Jerusalem / – With the Israeli Supreme Court decision to allow the building of a “Museum of Tolerance” atop what was Jerusalem’s main Muslim cemetery until 1948, national and religious figures are calling for major protests.
Arab and foreign consuls met in East Jerusalem’s Ambassador Hotel to discuss the situation and create a plan of action in light of the loss of the court case that began in 2006.
Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein said that the Israeli ruling is criminal as it allows for the “attack on the tombs and bones of Muslims.” The Israelis began exhuming Muslim graves in Mamilla Cemetery in 2006. Construction was ordered to halt during court proceedings. However, Israeli developers continued to exhume graves.
Head of the Islamic Movement, Sheikh Ra’ed Salah described the situation as catastrophic. He noted that 70,000 graves fill the 200 dunam cemetery which has tombs dating back thousands of years.
Sheikh Salah said that Israeli projects include building a large hotel on part of the cemetery, extending a sewage network, laying streets and establishing the “Independence Park.”
He said that naming the museum “Tolerance” illustrates “their utter disdain. They have raped our holy places in the name of tolerance.” Sheikh Salah also noted that an Israeli American is undertaking the project with 200 million USD coming from California. It is backed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The museum is a sister project for the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center.
The Head of the Islamic Movement, Sheikh Salah, said, “This resolution is a serious violation of all the holy sites and not only to one cemetery. There are other graves under threat, graves that symbolize our historical background, our culture and religion.”
Sheikh Salah called on the citizens of Jerusalem to continue visits to shrines and the graves of their relatives buried in the cemetery and to continue with maintenance of graves, stressing the need to initiate practical steps to preserve Jerusalem and its holy sites.
For his part the governor of Jerusalem Adnan Husseini said that the Mamilla Cemetery is an “important site in Jerusalem. With the seizure of the west of the city the cemetery is going from 200 dunams to 20. This is unacceptable. It’s a war on the dead.”
Husseini noted, “The Department of Islamic Endowments gave to the Jews 300 dunums of land to bury their dead but they are now attacking the Islamic cemetery which is a safe place. The Israeli courts did not allow for any Palestinian rights since 1948, but instead have manipulated time and deferred to the Israeli government’s plans to swallow the ground. The Israeli authorities prevented the restoration of the cemetery safe and build a fence to protect them.”
Advisor to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on Jerusalem Affairs, Hatem Abdel Qader denounced the Israeli claim that building the Museum of Tolerance on the cemetery would have no Palestinian reaction. “This is reckless disregard, an unprecedented assault on the land. The issue is not just of bulldozing the graves and bones, but the bulldozing of dignity.”
Abdel Qader said he had contact with a number of Arab ambassadors who expressed their willingness to work to prevent such work in Mamilla Cemetery. Part of the new campaign includes outreach to European officials and a concerted effort from Palestinian Muslims and Christians. Chairman of the Commission on Graves, Mustafa Abu Zahra, said that delegations are currently being formed to visit Arab states and Islamic institutions to support their demands to stop the ongoing violations of the cemetery.