“they come with cameras, flags and weapons”

It seemed like an ordinary enough neighbourhood – with Israeli kids playing in the sun and their mothers and fathers looking on. But scratch the surface and you learn that Sheikh Jarrar’s anything but a quiet residential utopia.
This corner of East Jerusalem is one of the current front-lines in what some openly call the “ethnic cleansing” of this holiest of cities.
Originally a Jewish area, it has been majority Arab since the previous owners moved to other parts of the city in the 1920s. A number of homes in the district were built in the 1950s by the UN, for Palestinians displaced from villages across the new Israel.
Yet for the past 10 years, the Arabs who inhabit Sheikh Jarrar have been harrassed and bullied into leaving their homes by a group of ideological Jewish settlers.
Their interest in this particular neighbourhood stems from the fact that it’s the location of the tomb of Simon the Just, a revered early Rabbi.
There’s some irony in this name, because the treatment of the local Palestinians has been anything but just.
When I visited, the atmosphere was tense to say the least. Those homes that have been taken over by the settlers – who often break in while the residents are out – are covered with Israeli flags and CCTV cameras.
Ex-army private security guards – funded, incidentally, by the Israeli government – patrol the narrow pathways between the homes. Not, it must be said, to protect the menaced Palestinians – but to look out for the welfare of the settlers.
The handful of Arab homes left in the neighbourhood hang banners proclaiming “this is Apartheid” and “we will never leave”. Yet for all the strong words, they daren’t leave their homes unattended and are afraid for the future. No compensation is available in cases like this, and the police have already told them the issue is not a priority. The courts are also uninterested in helping Palestinians reclaim their stolen houses.
The Israeli activist who took me to Sheikh Jarrar believes the families are likely to be expelled within weeks, once Ramadan and the Jewish festival of Yom Kippur are over.
“These settlers come with a political agenda – and armed with cameras, flags and weapons,” he says.
“They come wanting to redeem the land of Israel for Jewish people only, and to expel all Palestinians. It’s a form of ethnic cleansing, in order to keep the number of Palestinians in the capital very low.
“They want to take all the neighbourhoods around Jerusalem’s old city in order to annexe it. The idea is that Jerusalem would never then be the capital of any Palestinian area.
“We should all be worried about this. There would never be peace in the Middle East if these people got their way.”

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