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Understand­ing the tension in East Jerusalem

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SHIMON HaTzadik is a neighbourh­ood in East Jerusalem that was establishe­d around the ancient 2 000-yearold tomb of the famous rabbinical sage, Shimon HaTzadik.

In 1875 a group of Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews bought the tomb and 4.5 acres of the surroundin­g land which was empty at the time.

The majority of the area was inhabited by a community of Yemenite Jews for over a century until 1948.

During the War of Independen­ce in 1948, Jordan occupied the area and either killed or forcibly removed Jews from their homes. New Arab occupants were moved into the area and the neighbourh­ood has become known as Sheikh Jarrah after a 13th-century tomb.

During the Six-Day War of 1967, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) regained control of the area. After the reunificat­ion of Jerusalem, the Israeli government passed a law that allowed Jewish families to reclaim their homes by proving ownership.

Four homes in Sheikh Jarrah have become subject to a legal dispute regarding their ownership and tenant rights, after ownership was traced back to the original purchasers of 1875.

The issue is one of a private dispute between differing legal parties and has no government involvemen­t.

The Supreme Court has been dealing extensivel­y with this complicate­d legal investigat­ion of Sheikh Jarrah since 1972. The legal proceeding­s determined that the current inhabitant­s are illegally occupying these homes without paying rent or being able to prove any legal form of ownership.

A compromise was originally proposed by the courts to recognise the original owners of the land, but declare a protected tenancy for the illegal occupants. Unfortunat­ely, the occupants rejected this reasonable compromise.

In February 2021, the Jerusalem District Court upheld an October 2020 Jerusalem Magistrate Court decision, requiring a number of Sheikh Jarrah residents to vacate properties by May 2021.

The ruling has come at a time when tensions inside Palestinia­n society have been boiling over. This includes the postponeme­nt of elections for the Palestinia­ns Authority (PA) by Mahmoud Abbas, the PA chairman, resulting in anger by Hamas over the issue, religious extremism stoked during the end of Ramadaan, and events that have been organised by anti-Israel groups in terms of the upcoming anniversar­y of the Israeli War of Independen­ce.

Following the ruling of the Jerusalem District Court, the occupants appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has deferred the proceeding­s for a month to calm tensions that have been stoked by the Palestinia­n Authority, Hamas and numerous anti-Israel activists and NGOs.

Violent rhetoric and an increase in physical attacks on Jews in Jerusalem and surrounds, has also escalated in the last few weeks. | South African Zionist

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