Simon the Just's gravesite
Simon the Just's gravesiteTatzpit

The Jerusalem Municipality's Local Building Committee approved on Monday a Jewish request that is likely to lead to the construction of 13 new apartments in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Nahalat Shimon.

The zoning categorization of two properties adjacent to the city's north-south Route No. 1 - leading from the Old City to French Hill and Ramat Eshkol - has now been adjusted for residential housing.

Chaim Silberstein, who heads the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund which is spearheading the drive to make the neighborhood Jewish once again, called the decision an "important Zionist achievement." He said, however, that the final step has not yet been taken:  "This is the beginning of a long process. We now need to prepare for the next stage in the final approval process, which will take place at the Interior Ministry's Regional Planning Committee."

Final approval might not be obtained for months, Silberstein said, "and it involves much bureaucracy, legal actions and headaches. But these actions are critical if we want to succeed in securing eastern Jerusalem, and especially strategically and historically critical areas like Nahalat Shimon and Shimon HaTzaddik (Sheikh Jarrah) as part of our eternal united capital."

Preventing Division of Jerusalem
Opponents of the decision claim that housing Jews in Arab-populated areas is a provocation. Supporters, however, say that allowing Arab-populated areas to remain Judenrein is a perfect recipe for enabling a future division of Jerusalem to proceed unhampered.

Nahalat Shimon is about 200 yards from the more famous Shimon HaTzaddik (Simon the Just) neighborhood, where Jewish interests have been waging a long and gradually successful legal battle to regain Jewish-owned homes. Some ten apartments there are currently owned outright and occupied by Jews, and more appear to be on the way.

Nahalat Shimon is situated at the entrance to the Kidron Valley, just west of the 2,000-year-old burial cave of Simon the Just. Jews purchased the land for the neighborhood as early as 1890; about 20 of Jerusalem’s indigent families came to live in the area soon after, but it took another 25 years for more extensive construction to begin. In 1927, an offshoot of the neighborhood was erected nearby when a group of modern houses was built for a largely Ashkenazi population. This new project received the name Nahalat Yitzchak.

In 1947, there were about 100 Jewish houses in the neighborhood. However, as a result of increasing Arab violence, the British ordered the residents to evacuate their homes within two hours. The date was March 1948 - the month of the infamous Hadassah convoy massacre, perpetrated just around the corner by murderous Arabs with the help of British “neutrality,” in which 78 Jews were murdered.

The area is just off the route of the new Jerusalem Light Rail System set to start operations in May 2011. West of it are the older districts of Meah Shearim, Beit Yisrael and Shmuel HaNavi, as well as the modern, well-established Arzei Habira and Maalot Dafna neighborhoods.

 Practically adjacent to Nahalat Shimon to the east is Shimon HaTzaddik, where only 12 years ago no Jews lived - though five decades earlier it was home to dozens of Jewish families. In late 1998, the old synagogue in Shimon HaTzaddik was re-dedicated, after Palestinian Authority agents had attempted to take over the building. Two months later, the first Jews moved into six apartments that the “Settlers of Zion” organization, headed by Rabbi Benny Elon and the Beit Orot yeshiva, had been forced to re-acquire.

In May 1999, thousands of supporters, including Hassidic music stars Mordechai Ben David, Mussa Berlin and Mona Rosenbloom, participated in the Lag BaOmer celebrations at Shimon HaTzaddik marking the dedication of the renewed Jewish neighborhood. Legal battles have continued on and off since then, occasionally accompanied by Arab violence directed at the Jewish residents.

Today’s decision is yet another sign that the once-Jewish neighborhoods are well on their way towards becoming significantly Jewish once again.