After using the footbridge, we turn right onto an enchanting pathway (Shaul A. Nachon Street), which leads below Mishkenot Shaananim and then we walk through its neighbouring suburb, Yemin Moshe. (There are 120 steps in Yemin Moshe). Both colonies were built on land purchased by the British philanthropist Lord Moshe Montefiore at the prompting of Rav Shmuel Salant, with funding from an estate left by Mr. Judah Touro. Mishkenot Shaananim was built in 1855, and Yemin Moshe was established in 1891.
Butterflies flit though the air, and the greenery is lush. Scarlet and red-pink bougainvillea bushes climb on walls and frame doorways. Diverse plants and beautiful flowers line the walkways. To our right in places where the thick vegetation is thinner or lower, we can view the Old City wall built by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.
These neighbourhoods were attacked during the 1929 Arab riots, but the residents successfully repulsed the attackers. And during the War of Independence the enemy surrounded the whole area for months. It held out heroically, but after a heavy assault in February of 1948, most of the residents fled.
The cease-fire lines established following the war turned the area into a the “no-man’s land” of a divided Jerusalem with the border between Israel and Jordan located in the Hinnon Valley. During the division period, the Ministry of Housing settled new olim, mostly from Turkey, in both neighbourhoods. Snipers on the Old City walls would indiscriminately fire at the residents, causing fear and chaos.
After the miracle lightning Six Day War the whole area was renovated. It was designated as an artist’s colony, and most of the residents who had suffered through the 19 years of terror were relocated.
The uniquely beautiful Beit Yisrael Shul of Yemin Moshe, founded in 1895 and maintained throughout the nearly two decades of the separation period, was slated to be turned into an artist gallery and studio. Rav Yehuda Leib Porush, whose forbearer Rav Shlomo Zalman Porush was among the founders of the shul, organized a demonstration of yeshiva boys to protest the renovation plan.
Eventually, the firm that had been given rights by Mayor Teddy Kollek to build an artists’ gallery in this place of worship, relented. Municipal approval for the renewed function of Beit Yisrael as a house of prayer and learning was given. The congregation was officially reconstituted in 1975, and in 1992, Rav Chanoch Yeres was engaged to serve the needs of the English-speaking members. Mishkenot Shaananim and Yemin Moshe are now upscale neighbourhoods where artists work in studios and sell their work in galleries.
Now we take the winding footpath that leads us to Mamilla, outside of Jaffa Gate. Following the approval of the 1947 UN Partition Plan, an Arab mob ransacked and burned much of the Mamilla district and stabbed some of its Jewish occupants. During the War of Independence, the neighbourhood turned into one of the main combat zones which led to the flight of both Jewish and Arab residents. After the Armistice Agreement that gave Israel the western three-quarters of Mamilla, the eastern quarter became a “no-man’s land” of barbed-wire and concrete barricades. Throughout the 19 years of the division of Jerusalem, Mamilla was subject to stone throwing, sniper, and guerrilla attacks by Arab Legionnaires from the Old City walls above it. After Israel built a barrier wall, the area became the home of new immigrants with large families and small financial abilities. It also became a centre for light industry such as auto-repair. After the unification of the city in 1967, the barricades that had lined Mamilla’s 19-year-old border were torn down. As a result of the many years of fighting and the resultant limited maintenance, many buildings on Mamilla’s eastern end were in shambles. Several historic buildings had to be condemned. In 1972 the city began to develop the neighbourhood. They evicted about 700 families, as well as communal institutions and businesses. These families were mostly Jewish immigrants from Arab states whose weak financial status left them vulnerable. For 19 years they had suffered as a live defence barrier. After they were evicted from their homes there was a steep increase in real-estate values in this former slum area. This became a key issue in the Israeli social upheaval of the 1970s and was one of the causes of the founding of the Black Panther movement in Israel.