Yesterday the Center for Constitutional Rights sent out the following update:
March 26, 2012, Jerusalem, New York - New photographic and video evidence made public today for the first time by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) indicates that controversial archeological excavations by the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) have continued this month on the ancient Mamilla cemetery in Jerusalem. The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) seeks to erect a “Museum of Tolerance – Center for Human Dignity” on the site. The new evidence strongly suggests that the site still contains archaeological artifacts and human remains, contrary to SWC claims that bedrock has been reached on all portions of the site.
“Incredibly, the SWC and Israeli authorities continue to desecrate this ancient cemetery, ostensibly in the name of tolerance. Not only does this dishonor the descendants of those buried in Mamilla, it also reinforces the second-class citizenship of all Palestinians. It is time that Israel and the SWC heed the calls of prominent religious figures, human rights advocates, eminent archeologists and people all over the world to end this sacrilege,” said CCR President Emeritus Michael Ratner, who co-signed a recent letter to the SWC opposing the construction.
In 2010, CCR filed petitions with several United Nations officials on behalf of descendants of individuals buried in the cemetery. The petition argues that the IAA and the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s highly secretive removal of thousands of human remains during excavations and infrastructure work on the site demonstrates a lack of respect for Palestinian cultural heritage and human rights and for the dignity of the deceased and their living ancestors.
The current excavations are being conducted under cover of a plastic tarp, in a pit which has been dug several meters below the floor of the construction site bordering the remaining part of the undisturbed cemetery. The IAA excavation pit is within a fenced enclosure in the south-west perimeter of the larger SWC construction site. The inner enclosure also features high voltage electricity supply for excavation equipment in the pit and portable toilet facilities for on-site workers, as evident in the photos and video.
On March 1, 2012, prior to these revelations, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Campaign to Preserve Mamilla Jerusalem Cemetery sent a personal letter to Rabbi Hier of the SWC urging him to stop construction of the Museum in a section of the ancient Mamilla cemetery. The letter suggested that alternative options be considered and requested a meeting with Rabbi Hier to discuss the issue. It was copied to the Board of the SWC and foundations that support its work and to the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, urging him to intervene to stop the controversial project. Neither Rabbi Hier nor Mayor Barkat have responded to the letter.
“This important historical, cultural and religious site has witnessed a terrible offense, which appears to be continuing as Israeli Antiquities Authority excavations persist. Rabbi Hier must realize the grave precedent he is setting by building in a historic Muslim cemetery, and agree to a different location in the interest of mutual respect and tolerance in the Holy Land,” said Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University and signatory to the letter to Hier.
For more see mamillacampaign.org.