On the first day of the Jewish month of Adar, the Women in Green Organization (Women for Israel's Tomorrow) conducted a tour through Jerusalem neighborhoods that were once peopled with Jews and to which Jews are beginning to return. The group was led by Daniel Luria of the Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva located in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter.
The tour began in the Arab-populated section of Abu Tor, in a house in which six Jewish families live. During the Arab riots of 1929, they were expelled by the British and their homes taken over by local Arabs. The roof has a wonderful view of the Temple Mount, Beit Yehonatan, the King's Gardens, the separation wall, and the building in Abu Dis that was originally slated to become the Arab parliament.
The group continued on to visit Beit Yehonatan, located in Kfar Shiloach (Silwan), the neighborhood purchased and populated by Yemenite Jews 140 years ago. The first Yemenite Jews who arrived in Silwan settled initially in caves and only afterwards in houses. They prayed in four synagogues. During the Arab riots of 1929, they were expelled by the British and their homes taken over by local Arabs.
Beit Yehonatan is the building that has been in the news recently due to an extra two floors that were built without permits to accommodate the residents. The courts and state prosecutor demanded the building be sealed and the Jewish residents expelled, although Minister Eli Yisha (Shas) has suggested razing only the two illegal floors and Jerusalem Mayor Barkat threatened to destroy 200 illegal Arab buildings at the same time. The building is named in honor of Jonathan Pollard, who asked that everyone visiting the house take the time to pray and learn Torah, so there is a kollel (older students’ yeshiva) on the premises that welcomes visitors.
The next stop was the King's Gardens, mentioned in the Bible and kept as a preserve during the period before the Six Day War, but now filled with 88 Arab illegal structures that Mayor Barkat has promised to destroy.
The women toured the new homes being constructed in the Maale HaZeitim neighborhood, near the Mount of Olives. This is another one of the areas in Jerusalem to which Jews are returning, in a move to extend Jewish presence over the entire city. They went on to the Kidmat Zion area near the Arab-populated Jabel Mukabar, where a magnificent neighborhood is being built with a panoramic view of the Temple Mount.
The group continued to Beit Orot, the first neighborhood to be established in lands returned to Israel during the 1967 Six Day War, an area that is now under development. They passed the Shepherd Hotel, a large building that used to belong to Haj-Ammin Al Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem who collaborated with the Nazis and was responsible for the murder of thousands of Jews. The house is now returned to Jewish hands.
Next stop was the Shimon HaTzaddik compound, a scene of ongoing demonstrations. In Shimon HaTzaddik (also known as Sheikh Jarrah), Arabs and members of the post-Zionist left demonstrate against the return of the Jewish owners every Friday night. This is despite the fact that Jews own the homes and Arabs have been given compensation for them, and eviction notices. The house is now returned to Jewish hands.
Yehonatan Yosef, the grandson of former Chief Rabbi of Israel and spiritual head of the Shas political party, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, lives in the neighborhood and volunteered the following explanation: “Arabs squatted in houses belonging to Jews after the Jews were expelled from the area in 1948. It is only historical justice to finally redeem these Jewish houses and return them to their rightful owners.”
Nadia Matar and Yehudit Katzover, heads of the Women in Green organization, summed up the day: “We were all accompanied by a sense of involvement. Much has been done, but there is a long way to go. The general feeling was that the reality is changing, thank G-d. The Jews, with G-d's help, are returning, taking control, and drawing nearer to the very heart of holiness”.
For photos of the tour, click here!