It says something about the way much of the world views the rights of Jews to live in Jerusalem that the erection of new homes in parts of that city is considered such a terrible provocation. Thus, the new housing project in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of the city is generally reported as an outrageous provocation, even though the only reason this area is usually described as “predominantly Arab” or, more outrageously, “traditionally Arab” is because from 1949 to 1967, when this location was illegally occupied by Jordan, Jews were prohibited from living there.
As to whether it is wise for Israel to allow Jews to live in all parts of their capital, that is something that Israelis can debate, though redividing Jerusalem and returning those parts handed over to the Palestinian Arabs to a Jew-free condition seems like a curious way to advance the cause of peace and mutual coexistence. But let’s leave aside the question of Jewish rights or even the strategic wisdom of putting more Jews in these neighborhoods. Let us instead examine the Palestinian claim and what it represents.
When the New York Times reported the fact that ground was being broken for the new housing in Sheikh Jarrah in a story published on Sunday, what it did was to focus on the destruction of what it claimed was a Palestinian “landmark.” What landmark, you ask? Was it a medieval structure that in some way represents the longstanding Arab presence in the city or its culture? No. The building that was toppled to make way for some new apartment houses was just a large home that was built in the 1930s as a villa for one of the most notorious figures in 20th-century history: Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem. Husseini may never have spent much time in what eventually was renamed the Shepherd Hotel, but he did make his mark on the region by inspiring bloody pogroms against the Jews then living in the country. After the outbreak of World War II, he joined forces with the Nazis, meeting with Hitler and then spending the war making Arabic propaganda broadcasts for the Axis and successfully recruiting Muslims (mostly Bosnians) to serve in a special SS brigade. He was promised that, in the event of a German victory, he would be made the puppet ruler of what is now Israel, where he would assist the Nazis in the massacre of the several hundred thousand Jews who lived there.
That a home that was in any way connected to Husseini or any other Nazi would be considered a landmark whose demolition inspired statements of sadness from contemporary Palestinian leaders like Saeb Erekat speaks volumes about the nature of Palestinian politics. That the intended home of the man who dreamed of wiping out every last Jew in Jerusalem is coming down to make room for Jewish homes is certainly ironic. One needn’t necessarily agree with the politics of Daniel Luria, a representative of Ateret Cohanim, the group that promotes Jewish building throughout Jerusalem, to appreciate what he termed the “beautiful poetic justice” of this event.