The Jerusalem Post

What’s in a name?


arose by any other name would smell just as sweet. But in politics and war, names are important. Is sheikh jarrah the same as shimon hatzadik? the location of the houses at issue is now convention­ally called sheikh jarrah, but it was shimon hatzadik before 1948. the neighborho­od or quarter was named after simon the just, an ancient jewish high priest whose tomb has been traditiona­lly believed by jews to be located on that lot where the houses in dispute also stand. Before 1948, sheikh jarrah was a quarter adjacent to but separate from the shimon hatzadik Quarter. and shimon hatzadik was referred to by that name both by jews and by arabs in their own pronunciat­ion, as well as by the forerunner of But if uninformed people hear sheikh jarrah, they think of the area as an arab neighborho­od. even if they heard the media say that jews owned the real estate, they may wonder why and by what right jews owned real estate in an arab neighborho­od. Were they not intruders?

on the other hand, if people hear or read the name shimon hatzadik or simon the just, then they might think it is quite natural for jews to live there, especially if they know the site’s history.

“and what are arabs doing on grounds meant to honor a jewish holy man, or on a jewish holy site?” they might ask.

some historic and religious background is now in order. In 1876, jewish religious bodies, sefardi and ashkenazi, jointly bought the grounds then called by arabs “al-yahudiya.” these jewish bodies enhanced the tomb and built homes for poor jews on part of the surroundin­g grounds while the rest was left undevelope­d, yet filled with jewish pilgrims on lag Ba’omer.

during the period of British rule in jerusalem

–1917 to 1948 – jewish residents on the site were harassed during the several outbursts of arab anti-jewish violence, and sometimes temporaril­y driven out. however, jews were living there in 1947 when the un General assembly recommende­d the unsCop partition plan. the vote took place on november 29 1947, in new york time, but 12:35 a.m. on november 30 in Israel. In the next few hours, jews traveling on the roads were attacked in several places while shots were fired at a jewish bus on mount scopus road that ran alongside the shimon hatzadik Quarter.

Whereas attacking jewish traffic on the roads was the initial arab strategy in the war that had just begun, another tactic was soon added: attacking jewish residentia­l neighborho­ods and residences near arab areas. In december 1947 and january 1948, jewish homes were attacked in jaffa and south tel aviv (by snipers) as well as in haifa and in particular, shimon hatzadik and nearby jewish quarters, nahalat shimon and siebenberg­en houses, etc.

jews started fleeing shimon hatzadik on december 29, 1947. jewish refugees who fled those quarters were not the first refugees in the war. that distinctio­n probably goes to the jews of south tel aviv. But jews who fled those jerusalem quarters were the first refugees in the war who could not go home after it, since transjorda­n’s British-officered arab legion now occupied that part of the city, although to be precise it was not the arab legion but arab irregular forces that had earlier driven out the jews.

moreover, British troops had prevented the jewish hagana force from reaching mount scopus and taking back the shimon hatzadik and nahalat shimon quarters a few months after the jewish flight. and jews could not visit simon’s tomb since transjorda­n, later jordan, violated the 1949 armistice accords by preventing jewish access to jewish holy places, including simon’s tomb, the Western Wall, etc.

Knowing all this, would a fair-minded person think that jews have no right to live in shimon hatzadik? understand­ably, arabs in the city over the years conceptual­ly incorporat­ed shimon hatzadik into their adjacent sheikh jarrah Quarter. however, this historical recounting should prove that shimon hatzadik and sheikh jarrah are not the same. Failure to explain the historical and religious background allows anti-Israel demagogues – arab and Western – to justify the recent war and future wars and hamas attacks against Israel, and to incite assaults on diaspora jews. Knowledge of that background might lead outside observers to acknowledg­e that justice, not just real estate deeds, is on the jewish side of the dispute.

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