The rich history and historical significance of Sheikh Jarrah, an East Jerusalem neighborhood dating back to the times of Salahaddin, endures despite the best efforts of Israeli authorities.
As part of a comprehensive campaign of ethnic cleansing in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, the Israeli government has been evicting Palestinians from their homes and handing them over to Jews. These evictions sparked protests which are documented in a film produced by Just Vision, titled “Home Front: Portraits From Sheik Jarrah.”
The film, like the many news reports covering Sheikh Jarrah, focuses on the battle between the residents of the neighborhood, the violent settlers who are moving into their homes, and the Israeli legal system which by and large favors Jews over Arabs. Yet little is said about the historical significance that Sheikh Jarrah holds as a neighborhood of Jerusalem.
Sheikh Jarrah Mosque
The old Sheikh Jarrah Mosque sits on the right side of Nablus Road, just past the American Colony Hotel. The mosque is attributed to Hussam al-Din al-Jarrahi who came to Palestine with Salahaddin in the thirteenth century and served as his personal physician.
Al-Jarrah remained in Jerusalem when he died and was buried on the south side of Nablus Road. A zawiya, or prayer room, was built over his tomb and in 1895 a mosque was built on top of the zawiya. It was during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that Sheikh Jarrah evolved from a small village to one of Jerusalem’s most prestigious neighborhoods.
The Orient House
Over the years many affluent Palestinian Jerusalemite families built beautiful homes in the neighborhood. These spacious homes were distinctly Palestinian, distinctly Jerusalemite. Some remained residences to this day while others became hotels or museums. Some of the houses are rented to diplomatic missions to Jerusalem, independent of the missions to the state of Israel that are in Tel-Aviv.
The Orient House is perhaps the most impressive home built in the neighborhood and one of the finest in the city. It was built in 1897 by Ismail Musa Al-Husseini. Al-Husseini held many important positions throughout the Ottoman Empire and after the British conquest of Palestine, he served as mayor of Jerusalem. For many years he led the Arab national movement and fervently opposed the British policy of creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine. One of his sons, Abdel Qader Al-Husseini, led the Palestinian resistance against the Zionists and was killed just outside Jerusalem in April of 1948.
Due to the stature of the Husseini family and the incredible architecture and size of the house, the Orient House long served as a center for Palestinian political and cultural activity in Jerusalem.
Faisel Husseini, the son of Abdel Qader, operated in Jerusalem throughout the 1980s and 90s and turned the Orient House into a powerhouse of political activity. During this time the house was subjected to closures by the Israeli authorities, and in the summer of 2001, it was raided by the Israeli security forces, closed down and all its operations were brought to a halt.
At the end of 2019, Israel’s Minister of Internal Security Gilad Erdan extended the closure of the Orient House. Erdan justified the move by saying, “The Palestinian Authority has recently been trying to strengthen its presence in East Jerusalem in sophisticated ways. I will continue to strengthen Israeli sovereignty throughout Jerusalem, and prevent any Palestinian attempt to create a foothold in the eastern part of the city.”
Dar Al-Tifl Al-Arabi
On April 9, 1948 Zionist militias raided the Palestinian village of Dir Yassin on the outskirts of Jerusalem and for two days they massacred its residents and chased away anyone who survived the assault. They placed the children who survived on trucks and paraded them through the Jewish neighborhoods of the city before leaving them alone and without care in East Jerusalem. The name Deir Yassin will forever be associated with Zionist brutality.
Hind Al-Husseini was a Palestinian educator involved in social issues, particularly regarding women and children in Palestine. She witnessed the Zionist military trucks dumping the children of Deir Yassin in East Jerusalem and immediately took in the traumatized orphans and cared for them. This act of generosity and kindness was just the beginning. She wanted to make sure the orphans had food, shelter, and the best education possible. To that end she established what became one of the landmarks of the city of Jerusalem and of the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, Dar Al-Tifl Al-Arabi, a school and boarding house for orphans.
Hind later established the Dar Al-Tifl Al-Arabi foundation and raised money to fund and expand the school. This was crucial because in 1949 and throughout the early 1950s, orphans from other cities and villages who suffered the Zionist onslaught were in need of the school’s services. They came from places like Yaffa, Ramle, Lifta, and all parts of Jerusalem. They came from Arrabe in the north, from Qalqilya, Betunya, and even from Hebron and as far south as Gaza. After 1967, the school began accepting only girls, with the exception of pre-school and kindergarten children, as well as boarding students under the age of six.
By 1995, Dar Al-Tifl had 300 orphans. However, following Israel’s closure in the Gaza Strip and the travel restrictions placed on residents of the West Bank, the numbers dropped significantly. Today, the school has about 2000 students from preschool to twelfth grade, including boarding students. Dar Al-Tifl has also expanded and includes a museum and a cultural center.
Hind Al-Husseini College for Women
A social worker, educator, coordinator of the Arab Women’s Union in the 1940s and Palestinian National Council member, Hind dedicated her life to orphans and to education of women until her dying day. She fiercely promoted women’s right to higher education and in 1982 she founded the Hind Al-Husseini College for Women, also located in Sheikh Jarrah. The college, which is a branch of Al Quds University, sits on a hill overlooking Sheikh Jarrah. The homes of several of the professors and students who live in the neighborhood are now under threat of eviction.
Israel plans to evict Palestinians and destroy the neighborhood in order to build Jewish-only residential units. If it succeeds, one can expect that as the people disappear so to will the historical monuments and heritage, and as history has shown, Israel will not stop with Sheikh Jarrah.
Feature photo | Israeli bulldozers demolish the Arab-owned Sheperd Hotel in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah to make way for new Jewish settlements. Bernat Armangue | AP
Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”