised thatmonths later there are still ongoing protests.

And yet, if Jerusalem is ever divided, will it not be strategically important for Israel to have  unfettered access to  Mount Scopus through Sheikh Jarrah? What if a peace agreement, even if reached on paper, didn’t hold?` As I left the scene, I wondered if Shimon Hatsadik would have let the Hanoun and Gawi families stay in their homes if he were still alive.
Sheikh Jarrah
Location in Sheikh Jarrah where  Arabs murdered convoy to Hadassah Hospital in 1948. Photo by Rhonda Spivak.


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.