Israel’s destruction of Mamilla cemetery part of effort to remove Palestine from Jerusalem

Israel/Palestine

Mamilla cemetery does not exist anymore. What exists now is a hotel, a school, a parking lot, a public garden, a nightclub and the US consulate. Also a museum to celebrate tolerance. But the meaning of tolerance in West Jerusalem, a few steps away from the Old City, is surreal — to build the story of a new Jerusalem, the Israeli authorities are erasing its past. Mamilla cemetery is a prominent cornerstone of the Arab, Islamic and Palestinian identity of the city. But today it’s a forgotten place.

Since the creation of the State of Israel, the Israeli government has worked to remove the graveyard from the heart of West Jerusalem. “In 1948, the year of Nakba, the catastrophe of the Palestinian people, the upper part was immediately transformed into a public park, renamed ‘Independence Park’, aimed at celebrating the victory in the ’48 war. They created the garden, uprooting and removing dozens of ancient tombs.” explains Nader Dajani as he walks between what remains of the cemetery of his ancestors. The Dajani family is one of the most ancient and wealthy families in Palestine, several of its members are buried in Mamilla.

“In the Israeli project the only things that deserve to survive in Mamilla are two shrines: one belongs to a famous local scholar, and one to Ahmad Dajani, a well known sheikh. The only reasons behind this decision is the archeological importance of the shrines and also their sizes: it’s easy to remove a small tomb, a stone; it’s harder to uproot a huge one”.

Tombs in the historic cemetery of Mamilla in West Jerusalem, in the background the construction site of the Israeli Museum of Tolerance to set to open in 2017. (Photo: Pablo Castellani)

Tombs in the historic cemetery of Mamilla in West Jerusalem, in the background the construction site of the Israeli Museum of Tolerance set to open in 2017. (Photo: Pablo Castellani)

Today, the graveyard has almost disappeared. A few ancient tombstones are relegated into the lower part, covered by grass and trash. It’s not easy to estimate how many gravestones were located there but, according to an investigation by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, at least 1,500 tombs were removed by bulldozers and the human remains just thrown away. “The Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have to ask the Israeli State for the permission to clean and take care of the cemetery,” Dajani says. “And every time they refuse. If we come and do some work, after a while they destroy what we build to protect the tombs”.

“Even the old pool of the cemetery is abandoned and empty and it will be removed. It’s heartbreaking, this pool was the means in ancient times for the Jerusalemites to distribute water to the city. The water was coming from the Hebron district through a pipe system, collected here and then allocated to the different neighborhoods. Actually the name ‘Mamilla’ originates from that: in ancient Arabic it means ‘water of God’ or ‘benefit from God’. Do you see? They are not just uprooting the gravestone, but also the history of Jerusalem”.

The Israeli Museum of Tolerance is set to open in 2017 and will be build on top of the age-old Mamilla cemetery in Jerusalem's Old City. According to the Islamic community, some of the Prophet Muhammad's companions were buried there. (Photo: Pablo Castellani)

The Israeli Museum of Tolerance is set to open in 2017 and will be build on top of the age-old Mamilla cemetery in Jerusalem’s Old City. According to the Islamic community, some of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions were buried there. (Photo: Pablo Castellani)

Of the 200 dunams (one dunam is 1000 meters square), only 20 still serve as a graveyard. Not for long. Dajani continues, “In July the municipality gave the final green light to a new residential project. The few tombs that survived the destruction, will be removed to give space for a massive complex including 200 apartments, a commercial mall and a 480-room hotel”. The construction of the Museum of Tolerance is still ongoing meanwhile a new pub and nightclub opened one month ago where there had previously been gravestones.

The Israeli project to destroy Mamilla cemetery has deep roots. In 1933 the British Mandate planned the first transformation of the graveyard. Under that project the cemetery was supposed to be divided into four parts: a residential area,  a public garden, a commercial area and the remains of the graveyard. This European colonialism laid the foundations for the future Israeli policies: the same project is exactly the one implemented after ’48, when all the public properties owned by the State under the Islamic al-Waqf contracts passed into the hands of the new Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property through the Absentee Law (the Israeli law used to confiscate all the properties owned by Palestinian refugees).

The cemetery was used since the Roman times, until the 7th century when the Persians conquered Jerusalem. In 636 AD it became an Islamic cemetery and it witnessed a bloody massacre during Crusaders time when 17,000 people were brutally killed in the occupation of Jerusalem and laid to rest there. People still say that the prophet Mohammed is buried there; for sure Mamilla is the place of rest for the sahaba, disciples of Mohammed, and later for famous scholars, intellectuals, former governors of Jerusalem. In that way it is a symbolic threat to the biggest Israeli goal of the Judaization of historical Palestine.

Tombs in the historic cemetery of Mamilla in West Jerusalem, in the background the construction site of the Israeli Museum of Tolerance to set to open in 2017. (Photo: Pablo Castellani)

Tombs in the historic cemetery of Mamilla in West Jerusalem, in the background the construction site of the Israeli Museum of Tolerance to set to open in 2017. (Photo: Pablo Castellani)

“The current municipality has the aim to transform Jerusalem into an open air gallery, on behalf of international tourism,” says Sergio Yahni, an Israeli journalist and coordinator of the Palestinian-Israeli organization the Alternative Information Center. Yahni continues, “To reach this goal, it’s erasing the Islamic history and tradition of the city. Jerusalem is built on multiple layers, a unique stage of history, but the municipality is working hard to simplify it. How? Erasing the Islamic layer in order to replace it with the Roman and the Jewish ones”.

“The huge project that is going on in Mamilla is business: they are commercializing the city, selling it as a modern Jewish city, but at the same time as an ancient one. The mayor, Nir Barkat, wants to sell Jerusalem to the world as an opulent tourist attraction, because of this, he is transforming its character and the nature. Who is the victim? The Arab history of the city”.

One of the tools Israel is using to do this is archeology. For decades Israel has used it to justify its policies on the ground. “The scientific archeology was replaced by the ideological archeology: all the Israeli work in this field is based on the Bible and the Old Testament, trying to demonstrate their narrative,” Yahni explains. “And obviously, in this context, there is no space for the Islamic and Arab tradition. Let’s take the example of the Moroccan Quarter, in the Old City, just beside the Wailing Wall: it was built in the 12th century and it was destroyed after 1967 because it was contradicting the Zionist narrative. The same thing is happening in Silwan with the City of David and in Mamilla: the archeology is a tool to justify a personal and self-interested narrative, erasing the real one”.

But the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem aren’t giving up. They have been fighting for 30 years through petitions, legal action and support from outside but with little results. In 1986 the first appeal to the UN agency Unesco to save the site failed. In 2006 the Israeli Supreme Court received and then rejected the first complaint by families and human rights organizations to stop the work in the graveyard. This has been followed by several other petitions to UN and UNESCO. But today the disappearance of Mamilla is still ongoing.

A boy running in the garden next to the cemetery. (Photo: Pablo Castellani)

A boy running in the garden next to the cemetery. (Photo: Pablo Castellani)

About Pablo Castellani and Chiara Cruciati

Pablo Castellani is a Italian freelance journalist, photojournalist and filmmaker. He works with agencies of photojournalism and Italian newspapers and radio. Produces short films and photographic reports from crisis areas, such as South Sudan, Iraq and the Middle East. Chiara Cruciati is an Italian journalist in Palestine/Israel. She is the chief editor of the Italian web agency NENA NEWS. As a freelance, she collaborates with the newspaper il Manifesto and other Italian outlets.

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22 Responses

  1. just
    August 27, 2015, 10:40 am

    “A few ancient tombstones are relegated into the lower part, covered by grass and trash. It’s not easy to estimate how many gravestones were located there but, according to an investigation by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, at least 1,500 tombs were removed by bulldozers and the human remains just thrown away. …

    … Actually the name ‘Mamilla’ originates from that: in ancient Arabic it means ‘water of God’ or ‘benefit from God’. Do you see? They are not just uprooting the gravestone, but also the history of Jerusalem”.”

    Absolute and obscene desecration sponsored by the GoI. Where is the outrage? Why hasn’t UNESCO intervened? It it because a nightclub and a museum of tolerance (laughing myself silly at the chutzpah and irony of it!) are more important than the true history of Jerusalem and the gravesites of revered ancestors? I’m sickened that the US consulate is also occupying this hallowed ground.

    BDS must apply to Israel and not just the illegal settlements. It’s past time for formal sanctions from governments all over the world, starting with the US.

    Thanks for this very dismaying article, Pablo Castellani and Chiara Cruciati.

  2. eljay
    August 27, 2015, 11:02 am

    It is truly disgusting for hateful and immoral Zio-supremacists to build a museum of “tolerance” – in occupied territory, no less – even as they and their oppressive, colonialist, expansionist and religion-supremacist state continue with their decades-long campaign of intolerant Jewish supremacism and related (war) crimes.

  3. pabelmont
    August 27, 2015, 11:04 am

    Museum of tolerance? It is surely a museum, right?, and all that is a bit queer is the meaning of “tolerance”. From context, it appears that In Israeli Hebrew, it clearly means “Israeli Jews triumphed, Israeli Jews destroyed.” Or as they’d probably say, “Jews triumphed, Jews destroyed” which is how, in Israeli Hebrew (a modern language, cheerfully developing new meanings for old words every day!) they say “Israeli Jews triumphed, Israeli Jews destroyed.”

    This is abysmal abuse.

    I’d like every Jew who hears of this abuse to declare himself or herself: Either “I am a Jew and I deplore the triumph, the destruction done by Israeli Jews” or “I am a Jew and I approve the message of so-called tolerance.”

  4. RockyMissouri
    August 27, 2015, 12:28 pm

    Just MONSTROUS..!!

  5. just
    August 27, 2015, 3:16 pm

    “JERUSALEM (AP) — Ultra-nationalist Israelis took over a four-story building in the heart of an Arab neighborhood in east Jerusalem on Thursday, raising fears of fresh violence in the tense area.

    A small group of activists from the Ateret Cohanim settler organization moved into the rundown white stone building. It was the latest in a wave of settler advances since nationalist Jews began buying up properties in densely populated Palestinian areas two decades ago.

    The building is located in Silwan, a rundown neighborhood that is home to several hundred Jewish residents and some 50,000 Palestinians. Israeli soldiers were guarding the latest wave of settlers.

    “I have 11 people inside the house, where should I go?” said Jawaf Abu Sneineh, the only Palestinian resident who has still refused to vacate the building. He said he already paid the year’s rent.

    Abu Sneineh said his children were afraid of the Jewish settlers suddenly living above them. …”

    http://news.yahoo.com/jewish-settlers-over-homes-arab-part-jerusalem-160859766.html

    “Israeli soldiers were guarding the latest wave of settlers.”

    They always do. Nir Barkat and the IOF are laughing.

  6. JLewisDickerson
    August 27, 2015, 4:02 pm

    RE: “Israel’s destruction of Mamilla cemetery part of effort to remove Palestine from Jerusalem”

    MY COMMENT: That’s why I support making Jerusalem an ‘international city’ pursuant to General Assembly resolution 181 (II) November 29, 1947, which provides for the full territorial internationalisation of Jerusalem: “The City of Jerusalem shall be established as a corpus separatum under a special international regime and shall be administered by the United Nations.”
    Netanyahu recently made it clear that as far as he is concerned there will never be a sovereign nation-state of Palestine in the West Bank (with, or without, E. Jerusalem as its capital). Consequently, unless Jerusalem is protected by virtue of its being made an ‘international city’ administered by the UN, it is just a matter of time before the Dome of the Rock, the Al-Aqsa mosque and numerous other historic sites come under existential threat as Israel’s radical, extremist nationalists (like Yehuda Glick and Moshe Feiglin of the Temple Institute) become more and more determined to completely “Judaize” the city.

  7. TerryHeaton
    August 28, 2015, 3:01 pm

    This blatant rewriting of history is far more dangerous that most realize. The press turns their head aside, for hasbara has won the battle that will soon be overcome by the Great Horizontal of our networked world. The direct connection referenced above by Mr. Yahni between modern Israel and the old testament is a dangerous one, for who wants a country armed to the teeth exercising the will of God?

    http://thepomoblog.com/index.php/re-writing-history-by-erasure/

  8. James Michie
    August 28, 2015, 7:51 pm

    The irony of all of this is far too palpable for me! How can a people have suffered and endured so much at the hands of Nazi Germany, and 60 years later brutally impose much of the same inhumane, demonic treatment on another people–racism, genocide, ethnic cleansing, all done at the point of a gun and with complete impunity in Palestine! And now even the dead in Palestine, a nation literally stolen at the point of a gun in 1948, must face yet another indignity as an historic Palestinian cemetery in Jerusalem is destroyed and replaced with Israel’s “Museum of Tolerance”. Absolutely Kafkaesque!

    • RoHa
      August 29, 2015, 5:05 am

      The process was planned and well in progress before the Nazis came to power. The people responsible were rich and influential. They were not poor, oppressed, Jewish tailors.

      And what proportion of the population of Israel suffered anything at the hands of the Nazis? Most of the main founders of the state were already in Mandate Palestine, protected from the Nazis by the British Army, the Royal Navy, and the Royal Air Force.

      • mcohen.
        September 5, 2015, 1:42 am

        bullshit

      • talknic
        September 5, 2015, 9:54 am

        “bullshit”
        How convincing …

        David Ben-Gurion – Płońsk, Poland – Palestine 1906
        Rabbi Kalman Kahana – Galicia (Ukraine) – Palestine 1938
        Aharon Zisling – Minsk, Belarus – Palestine 1904
        Yitzhak Ben-Zvi – Poltava (Ukraine) – Palestine 1907
        Saadia Kobashi – Yemen – Palestine 1909
        Daniel Auster – Knihinin (Ukraine) – Palestine 1914
        Rachel Cohen – Odesa – Palestine 1919
        David-Zvi Pinkas – Sopron, Austria/Hungary – Palestine 1925
        Mordechai Bentov = Grodzisk Mazowiecki, Poland – Palestine 1920
        Moshe Kol – Pinsk, Belarus – Palestine 1932
        Eliyahu Berlignee – Russia – Palestine 1907
        Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Levin – Góra Kalwaria, Russia – Palestine 1940
        Eliezer Kaplan – Minsk, Russia – Palestine 1920
        Peretz Bernstein – Meiningen, Germany – Netherlands til Palestine 1936
        Abraham Katznelson – Bobruisk, Belorussia – Palestine 1924
        Rabbi Wolf Gold – Stettin, Germany (Poland) – US 1907 – Palestine 1935
        Meir David Loewenstein – Copenhagen, Denmark – Palestine 1934
        Pinchas Rosen – Berlin, Germany – Palestine 1926
        Meir Grabovsky – Rîbniţa, Russia – Palestine 1927
        David Remez – Kopys, Belorussia – Palestine 1913
        Yitzhak Gruenbaum – Warsaw, Poland – Palestine 1933
        Zvi Luria (Lurie) – Lodz, Poland – Palestine 1924
        Berl Repetur – Ruzhyn, Ukraine – Palestine 1920
        Dr. Abraham Granovsky – Făleşti, Russia – Palestine 1924
        Golda Myerson – Kiev, Ukraine – Palestine 1921
        Mordekhai Shattner – Chernovitz ? ( Czernowitz ?), Ukraine ? – Palestine unsure (England during WW2)
        Nachum Nir – Warsaw, Poland – Palestine 1925
        Ben-Zion Sternberg – Czernowitz, Austria /Hungary – Palestine 1939
        Eliyahu Dobkin – Babruysk, Russia – Palestine 1932
        Zvi Segal – Lithuania – Palestine date unsure
        Bechor-Shalom Sheetrit – Tiberias, Ottoman Empire
        Meir Wilner-Kovner – Vilnius, Lithuania – Palestine 1938
        Rabbi Yehuda Leib Hacohen Fishman – Mărculești, Russia – Palestine 1913
        Haim-Moshe Shapira – Grodno, Belarus – Palestine 1925
        Zerach Warhaftig – Volkovysk, Russia – Lithuania/Japan/Canada 1941 – Palestine 1947

      • RoHa
        September 5, 2015, 8:07 pm

        Good list, talknic.

        I think we all knew that Ben Gurion was a right plonsker.

      • talknic
        September 5, 2015, 11:09 pm

        RoHa thx :-) I await a mcreply …..

  9. traintosiberia
    August 28, 2015, 9:40 pm

    Is IS planning to build a slaughter house and casino or high end brothel.? They should at least start with a transgender’s room or unisex one.

    CNN and NYT aren’t covering constructive side of the IS activities.
    I saw Blitzer moving his beards against the fanaticism of IS .
    They should have told Blitzer through a long distance microphone that they would build something like museum of Tolerance on the ruined ruins

  10. Justin Green
    September 6, 2015, 9:25 am

    I have been having an ongoing debate with a friend about the I-P divide. Whenever I cite Mondoweiss as a source it raises his hackles. I offer the following quote from our recent email conversation in hopes that somebody will clarify this issue: “(Mondoweiss)…is ferociously biased. You will never see (for instance) even a mention of the Supreme Moslem Council in Mandate Palestine approving parts of the Mamilla Cemetery. ” Thanks in advance.

    • Bumblebye
      September 6, 2015, 2:22 pm

      Easy enough!
      Supreme Muslim Council was set up by High Commissioner Sir Herbert Samel *with* authority over the holy sites. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supreme_Muslim_Council . The international community has only ever recognized Israel within the borders it declared – which do *not* include any part of Jerusalem – therefore Israel has *no* authority for its destruction of the cemetary.

      Are facts biased?

      • Justin Green
        September 7, 2015, 8:56 am

        Guess I will soon find out, B.

    • tree
      September 6, 2015, 5:14 pm

      Hi Justin. Although his wording is sloppy, I suppose your friend is referring to the Palestine Post (Zionist newspaper of the day-now the Jerusalem Post) article from 1945 that claimed that the Supreme Muslim Council approved a Muslim plan to build a commercial center on part of the cemetery. There was just one article about it on November 33, 1945, no plans were ever approved, no construction was ever started, but Martin Hier of the Simon Weisenthal Center claimed that the one article proved that the cemetery was not considered sacred.

      I was pretty sure that your friend is wrong and that this factoid was mentioned here in the past, so I used the MW search function and came up with these results:

      http://mondoweiss.net/?s=mamilla

      One article in particular deals directly with this Palestine Post article:

      http://mondoweiss.net/2010/03/red-herring-in-mamilla-case

      I’ll excerpt from the article with 3 out of the 6 points it makes, that should answer your question:

      3) Referring to the 1945 Jerusalem Post article, Hier says that a “Supreme Muslim Council” had approved building on top of the Mamilla Cemetery. However, this Supreme Muslim Council (appointed by the British Mandate authorities) had no Muslim clerics among it and there also was no Mufti in office. Only a Mufti would have had the religious authority to approve building on the Mamilla Cemetery. It is part of the historical record that the last Supreme Muslim Council headed by a Mufti was dissolved by the British Mandate Authority in 1937.

      4)The 1945, non-clerical, British-appointed Supreme Muslim Council did not have the authority to issue a religious fatwa (or ruling) that would have had the power to make any big changes in the status quo. The only thing this 1945 SMC could do is administer Islamic waqf affairs.

      5) In 1944, the British Mandate put the Mamilla Cemetery on its list of Antiquities. The British Mandate was the only lawful governing authority at that time. Why would the put it on an antiquities list in 1944 and then allow the destruction of the cemetery the following year? Why doesn’t Hier say that the Mandate approved the building of this commercial center? Most likely because they did not.

      – See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2010/03/red-herring-in-mamilla-case#sthash.rLyMPosa.dpuf

      I have not perused the other articles under the “Mamilla” search, but its probable that there may be mention of this issue in other articles as well.

      So you can tell your friend that MW addresses all issues, and debunks the ones that are false or red herrings. That is not a feature of a site that is “ferociously biased”.

      And you might ask your friend where he got his information about the Palestine Post article, because that source of his clearly had much more of a bias, perhaps even a ferocious one, in not mentioning that the SMC was British appointed, had no Muslim clerics on it, and had no Mufti in 1945, since the Grand Mufti had been exiled in 1937.

      BTW, you can access the search feature for articles by clicking on the magnifying glass icon on the upper right side of the page. You can also search comments from individual commenters for further information.YOu can do that by clicking on the commenter’s name and then entering the search criteria when their comment page comes up. There are great articles here, but there is also a lot of information available from individual commenters if you know where to look.

      Hope this helps. Good luck with your friend.

      • just
        September 6, 2015, 5:34 pm

        Thanks for all of that, tree.

        Thoughtfully and factually done as usual.

      • tree
        September 6, 2015, 5:41 pm

        Thanks, just. I just noticed a typo I missed on first proofreading, though. The date of the article was November 22, obviously, since there is no such thing as November 33!

      • just
        September 6, 2015, 7:46 pm

        grrr.

        It was a teensy and obvious typo, imho. It didn’t detract from your excellent piece.

      • Justin Green
        September 7, 2015, 9:11 am

        Your time and thoroughness are both appreciated–also the tip about the little magnifying glass, which my faltering peepers didn’t notice.

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