Mamilla Cemetery

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Mamilla Cemetery is an historic Muslim
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

 cemetery located just to the west of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. The cemetery, at the center of which lies the Mamilla Pool
Mamilla Pool
Mamilla Pool is one of several ancient reservoirs that supplied water to the inhabitants of the Old City of Jerusalem. It is located outside the wall's of the Old City about 700 yards northwest of Jaffa Gate in the center of the Mamilla Cemetery. With a capacity of 30,000 cubic meters, it is...

, contains the remains of figures from the early Islamic period, several Sufi shrines and Mamluk
Mamluk Sultanate (Cairo)
The Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt was the final independent Egyptian state prior to the establishment of the Muhammad Ali Dynasty in 1805. It lasted from the overthrow of the Ayyubid Dynasty until the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517. The sultanate's ruling caste was composed of Mamluks, Arabised...

-era tombs. The cemetery grounds also contain the bodies of thousands of Christians killed in the pre-Islamic era, as well as several tombs from Crusader times.

Its identity as an Islamic cemetery is noted by Arab
Arab people, also known as Arabs , are a panethnicity primarily living in the Arab world, which is located in Western Asia and North Africa. They are identified as such on one or more of genealogical, linguistic, or cultural grounds, with tribal affiliations, and intra-tribal relationships playing...

 and Persian
Persian people
The Persian people are part of the Iranian peoples who speak the modern Persian language and closely akin Iranian dialects and languages. The origin of the ethnic Iranian/Persian peoples are traced to the Ancient Iranian peoples, who were part of the ancient Indo-Iranians and themselves part of...

 writers as early as the 11th century. It was used as a burial site up until 1927 when the Supreme Muslim Council
Supreme Muslim Council
The Supreme Muslim Council was the highest body in charge of Muslim community affairs in Mandate Palestine under British control. It was established to create an advisory body composed of Muslims and Christians with whom the High Commissioner could consult...

 decided to preserve it as a historic site.

Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War
1948 Arab-Israeli War
The 1948 Arab–Israeli War, known to Israelis as the War of Independence or War of Liberation The war commenced after the termination of the British Mandate for Palestine and the creation of an independent Israel at midnight on 14 May 1948 when, following a period of civil war, Arab armies invaded...

, the cemetery and other waqf
A waqf also spelled wakf formally known as wakf-alal-aulad is an inalienable religious endowment in Islamic law, typically denoting a building or plot of land for Muslim religious or charitable purposes. The donated assets are held by a charitable trust...

 properties in West Jerusalem
West Jerusalem
West Jerusalem refers to:*The section of Jerusalem captured by Israel following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.*The western neighborhoods of Jerusalem today.-Division in 1948:...

 fell under the control of Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

i governmental bodies. A number of buildings, a road and other public facilities, such as a park, a parking lot and public lavatories have since been constructed on the cemetery grounds, destroying grave markers and tombs. A plan to build a Museum of Tolerance
Museum of Tolerance
The Museum of Tolerance , a multimedia museum in Los Angeles, California, USA, with an associated museum and professional development multi-media training facility in New York City, is designed to examine racism and prejudice in the United States and the world with a strong focus on the history of...

 on part of the cemetery grounds, announced in 2004, aroused much controversy and faced several stop work orders before being given final approval in July 2011.


The name Mamilla is used to refer to the cemetery and the Mamilla Pool
Mamilla Pool
Mamilla Pool is one of several ancient reservoirs that supplied water to the inhabitants of the Old City of Jerusalem. It is located outside the wall's of the Old City about 700 yards northwest of Jaffa Gate in the center of the Mamilla Cemetery. With a capacity of 30,000 cubic meters, it is...

 located at its center. It was also the name of a church dedicated to St Mamilla located at the same site in the early Byzantine and Islamic periods.

Mamilla is mentioned as an Islamic cemetery as early as the 11th century in Concerning the (religious) status of Jerusalem, a treatise penned by Abu Bakr b. Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Wasiti, the preacher of Al Aqsa Mosque in 1019-1020 (AH 410). He gives its name as zaytun al-milla, Arabic
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

 for "the olive trees of the religion", which Moshe Gil
Moshe Gil
Moshe Gil is an Israeli historian.-Academic career:Moshe Gil specializes in the historical interaction between Islam and the Jews, including the history of Palestine under the Islamic domination, the institution of the Exilarchate, and Jewish merchants such as the Radhanites...

 says was "a commonly used distortion of the name Māmillā," along with bab al-milla (meaning, "the door of the religion").

Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi
Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi
Shaykh Abd al-Ghani al-Nablusi , an eminent Muslim scholar and Sufi, was born in Damascus in 1641 into a family of Islamic scholarship. His father, Isma'il Abd al-Ghani, was a jurist in the Hanafi school of Sunni Islam and a contributor to Arabic literature...

 writes in al-Haqiqa, based on his travels to the region in 1693-4, that, "It is said that its original name is Ma'man Illah and sometimes it was called Bab Illah [Gate to God]. It is also called 'Zeitun il-Milla'. Its name, according to the Jews, is Beit Milo and to the Christians, Babilla. But it is known to the common people as Mamilla." A similar description appears in James Turner Barclay's The city of the Great King (1857) and he gives the meaning of Ma'man Illah (or Ma-min-ullah,as he transcribes it) as "What is from God!"

Pre-Islamic period

Prior to the Islamic period, early on during the rule of the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 over Palestine
Palestine is a conventional name, among others, used to describe the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands....

 (c. 4th-6th centuries), a church dedicated to St Mamilla was established on the same site and it appears to have been used for burials at this time as well. An account of the aftermath of the Persian capture of Jerusalem in 614 by Strategius, a monk of Mar Saba
Mar Saba
The Great Lavra of St. Sabbas the Sanctified, known in Arabic as Mar Saba , is a Greek Orthodox monastery overlooking the Kidron Valley in the West Bank east of Bethlehem. The traditional date for the founding of the monastery by Saint Sabas of Cappadocia is the year 483 and today houses around 20...

, says that the bodies of thousands of Christians killed by the Persian forces of the Sassanid Empire
Sassanid Empire
The Sassanid Empire , known to its inhabitants as Ērānshahr and Ērān in Middle Persian and resulting in the New Persian terms Iranshahr and Iran , was the last pre-Islamic Persian Empire, ruled by the Sasanian Dynasty from 224 to 651...

 - 4,518 according to Gregorian translations of the lost Greek original, and 24,518 according to Arabic translations of the same - were found in the Mamilla Pool and buried in caves in and around it.

Islamic period

Islamic rule over Jerusalem began in 638 under the Rashidun Caliphate
Rashidun Caliphate
The Rashidun Caliphate , comprising the first four caliphs in Islam's history, was founded after Muhammad's death in 632, Year 10 A.H.. At its height, the Caliphate extended from the Arabian Peninsula, to the Levant, Caucasus and North Africa in the west, to the Iranian highlands and Central Asia...

 and persisted for some 1,400 years, interrupted only by the Crusader invasions of 1099-1187 and 1229-1244. Throughout much of this period, Mamilla cemetery was the largest Islamic cemetery in the city, containing the remains of emir
Emir , meaning "commander", "general", or "prince"; also transliterated as Amir, Aamir or Ameer) is a title of high office, used throughout the Muslim world...

s, mufti
A mufti is a Sunni Islamic scholar who is an interpreter or expounder of Islamic law . In religious administrative terms, a mufti is roughly equivalent to a deacon to a Sunni population...

s, Arab and Sufi mystics, soldiers of Saladin
Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb , better known in the Western world as Saladin, was an Arabized Kurdish Muslim, who became the first Sultan of Egypt and Syria, and founded the Ayyubid dynasty. He led Muslim and Arab opposition to the Franks and other European Crusaders in the Levant...

 and numerous Jerusalem notables. The cemetery is said to be the burial site of several of the first Muslims, the Sahabah
In Islam, the ' were the companions, disciples, scribes and family of the Islamic prophet...

, companions or disciples of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. In 1945, The Palestine Post said it covered an area of over 450 dunams (111 acres), while Haaretz
Haaretz is Israel's oldest daily newspaper. It was founded in 1918 and is now published in both Hebrew and English in Berliner format. The English edition is published and sold together with the International Herald Tribune. Both Hebrew and English editions can be read on the Internet...

in 2010 said that at its peak, it covered an area of 200 dunams (some 50 acres). A 1938 deed issued by the British mandatory authorities to the Islamic waqf outlined the size of the plot as 134.5 dunams (33 acres).

Religious warriors or mujahideen
Mujahideen are Muslims who struggle in the path of God. The word is from the same Arabic triliteral as jihad .Mujahideen is also transliterated from Arabic as mujahedin, mujahedeen, mudžahedin, mudžahidin, mujahidīn, mujaheddīn and more.-Origin of the concept:The beginnings of Jihad are traced...

 who died in the battles for control over Jerusalem with the Byzantines in 636 and the Crusaders in 1137 were buried in the cemetery, including, according to tradition, some 70,000 soldiers of Saladin. The Church of St Mamilla was still standing in the 9th century when Palestine was under the rule of the Abbasid Empire; it is listed in the Commemoratorium De Casis Dei (c. 808) as one of the properties for which the Jerusalem Patriarch paid the Arabs taxes, and is described by Bernard the Monk as lying about a mile west of Jerusalem (c. 870).

The cemetery is mentioned by Arab and Persian authors under its various names throughout the ages (see above). In 1020, al-Wasiti writes that the Muslim cemetery situated in zaytun al-milla and outlines the advantages of being buried in Jerusalem. Ibn al-Adim
Ibn al-Adim
Kamal al-Din ʻUmar ibn Aḥmad Ibn al-Adim was a biographer and historian from Aleppo. He is best known for his work Bughyat al-ṭalab fī tārīkh Ḥalab , a multi-volume collection of biographies of famous men from Aleppo, introduced with a volume on the...

, the Syrian historian, recounts visiting the cemetery several times, and on one visit in 1239-40 recalls going to the graves of Rabi' al-Mardini (d. 1205-6), a shaykh from Mardin renowned for performing miracles, and al-'Iwaqi (d. 1232), a pious Sufi who lived in the compound of al-Aqsa mosque. Al-Adim describes the grave of the former as housed in a prominent mausoleum with other pious individuals.

During Crusader rule over Jerusalem, the cemetery appears to have once again served as a burial place for Christians. Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau
Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau
Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau was a noted French Orientalist and archaeologist.-Biography:Clermont-Ganneau was born in Paris, son of a sculptor of some repute...

, the French archaeologist, described and sketched several Frankish sarcophagi that were in the cemetery in the 19th century, most of which were destroyed in 1955 (see below).

During the period of Mamluk
Mamluk Sultanate (Cairo)
The Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt was the final independent Egyptian state prior to the establishment of the Muhammad Ali Dynasty in 1805. It lasted from the overthrow of the Ayyubid Dynasty until the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1517. The sultanate's ruling caste was composed of Mamluks, Arabised...

 rule (c. 12th-15th centuries), most of the area's notable citizens were buried in Mamilla. A structure known as al-Kebekiyeh (or Zawiya Kubakiyya), a one room square-shaped building covered with a dome and incorporating architectural materials from the Crusader era was built during this period. It is identified as the tomb of emir Aidughdi Kubaki, a Syrian slave who rose to prominence as the governor of Safed
Safed , is a city in the Northern District of Israel. Located at an elevation of , Safed is the highest city in the Galilee and of Israel. Due to its high elevation, Safed experiences warm summers and cold, often snowy, winters...

 and Aleppo
Aleppo is the largest city in Syria and the capital of Aleppo Governorate, the most populous Syrian governorate. With an official population of 2,301,570 , expanding to over 2.5 million in the metropolitan area, it is also one of the largest cities in the Levant...

, before his death in 1289.

In the 14th century work A'lam, a collection of traditions on the value of prayer in Jerusalem, al-Zarkashi says those buried in the city will avoid fitnat al qabr or "purgatory of the tomb," and for those buried in zaytun al-milla itself, it would be as if they were buried in heaven.

Mujir al-Din al-'Ulaymi
Mujir al-Din al-'Ulaymi
Mujīr al-Dīn al-'Ulaymī , often simply Mujir al-Din, was a Jerusalemite qadi and Arab historian whose principal work chronicled the history of Jerusalem and Hebron in the Middle Ages. Entitled al-Uns al-Jalil bi-tarikh al-Quds wal-Khalil Mujīr al-Dīn al-'Ulaymī (Arabic: ) (1456–1522), often...

 in al-Uns al-Jalil (c. 1496) says, "Who ever invokes God's name while standing between the graves of Ibn Arslān and al-Quraishī [in Māmilā cemetery], God will grant all his wishes." Al-Quraishi, a famous Sufi mystic said to have miraculous healing powers, immigrated to Jerusalem from Andulasia by way of Fustat and garnered a school of disciples in his new home that numbered some 600 people before his death and burial in 1194. Ibn Arslan, who was buried alongside him some two and a half centuries later, was a charismatic Sufi shaykh whom Muslims from surrounding countries came to visit.

Other notables buried in Mamilla and recalled by Mujir al-Din include two founders of zawiyas in Jerusalem - Nasr ed-din Mohammad, one of the "ten emirs of Gaza", and Shaykh 'Omar, a Moroccan of the Masmoudys, El Modjarrad tribe. Also named are several emirs, including Ruq ed-din Mankouros, the imperial lieutenant of the Jerusalem Citadel (d. AH 717), Abu el-Qasim, the Governor of Nablus and custodian of Jerusalem and Hebron (d. AH 760), and Nasser ed-din Mohammad, custodian of the two Haram al-Sharifs (Holy Mosques) of al-Aqsa in Jerusalem and al-Ibrahimi in Hebron (d. AH 828), among others.

During the period of Ottoman imperial
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

 rule from the early 16th to early 20th centuries, the cemetery continued to serve as a burial site, and in 1847, it was demarcated by a 2 meter high fence.

Mandate Palestine period

Burials in the cemetery ceased early in the period of British rule over Mandate Palestine
Mandate Palestine
Mandate Palestine existed while the British Mandate for Palestine, which formally began in September 1923 and terminated in May 1948, was in effect...

 (1918–1948), following the 1927 decision by the Supreme Muslim Council, who oversaw the administration of waqf
A waqf also spelled wakf formally known as wakf-alal-aulad is an inalienable religious endowment in Islamic law, typically denoting a building or plot of land for Muslim religious or charitable purposes. The donated assets are held by a charitable trust...

 properties, to preserve it as a historic site. By this decision, the cemetery, its tombs, and its grounds were maintained.

In 1929, Mohammad Amin al-Husayni
Mohammad Amin al-Husayni
Haj Mohammed Effendi Amin el-Husseini was a Palestinian Arab nationalist and Muslim leader in the British Mandate of Palestine. From as early as 1920, in order to secure the independence of Palestine as an Arab state he actively opposed Zionism, and was implicated as a leader of a violent riot...

, the Mufti of Jerusalem, decided to build the Palace Hotel on what was assumed to be outside the border of the cemetery. While the foundations were being laid, Arab workers uncovered Muslim graves. Baruch Katinka, a Jewish contractor hired to oversee the project, wrote in his memoirs that when the Mufti was informed of the discovery, he said to quietly rebury the bones elsewhere, as he feared Raghib al-Nashashibi
Raghib al-Nashashibi
Raghib al-Nashashibi was a wealthy landowner and public figure during the Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate and the Jordanian administration. He was mayor of Jerusalem in 1920–1934.-Background:...

, his political rival and the mayor of Jerusalem, would issue a cease work order. As Shari'a law permits the transfer of graves in special cases with the approval of a qadi (Muslim judge), Husayni, acting as head of the Supreme Muslim Council, the highest body in charge of Muslim community affairs in Mandate Palestine
Mandate Palestine
Mandate Palestine existed while the British Mandate for Palestine, which formally began in September 1923 and terminated in May 1948, was in effect...

, authorized the disinterment. When it was discovered what had happened, rival factions filed a suit against Husayni in the Muslim courts, arguing that he had desecrated ancient graves.

The Islamic waqf continued to control the cemetery and in 1944, the cemetery was designated an antiquities site by the British mandatory authorities.

A November 1945 article in The Palestine Post reported on plans of the Supreme Muslim Council (SMC) and the Government Town Planning Adviser to build a commercial center on cemetery grounds and to transfer remains buried in the areas to be developed to a "40 dunams walled reserve" centered around the tomb of al Sayid al Kurashi, ancestor of the Dajani family. A member of the SMC told the newspaper that, "the use of Muslim cemeteries in the public interest had many precedents both in Palestine and elsewhere." The SMC's plan, however, was never implemented.

Israeli control

At the time of Israel's assertion of control over West Jerusalem in 1948, the cemetery, which contained thousands of grave markers, came under the administration of the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property and the Muslim Affairs Department of Israel's Ministry of Religious Affairs
Ministry of Religious Services
The Ministry of Religious Services -Religious Services Minister:The Religious Services Minister of Israel is the political head of the Ministry of Religious Services and a relatively minor position in the Israeli cabinet...

. By the end of the 1967 war that resulted in the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem
East Jerusalem
East Jerusalem or Eastern Jerusalem refer to the parts of Jerusalem captured and annexed by Jordan in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and then captured and annexed by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War...

, only a handful of broken grave markers remained standing. A large part of the cemetery was bulldozed and converted into a parking lot in 1964 and a public lavatory was also built on the cemetery grounds.

In the 1950s, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, sensitive to how the treatment of waqf properties would be viewed internationally, criticized government policy towards the cemetery. A ministry representative described the vandalism to tombstones, including their use by the guard appointed by the Religious Ministry to build a henhouse beside his shelter in the cemetery, and the destruction of ancient tombs by bulldozers cleaning the Mamilla Pool. Noting the site constituted waqf property and lay within sight of the American Consulate, the ministry said it viewed the situation, which included plans for new roads and the parceling out of portions to private landowners as compensation for other properties confiscated by the state, with deep regret.

Israeli authorities bulldozed several tombs in the cemetery, including some of those identified as Frankish by Clermont-Ganneau, to establish Mamilla Park (or Independence Park) in 1955. Two of the largest and finest tombs survived, though the lid of one was overturned when it moved from its original spot. The other is the Mamluk era funerary chapel known as al-Kebekiyeh (or Zawiya Kubakiyya), now located in the eastern end of Independence Park.

Besides Independence Park, other parts of downtown Jerusalem erected on the cemetery grounds include the Experimental School, Agron Street, Beit Agron, and Kikar Hahatulot ‏(Cats’ Square‏), among others. Government buildings on the cemetery grounds include the main headquarters of the Israeli Ministry of Trade and Industry, and the Customs Department building, which is said to be located on what was once the site of the chapel dedicated to St. Mamilla.

In 1992, the Custodian of Absentee Property sold the cemetery grounds to the Jerusalem Municipality, a sale the Mufti of Jerusalem, Ikrema Sabri, said they had no right to make. The Israeli Electricity Company destroyed more tombs on 15 January 2005 in order to lay some cables.

Museum of Tolerance controversy

In 2004, the Simon Wiesenthal Center
Simon Wiesenthal Center
The Simon Wiesenthal Center , with headquarters in Los Angeles, California, was established in 1977 and named for Simon Wiesenthal, the Nazi hunter. According to its mission statement, it is "an international Jewish human rights organization dedicated to repairing the world one step at a time...

 (SWC) revealed plans to build a Center for Human Dignity
Center for Human Dignity
The Center for Human Dignity is the Simon Wiesenthal Center-planned Museum of Tolerance over Mamilla Cemetery at the center of West Jerusalem between Zion Square and the neighbourhood of Mamilla. The construction of the approximately 200-million dollar Museum began in June 2005 and was expected to...

 as part of its Museum of Tolerance
Museum of Tolerance
The Museum of Tolerance , a multimedia museum in Los Angeles, California, USA, with an associated museum and professional development multi-media training facility in New York City, is designed to examine racism and prejudice in the United States and the world with a strong focus on the history of...

 with a target date for completion in 2009. Frank Gehry
Frank Gehry
Frank Owen Gehry, is a Canadian American Pritzker Prize-winning architect based in Los Angeles, California.His buildings, including his private residence, have become tourist attractions...

 was appointed the architect, and the Jerusalem Municipality offered the SWC a 3.5 acre plot in the northern section of the original Mamilla cemetery where the parking lot was built in 1964. Marvin Hier, head of the SWC, said his association was unaware that the site was located on a cemetery and was told by the municipality that the land was owned by the Israel Lands Administration before it was given to the SWC for the project.

During excavations to prepare the ground for construction in 2005-2006, skeletons were found and removed. The Islamic Court, a division of Israel's justice system, issued a temporary ban on work, but work continued anyway. The Al Aqsa Association of the Islamic Movement moved to bring the case before Israel's Supreme Court.

The SWC's plan also elicited considerable outcry from some Israeli academics and archaeologists, and work was stayed several times by the courts. After the Supreme Court rejected the Islamic Movement's petition in October 2008, work resumed. Between November 2008 and April 2009, crews of 40 to 70 people per shift worked in 8-hour stints, 24-hours a day to remove an estimated 1,000 skeletons from the site slated for construction.

In 2010, Marvin Hier
Marvin Hier
Rabbi Marvin Hier is the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, its Museum of Tolerance and of Moriah, the Center's film division....

, rabbi and founder and dean of the SWC, said "Our opponents would have you believe our bulldozers are preparing to desecrate ancient Muslim tombstones and historic markers. Let me be clear: The Museum of Tolerance is not being built on the Mamilla Cemetery, but on an adjacent 3-acre site where, for a half-century, hundreds of people of all faiths have parked in a three-level underground structure without any protest." Hier also accused opponents of the SWC's building plans of "sheer hypocrisy," noting that the plans of the Supreme Muslim Council to build a commercial center in 1945 was evidence that substantiated the Supreme Court's ruling, "That the Mamilla Cemetery was regarded by many Muslim religious leaders as 'mundras,' or abandoned and without sanctity."

Rashid Khalidi
Rashid Khalidi
Rashid Ismail Khalidi , born 1948, a Palestinian-American historian of the Middle East, is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, and director of the Middle East Institute of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs.-Family, education and...

, a professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, said that, "contrary to what Rabbi Hier said, that parking lot was built over a cemetery, part of it. And so, the Israeli authorities are basically pushing ahead with the desecration of a cemetery that they have been, unfortunately, slowly nibbling away at for over three decades. We and other families are taking action as a group of families to try and stop this, after other families failed in the Israeli Supreme Court." He also said that "What they have now done is to dig down and disinter four layers, according to the chief archaeologist for the Israeli Archaeological Authority, four layers of graves. There are more probably beneath those, according to his report, which was suppressed in the submissions to the Israeli Supreme Court."

Gehry resigned from the project in January 2010. A new design for the museum drafted by Chyutin Architects was approved by the city of Jerusalem in June 2011, receiving an official building permit from the Interior Ministry in July 2011.

In October 2011, eighty-four archaeologists called on the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Jerusalem municipality and the Israel Antiquities Authority to end construction of the Museum of Tolerance. In a letter sent to the three bodies, the archaeologists argued that the establishment of the museum on the site of the Mamilla Muslim cemetery contradicted ethical standards in the archaeological world, as well as Israeli law. "The bulldozing of historic cemeteries is the ultimate act of territorial aggrandizement: the erasure of prior residents," said Professor Harvey Weiss
Harvey Weiss
Harvey Weiss is an archaeologist, famous for the discovery of Tell Leilan, and who teaches at Yale University as well as directing the excavations and surveys at Tell Leilan, Syria, during the summers...

 of Yale University, adding that "Desecration of Jerusalem's Mamilla cemetery is a continuing cultural and historical tragedy." The Simon Wiesenthal Center responded that "the arguments in the letter are old, of a mistaken nature and contain factual errors."

Other developments

Plans to build new buildings to house the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court and the Jerusalem District Court on the cemetery grounds were cancelled by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch in January 2010. The decision followed the discovery of human remains at the site, supporting critics' claims that construction in the area was offensive to Muslims.

On 9 August 2010, 300 Muslim gravestones in the cemetery were bulldozed by the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) in an area US Jewish human rights activists said was very close to the planned site for the Museum of Tolerance. A reporter from Agence France Presse witnessed the destruction of 200 graves until the work was briefly suspended while the court heard a stop work petition it rejected, allowing demolitions to continue that same day. The judge later issued an order prohibiting harm to ancient graves and mandating that the ILA coordinate work with the Israel Antiquities Authority
Israel Antiquities Authority
The Israel Antiquities Authority is an independent Israeli governmental authority responsible for enforcing the 1978 Law of Antiquities. The IAA regulates excavation and conservation, and promotes research...

 and representatives of the Islamic Movement.

The Jerusalem city council issued its first official response in a written statement on August 12, saying that, "The municipality and the (Israel Lands) Authority destroyed around 300 dummy gravestones which were set up illegally in Independence Park on public land." It said these "fake" gravestones were not erected over any human remains and were placed in the park in an effort to "illegally take over state land."

Mahmud Abu Atta, a spokesman for the Al-Aqsa Foundation, denied the city council's claim that new tombs were added illegally. He said that between 500 and 600 tombs had been renovated in total "with the municipality's agreement," that "some of the tombs had to be totally rebuilt," but that "all the tombs that we built or renovated contain bodies."

Twenty graves were completely destroyed or had their tombstones removed by vandals in January 2011. On the night of June 25-26, 2011, about 100 gravestones in an intact part of the cemetery were destroyed by Israeli bulldozers. Footage filmed by local media and activists appeared on Al Arabiya
Al Arabiya
Al Arabiya is a Pan-Arabist Saudi-owned Arabic-language television news channel. Launched on March 3, 2003, the channel is based in Dubai Media City, United Arab Emirates, and is majority-owned by the Saudi broadcaster Middle East Broadcasting Center ....

 and Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera is an independent broadcaster owned by the state of Qatar through the Qatar Media Corporation and headquartered in Doha, Qatar...

 and showed the bulldozers pulling out quickly after realizing they were being filmed; Israeli officials made no comment on the incident.

Later that same year, fifteen gravestones in the cemetery were spray painted red with racist slogans reading "Death to the Arabs", as well as "price tag
Price tag policy
Price tag policy is, according to B'tselem, the name given to "acts of random violence aimed at the Palestinian population and Israeli security forces" by radical Israeli Jewish settlers, who, according to the New York Times "exact a price from local Palestinians or from the Israeli security...

" and "Givat Asaf", the name of an Israeli outpost slated for demolition. The news was reported in November 2011 by Agence France Presse whose photographer saw the damage. Haaretz reported that the authorities did not know exactly when the vandalism took place, nor who was responsible, An Israeli Police spokeswoman told AFP that "the slogans were painted several weeks ago" and had not yet been erased by municipal authorities.

Further reading

External links