FACT SHEET – Understanding the Recent Tensions in East Jerusalem

May 2021

There has been much media coverage of the last few days over clashes in Jerusalem on the Temple Mount and the neighbourhood of Shimon HaTzadik / Sheikh Jarrah.  This issue has been portrayed by the media in a variety of ways that do not accurately reflect the history of the situation and the facts on the ground. Below is a fact sheet that provides some context and background to the situation. 

What is behind the tensions at Shimon HaTzadik/Sheikh Jarrah?

  • Shimon HaTzadik is a neighbourhood in East Jerusalem that was established around the ancient 2000-year-old 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 Defense 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 PA chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, resulting in anger by Hamas over the issue, religious extremism stoked during the end of Ramadan, 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.