A key Jewish community in eastern Jerusalem – practically right under the Temple Mount, to be precise – celebrated its third milestone in six months on Monday: The return of the old Yemenite Great Synagogue in the Shiloach village to Jewish hands after nearly 80 years.
Defying a Supreme Court ruling handed down in February of this year, the Arab squatters on the holy property refused to leave – and were therefore forcibly removed from the building in a well-protected early-morning operation.
Given the sensitive nature of the mission, and the location – a neighborhood (Silwan/Shiloach) largely populated by hostile Arabs, overlooking the City of David – and the wave of terrorism currently underway, many Border Police units, special police units and others took part.
This past May, festive Jewish prayers were held in a small part of the long-hidden and inaccessible Hechal Shlomo synagogue of the Yemenite village – for the first time in 77 years. The synagogue is part of the “Yemenite Hekdesh Benvinisti” community buildings owned by the old Yemenite community of Jerusalem, which first struck roots there in the 1880's.
The second milestone occurred two months ago, when a group of Jewish families moved into the Beit Rachel complex of the old Yemenite village. Despite the never-forfeited Jewish ownership of the buildings, six apartments were "purchased" from the Arab families who took over the property when Jerusalem fell under Jordanian control in 1948.
And now, the icing on the cake: The entire old Yemenite synagogue in the Shiloach is finally and completely back in Jewish hands.
As mentioned, in May of this year, the Ateret Cohanim organization helped facilitate the return of less than a third of the synagogue back to the rightful Yemenite heirs – namely, the Yemenite communal property of Hekdesh Benvinisti. To regain the remaining two-thirds, however, it appeared that a court ruling of seven years ago was not enough – and the Hekdesh actually offered the illegal Arab squatters money for them to leave. Even more unbelievably, the Arabs refused the offer – and seven years of court battles ensued, until the Supreme Court ruled in February that they must leave and allow the owners to return.
Finally now, eight months later, the ruling was actualized, and the main landmark of the Jewish Yemenite community of Jerusalem is Jewish once again. The Hekdesh and Ateret Cohanim are now embarking on a campaign to restore the entire synagogue to its previous glory.
A timeline of the Yemenite Jewish community, as provided by Ateret Cohanim:
1882 – Yemenite Jews make the dangerous trek to Jerusalem.Village established with a peak of 144 Yemenite families.
1885 – First Yemenite Synagogue was established. (The Great Synagogue – Ohel Shlomo)
1936-7 – Yemenite Jews driven out by marauding Arabs in pogroms of the 1930's.
1938 – Last remaining Yemenite Jews removed from homes by the British authorities who could not or would not protect them. The British promised, however, that the Jewish refugees would be able to return when things quieted down. This promise was not fulfilled, and the holy items were desecrated, and the neighborhood was occupied and overrun.
2004 – The first modern-day group of Jews move into the Yemenite quarter of the Village in 2004. The property sales have been ratified by Israeli courts, and there is no dispute that the apartments are owned outright by Jews.
2015 – The return of the Yemenite Synagogue, whose main sanctuary will be called Heichal Yonatan, in honor of Jonathan Pollard.
"It is our hope that Jews and Arabs will be able to live side by side with each other in peace and coexistence, as can be seen when Arabs legally move into predominantly Jewish neighborhoods like Pisgat Ze'ev, Ramat Eshkol, French Hill, Armon HaNetziv,” Ateret Cohanim said in a statement.