Before going to Rashid Khalidi and Michael Ratner's talk on the Mamilla Cemetery at Columbia University last week, I had a drink with a friend who is completely ignorant about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- not even on his radar.
I gave him the elevator pitch on the situation: "It's an ancient Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem that an American Jewish group is building a 'Museum of Tolerance' on top of."
The irony was not lost on my friend. He was shocked. "Really?" he asked, and turned to a friend to repeat it.
Khalidi emphasized the absurdity at the lecture: "Just the facts: They are building a 'Museum of Tolerance' on the oldest Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem. You say that enough times, it should stop them."
Lots of people are trying, but it doesn't work. Where's the disconnect?
Khalidi said that the government of Israel is notoriously deaf to international public opinion, but the government of Israel isn't building the museum. Rather the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, a 501(c)(3) organization, is the one subverting international law -- remember UN resolutions place Jerusalem as an international city, and protect sites of interest -- with tax-exempt U.S. dollars.
As noted in an earlier post,, Khalidi put the affair within the context of the whole of Jerusalem. So did Center for Constitutional Rights head Michael Ratner. CCR is spearheading a petition to block further desecration on behalf of families like the Khalidis, whose ancestors are buried in Mamilla.
"What you have to conclude is that they want to take this spot," Ratner said, "then the next spot. It's clear they want to eradicate any presence of Muslims in Jerusalem."
The Wiesenthal Center and its Israeli allies seem indeed to have nefarious intentions here, evidenced by the exploitation of the "everybody knows" meme on final status issues of a peace agreement. Those in the U.S. -- from where dollars fund, as Ratner put it, "huge bulldozers and earth moving machines just destroying the ground" (the graves, that is) -- who don't see the patent absurdity are willfully blind.
But thanks to Ratner, Khalidi and other activists, more and more people are seeing what's right in front of them. I told my friend, he told his. And Khalidi says it's bringing other things to the fore: the disproportionate Israeli protection of antiquities (all 137 sites Israel has designated are Jewish) and the destruction of mosques and churches in Arab villages whose occupants were driven out in 1948. Most importantly, it raises issues about all of Jerusalem.
"Israel has done more than just damage this cemetery," Khalidi said. "Israel has opened up a can of worms by allowing this to happen."
It's a can of elephants. They're in the room. Let's see who notices.