John L. Rosove
John L. Rosove

Sheikh Jarrah Explained

Sheikh Jarrah is an Arab neighborhood located two kilometers north of the Old City in East Jerusalem. This small parcel of land (35 dunam which equals 6.85 acres) has been a hot spot over many years in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and especially this past year.


After the 1948 Israeli War of Independence when Jerusalem was divided between Jordan, which  occupied the Old City and East Jerusalem and in which Israel held West Jerusalem, the government of Jordan took 30 Arab refugee families who had fled their homes in West Jerusalem and other areas on the Israeli side of the Green Line during the fighting, and settled them into vacated Jewish homes in the Jordanian controlled East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Now it is estimated that about 35 families numbering 200 people are under threat of forced eviction/displacement from this section. A much smaller number of Jews who fled their homes in East Jerusalem settled in Israeli West Jerusalem.

After the 1948 War, the Jordanian government assumed management of abandoned Jewish properties in East Jerusalem and thereafter designated land in the Kerem Alja’oni section of Sheikh Jarrah for the resettlement of dozens of Palestinian refugee families.

In 1950, Israel passed the “Absentee Property Law” that nationalized all Arab property in the State of Israel that had been abandoned during the 1948 War, precluding the possibility of any land reclamation by Arabs (including East Jerusalem residents) who lost assets in West Jerusalem and other areas within the Israeli side of the Green Line.

In the 1950s, as part of the Jordanian Housing Ministry’s refugee rehabilitation project, new homes were built in cooperation with UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency) for 30 families in exchange for relinquishing their refugee status.

Following its annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, in contravention of International Law, Israel absorbed East Jerusalem Palestinians into its territory. Yet, they were never fully granted Israeli citizenship and their status in the city has remained as stateless residents devoid of the power to participate in the legislative and policy-making processes that govern their lives.

Three years after the 1967 Six-Day War when Israel conquered the Old City, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, Israel passed the “1970 Legal and Administrative Matters Law” which affords Jews the exclusive right to reclaim lost assets in East Jerusalem now inhabited by Palestinians based on the claim that they were once owned by Jews prior to 1948.

The 1970 law not only confers land reclamation rights to previous Jewish landowners but also provides for a very broad definition of those who can claim those properties on their behalf. This broad definition is the mechanism which has enabled state-sponsored settler organizations to exploit the law for their own purposes in spite of having no relation to the previous Jewish occupants or owners of these properties. Rather, settler groups aim to evict Palestinian residents from their homes to expand Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem. Moreover, since many Jews who lost assets in East Jerusalem were compensated with alternative properties in West Jerusalem at the time, they are essentially entitled to double compensation under the 1970 law.

Clearly, this represents a significant lack of parity in property rights between these two Jerusalem populations.

In recent years, Israeli settlers have sought to evict Palestinians from their homes in which they have lived since 1948. The Israeli settlers aggressively seek to re-populate not only Sheikh Jarrah, but many East Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods such as Silwan and the Old City claiming former Jewish ownership rights or through invoking the Absentee Property Law.

The Palestinian Authority expects East Jerusalem to be the capital of the future State of Palestine and that its historic Palestinian neighborhoods must be in tact within it. Israel insists that Jerusalem will never be divided again as it was between 1948 and 1967.

Tension has resulted as a consequence of the continual efforts to undermine Palestinian rights to Jerusalem and displace them from their homes and city as a means to essentially “de-Palestinize” Jerusalem.

Israeli  peace advocates who support the Palestinian right to East Jerusalem as the capital of a future State of Palestine alongside Israel argue that it is a violation of human rights to evict Palestinian families from homes in which they have lived for decades based on inherently discriminatory Israeli legislation. The Israeli legal system affords Jews the right to claim ownership of homes from which they fled in East Jerusalem while denying Palestinians the same rights to homes they fled in West Jerusalem in 1948.

These cases have been tied up in Israeli courts for years.

In May of this year, demonstrations against the impending evictions in Sheikh Jarrah were met with disproportionate police force, resulting in violent altercations in the neighborhood, on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, and across East Jerusalem, which spread to mixed cities in Israel.

On May 10, Hamas took advantage of the tumult in Jerusalem and began shooting indiscriminately what ended up being 4600 rockets from Gaza into uncontested Israeli territory at Israeli civilian towns and villages. The Iron Dome defense system stopped many of these rockets from killing Jews. Israel responded by bombing Hamas military silos and sites in Gaza resulting in more death and destruction until a cease-fire was arranged on May 21.

Meanwhile, an Israeli court battle was being fought by Arab residents of Sheikh Jarrah in light of pending court-sanctioned eviction orders. The Israeli government has always treated this matter as a real estate conflict. But, in truth Sheikh Jarrah has become a battleground between state-backed Israeli Jewish settlers and East Jerusalem Palestinians and peace activists over the ethnic and national demography of Jerusalem itself and the political future of the city. The case has not yet been settled, though the Israeli High court has proposed a compromise whereby the Palestinians families of Sheikh Jarrah would be granted protected tenancy provided that they pay rent to alleged Israeli owners of the property. In addition, they cannot be removed from their homes for at least 15 years in the case of urban renewal plans and likewise retain their right to prove their claims of ownership within a future settlement of title procedure.

Yes – it’s all very confusing and troubling, which is why I urge you to listen to a recording made of a webinar that was organized and hosted by J Street featuring Suma Qawasmi, a young Sheikh Jarrah native and the Senior Program manager at Kids4Peace International, and Amy Cohen, Director of International Relations and Advocacy for Ir Amim, an Israeli non-profit organization which is focused on safeguarding the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to live in Jerusalem and fostering conditions for an agreed resolution to the conflict. Both young women spoke from their homes in Jerusalem about the current state of affairs in Sheikh Jarrah, and they offered added clarity and insight into this conflict.

I am grateful to Amy Cohen for providing me many details about this conflict.

Also see:



Click onto the following link, enter the passcode, and you can watch and listen to the discussion.

Recording: Sheikh Jarrah — understanding its importance to the communal conversation type in the Passcode: EVjZ7cV!

About the Author
John L. Rosove is Senior Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles. He is a national co-Chair of the Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet of J Street and immediate past National Chairman of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). He serves as a member of the newly created Union for Reform Judaism's Israel and Reform Zionism Committee (IRZC). John was the 2002 Recipient of the World Union for Progressive Judaism International Humanitarian Award and has received special commendation from the State of Israel Bonds. In 2013 he was honored by J Street at its Fifth Anniversary Celebration in Los Angeles. John is the author of two books - “Why Judaism Matters – Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove” (Nashville: Jewish Lights Publishing, a division of Turner Publishing Company, 2017) and "Why Israel [and its Future] Matters - Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove" (New Jersey: Ben Yehuda Press, 2019). Both are available at John translated and edited the Hebrew biography of his Great Granduncle – "Avraham Shapira – Veteran of the Haganah and Hebrew Guard" by Getzel Kressel (publ. by the Municipality of Petach Tikvah, 1955). The translation was privately published (2021). John is married to Barbara. They are the parents of two sons - Daniel (married to Marina) and David. He has one granddaughter.