home
RSS
August 14th, 2010
09:31 AM ET

Muslims oppose Israeli construction at Islamic cemetery

[cnn-video url= http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2010/08/13/vo.cemetery.demo.cnn%5D

Eve Bower in Atlanta and Kareem Khadder in Jerusalem submitted this report:

Just before midnight on August 9, the bulldozers moved in and destruction of Jerusalem's best-known Islamic cemetery was once again under way.

The controversy surrounding the project - new construction on an area overlapping the cemetery of Ma'man Allah (God's Sanctuary) or Mamilla, as it is known in West Jerusalem - had simmered for years. That night, over 100 more graves in the ancient cemetery were demolished, further eroding what Palestinians see as a losing battle to preserve a sacred cultural landmark.

Mamilla, Jerusalem's oldest Islamic cemetery, dates back to the early days of Islam in the sixth century AD. Many of the people buried in the cemetery are believed to have been Islamic scholars and others who knew the Prophet Mohammad, including Islamic warriors who fought the crusaders in Jerusalem.

In more recent years, the cemetery has been in the spotlight amid controversy over Israel's plan to build a number of structures on top of the site, including the Museum of Tolerance, a parking lot, a park and an Israeli government building. The announcement of the construction plan outraged many Palestinians, who saw the project as one that desecrated holy land for the sake of a tourist attraction.

The Museum of Tolerance, affiliated with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says that the site of the proposed development has not been part of the cemetery for almost 50 years, and cites as justification for the development's location a 1964 declaration by "the highest Muslim religious authorities" that the "entire area" was "an abandoned, ancient cemetery where public facilities may be built."

Palestinian groups petitioned the United Nations to intervene in efforts to go forward with the building project, but the Israeli courts ruled that since the graveyard had been in disuse for several decades, building could commence, and in 2006, the proposed development came one step closer to reality: Then-mayor of Jerusalem Ehud Olmert and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger laid the foundation stone for the museum.

Since then, sections of the cemetery have been periodically razed by developers seeking to move forward with new construction, but progress is halting, as protests from the cemetery's supporters occasionally result in the suspension of additional building.

On Monday, the Jerusalem Municipality, working as the project's developers, obtained the Jerusalem Magistrate Court's approval to resume demolition and the bulldozers moved in late Monday night. Journalists at the cemetery reported that police officers and private armed security personnel tried to bar filming and documentation of the efforts under way on the grounds that they were endangering their lives.

CNN shot footage of the tombstones being destroyed before journalists' access was denied. These same tombstones have emerged as yet another flash point in the controversy.

Opponents of the construction site argue that the tombstones that have been destroyed recently dated back to ancient times. There were Israeli media reports, however, that the tombstones that were destroyed had been added to the land only recently, with the intent to obstruct the construction project.

Israel's Channel 10 reported on August 5 that "in the last month, surprisingly, 150 new tombstones were added. The Jerusalem municipality decided to demolish the fake tombstones."

Zaki Ighbarieh, head of The Aqsa Foundation, said, "Their claim that we have built new graves is an excuse for them to destroy the entire cemetery. We will continue to repair the graves that were destroyed because the land is for graves."

He added, "We believe this is a completion of a land confiscation process by a museum and other venues like a parking lot and streets." The Aqsa Foundation is a group dedicated to preserving Islamic heritage and culture, and had undertaken the restoration of a number of the headstones.

The legal framework in which the grave preservations and demolitions happen is fraught with mixed messages and competing jurisdictions, leaving the permissibility of either action hotly contested by various groups.

The Aqsa Foundation challenges the legality of the demolition efforts of the past week, which it says have included the destruction of nearly 350 graves altogether.

"I can call it theft of graves," the group's lawyer, Mohammad Suleiman Ighbarieh said, due to the fact that demolition had restarted on August 3 without a court order. It was only after hundreds of graves were destroyed, Ighbarieh said, that the Jerusalem Magistrate gave approval for the demolition to resume.

According to the Aqsa Foundation, for the past year, the Islamic Sharia Court in Jerusalem has had a verbal agreement with the Municipality of Jerusalem to allow the Aqsa Foundation to carry out cemetery improvements and renovations of graves.

To resume grave demolitions, Aqsa spokesman Mahmoud Abu Atta argues, the developers would have needed to obtain agreement from the Islamic Sharia Court, which has been appointed with power of attorney as caretaker of the Mamilla cemetery.

Even where formal judicial approval for the demolitions is granted, the activity itself remains highly controversial.

"If they say they have court orders to demolish, then why are they demolishing in the middle of the night?" Abu Atta said.

Ighbarieh took photos and other evidence from the cemetery to the court and filed a formal request for the court to order that the grave demolitions stop.

The decision, issued Tuesday, August 10, mandated coordination with Islamic power of attorney in order for any construction to continue. This meant that if the municipality wanted to resume demolition from Tuesday onward, it would need the express consent of the Islamic Sharia Court.

Despite the Islamic Sharia Court's refusal to consent, on Tuesday night, demolition continued.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Interfaith issues • Islam • Israel • Judaism

soundoff (430 Responses)
  1. Maggie

    How very unsurprising. The Israelis are immoral dogs asses. What else can be said about this abhorrent hate crime and attempt to incite violence.

    August 17, 2010 at 1:37 am |
  2. OxyCon

    Boy those graves sure looked ancient, didn't they? lol. Some sneeky Muslim has been making ridiculous looking headstones out of plaster. I've seen better looking Halloween fake headstones made out of plastic.

    August 17, 2010 at 1:29 am |
  3. Daniel

    This shows unconscionable disregard for the history and culture on non-Jewish peoples in the Levant. If Christians were bulldozing an historic Jewish cemetery in Europe, there would be a huge flap over "antisemitism". End subsidy of Israel. No more U.S. dollars to support cultural genocide.

    August 16, 2010 at 6:41 pm |
  4. Reality

    Recognizing the flaws and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity by the "bowers" (like Akbar Ahmed), "kneelers" and "pew peasants" will quickly converge these religions into some simple rules of life. No clerics, imams, rabbis, professors of religion and priests needed or desired. Ditto for their houses and classes of "worthless worship". It will be called the great "Pink Slipping" of religion and its leaders.

    As per James Somerville, Philosophy professor emeritus from Xavier University, Cincinnati,

    "The faith of the vast majority of believers (and non-believers) depends upon where they were born and when."

    It is very disturbing that such religious violence and hatred continues unabated due to radomness of birth. Maybe just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of all religions.

    August 16, 2010 at 5:49 am |
  5. Reality

    The whole universe is one big cemetery. Should we stop walking or driving on it? Dig up the remains of all cemeteries, hasten the decomposition via cremation and give the ashes to the relatives who still give a darn about Momma Sue or Uncle Fred!!!

    August 15, 2010 at 11:54 pm |
  6. Reality

    The whole universe is one big cemetery. Should we stop walking or driving on it? Dig up the remains of all cemeteries, hasten the decomposition via cremation and give the ashes to the relatives who still give a darn about Momma Sue or Uncle Fred!!!

    And for all sufferers of the Three B Syndrome:

    Recognizing the flaws and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity by the "bowers", "kneelers" and "pew peasants" will quickly converge these religions into some simple rules of life. No clerics, imams, rabbis, professors of religion and priests needed or desired. Ditto for their houses and classes of "worthless worship". It will be called the great "Pink Slipping" of religion and its leaders.

    As per James Somerville, Philosophy professor emeritus from Xavier University, Cincinnati,

    "The faith of the vast majority of believers (and non-believers) depends upon where they were born and when."
    It is very disturbing that such religious violence and hatred continues unabated due to radomness of birth. Maybe just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of it all.

    August 15, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
  7. luul

    are they serious woww ... Israel i see war and u guys are crying out 4 Help..American ain't gonna save youu guys

    u better watch out ursef dumb israeli ppl...never thou u guys would actually disrespect a cemetery like this woww..man i'm shocked as hell

    August 15, 2010 at 7:32 pm |
  8. Julie

    I am struck by the strong opinions on both sides of this unfortunate situation. We seem to be very comfortable examining the issue from a single perspective...whichever one that happens to be. We tend to feed what we already believe. The best chance our world has for surviving depends on our abilities to examine facts and emotions from all sides.

    August 15, 2010 at 11:39 am |
  9. Irene

    I won't go into Jewish cemeteries desecrated by Muslims, but I will comment about why you keep calling it a Muslim cemetery. The graves are non existent and the headstones modern.

    August 15, 2010 at 10:29 am |
  10. creature

    Theyre Here!!!!!!!! beware the desecration of anyones holy ground!!!!!!

    August 15, 2010 at 10:08 am |
  11. RandyKK

    Ever since Isreal butchered those innocent people on that boat, I have been getting angrier and angrier as they seem to shoot themseves and the Palostineons in the foot and worse. Isreal is 60 years old and it is time to grow up and live within its means. Stop sucking off us Americans tit. Stop coming to us for handouts. your people have more money than God. (Cathlic Church) They seem worse than their Natzi foes. I have supported Isreal all these years, but enough is enough. Grow Up, or I can see your demise because of your rasist and bullying behavior!!!!!

    August 15, 2010 at 8:43 am |
  12. Bill J.

    Death to Islam!!

    August 15, 2010 at 1:01 am |
  13. Americano

    JEFF...

    Flotilla was in INTERNATIONAL WATER. WHEN YOU ATTACK A CIVILIAN SHIP IN INTERNATIONAL WATER.

    THIS IS CALLED STATE TERRORISM.

    When you use WHITE PHOSPHOROUS on civilian area.

    THIS IS CALLED STATE TERRORISM.

    When you OCCUPY LAND AND IMPRISON MILLIONS OF PEOPLE
    you are not going to expect people NOT TO BECOME FREEDOM FIGHTERS
    and fight for their rights.

    This is sacred land, a cemetery because IT IS NOT USED FOR A HUNDRED YEARS EVEN THOUSANDS OF YEARS
    doesn't give the ZIONISTS any right to demolish it.

    2 weeks ago the ZIONIST did the same thing to a CHRISTIAN SITE. SAINT MARY HILL WITH AN UNDERWATER STREAM, ONE OF THE OLDEST CHRISTIANS SYMBOL IN EAST JERUSALEM.
    THEY DEMOLISHED IT STATING THEY NEED THE LAND TO EXPAND.

    The ZIONIST

    August 15, 2010 at 12:48 am |
  14. Ahmed G

    Ok, after reading a lot of the responses, I suggest all the islamic countries to build over all the jewish cemeteries: parks, parking lots, ...etc. how would you feel about that???? The answer to our conflicts is mutual respect and dialogue. To my jewish peers, I stress you can't find peace unless every one enjoy it,

    August 15, 2010 at 12:29 am |
  15. jet/twenty2

    all of yo u are crazy.the muslims of this world say that only a few of them are bad,? then where is all the outrage from the rest when they recruit boys and girls to blow themselves up in the name of a god? what is tolarance when in the U S someone can preach islam on the street and not be shot on site. how about all of you lets just get along people go to a mideast country and stand on their street and preach on the new testament.lets see how tolarant they will be to you.all of you are stupid.

    August 14, 2010 at 11:14 pm |
  16. solsytem

    How will Israel feel if some one start building a Disneyland on the top of Auschwitz cemetery someday

    August 14, 2010 at 10:43 pm |
  17. History

    These graves are completely fake. There is nothing underneath except cigarettes, trash, and sewage pipes. Never believe anything the Arabs say. They have been lying for decades and turned lying into an Olympic sport.

    August 14, 2010 at 10:38 pm |
  18. MilitaryRetiree

    Guess feelings are different when the shoe is on the other foot. Muslims don't seem to mind murdering almost 3,000 innocent men, women and children in the WTC and associated aircraft, then they want to build a mosque within blocks of "ground zero". Yet when Jews want to do some renovations, the Muslims are all upset. Tough stuff.

    August 14, 2010 at 10:33 pm |
  19. Pete

    And we give unconditional support to these animals. It's no wonder their enemies view us as their enemy.

    August 14, 2010 at 10:31 pm |
  20. Brian

    So what now I am suppose to care when Muslims are offended? Muslims worldwide should realize their plan to spread their false religion will not succeed! I think we should build the biggest Christian Cathedral in the heart of Mecca!

    August 14, 2010 at 10:25 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
Advertisement
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.