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. jim

    nzak: It's just a matter of degree of disrespect.

    August 14, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
  2. Educated

    Actually, the land belongs to Israel, so yes, they are free to do what they want. You disagree? Find me Palestine on a map. Can't? Then shut up and go back to your crayons kids. Want something to be angry about? When Israel was pushed on it's own property in recent years to make way for a hate filled people, they took the bodies out of the graves with them. Why? Because the Palestinians would desecrate the cemeteries where they lay. They did too, any remaining tombstones were immediate targets of infidels who were given more of Israel's land to live on for free. No one is complaining when it happens to Israel, but you sure do complain and cry when Israel pushes back. Shut up and go back to your crayons kids. None of you have given a good argument yet, but what can I expect when most of you probably have Muslim parents while denying it on here to look American. Everyone knows an intelligent American stands up for what is right. I never ever said that Mosque in NYC is on ground zero either. I said it is near. Pay attention when you read kids.

    August 14, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
    • BibleRulez

      Really?? Find me an Israeli map prior to 1946? Idiot!

      August 14, 2010 at 12:13 pm |
    • Disgusted

      How long are you going to keep up the jewish guilt huh? the fact is israel can do whatever it wants b/c it has the $. They got that land b/c europe and the UN didn't want them in europe so you pushed aside the people that were already there just like the US did with native americans, typical. Piece by piece you are taking the palenstinians land b/c the UN will not do anything.
      Funny how if this wasn't such a wrong thing they did it at NIGHT and kicked reporters out. Open your eyes from your ignorant ways. Stop thinking that everything should be yours when it's not. You are not the end all be all.

      August 14, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
    • FelipeBR

      Israeli state is a cancer

      August 14, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
    • globalblog

      there are old maps of Israel before Christ is that ok?

      August 14, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
    • BibleRulez

      and those old maps show synagogues? People living in that part of the world were indigenous people who worshiped One God and submitted to His will. They were not jews or christians but monotheists.
      By the way the oldest gospel written record is at least 70 year after Christ. So are you saying they were mapping out the area instead of writing the gospel? Try that on someone else.

      August 14, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
    • Alvin

      And what is israels exact map.. they have not agreed to it themselves because they have yet to finish their land grab.. go do some research idiot.. yes.. this is not an insult but a comment of your level of intelligence. Referring to others as kids.. this is the higher mentality that Zionists posses.. which is the reason they act that way..

      August 14, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
    • steven harnack

      You should change your moniker to uneducated, ignorant and proud of it, then go iron your brown shirt, there's a rally tonight at the fuhrer dome.

      August 14, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
    • Joe

      Go play with your crayons.

      August 14, 2010 at 10:19 pm |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      I wish we were all little kids. Most of them wouldn't give a crap if someone believed in unicorns or fairies or God. Why would it matter? They are a lot more tolerant than those here.

      (and what's with the hating on crayons? what did they ever do to you???)

      August 15, 2010 at 10:24 am |
  3. Methusalem

    It is increasingly obvious that the time of our Lord's coming is drawing near. Prophecy is being fulfilled daily, and at a faster pace than ever before. Mosques are built everywhere is one of the symbolic signs.

    Most of humanity is deceived by Satan. Satan is alive and well in the mosques of today as he once was in the Catholic Church of the Inquisition and pogroms and the Lutheran Church of the Nazis. In both instances, Satan convinced the willing to persecute God's chosen people and to try and destroy them. Satan hates the Jews because the Messiah came through them and the word of God was written by them. Also, if he can destroy Israel then where will the end time Temple be rebuilt and where will Jesus Christ return to rule and reign for 1000 years? Islam speaks of the prophet Isa (Jesus) returning in the last days to help the Mahdi defeat the evil one. Thus Islam has the two major players involved in the end times, Christ and the Antichrist, but has them terribly mixed up and jumbled. They will be deceived.

    We are fortunate to witness this all

    August 14, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
  4. Carlton

    Here's the evil and demonic agenda of Muslims. Go, infiltrate, and take over the world for Allah!!! They play on people's ignorance by pusing the expectation of tolerance and religious freedom of everyone else on their soil, while they are totally intolerant of anyone elses beliefs being acknowledge in any form, especially on their own soil, period!!! Wake up WORLD, their plan is to take over and not just be another people group among all others!!! Again wake up and come out of your ignorance and sleep!!!

    Pastor Evans

    August 14, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
    • BibleRulez

      Thats exactly what Jews were saying about Jesus when he was professing the word of God. Bravo!

      August 14, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
  5. FelipeBR

    3,000,000, sorry I forgot they couted each shoe intead of pairs.....

    August 14, 2010 at 11:51 am |
  6. Ahmad

    There is something really wrong with this and even more wrong with the ones trying to justify this act or equate it to the community center 4 blocks from Ground Zero. Razing a cemetery is not the same as building a community center in an old Burlington Coat Factory. As for equating the feelings to 9/11, I ask what revenge will be enough for you to stop citing 9/11. Killing of a million Iraqi is not enough? Do you really believe that one human life is more valuable than another one? Where are the Jesus loving Christians who will stand up with the weak and helpless against the oppressor?

    August 14, 2010 at 11:45 am |
    • Marc Seltzer

      Most of what is written here is by hatemongers. Building over a cemetary is forbidden by any belief system. I hope a bunch of Jins haunt the 'Museum of Tolerance'. Shameful!

      August 14, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
    • Ground Control

      9/11 will never stop being cited. Our country was attacked and thousands of people died. Asking when citing 9/11 will stop is like asking when the schism between shia and sunni will mend.

      August 14, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
    • Lily

      It's not four blocks - it's two and a half.

      August 14, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God


      Really? you're going to quibble about this? Do you honestly believe there's a difference in the morality of something because of 1.5 blocks?

      August 15, 2010 at 10:20 am |
  7. sue

    It's not whether you're a muslim or a jewish. Religion, of any kind is perfect, but the people practicing it is wrong. We all fight for our belief and rights, but only God can truly decide that.

    August 14, 2010 at 11:45 am |
    • Mike

      YES. (the people practicing the religion are wrong!!!)

      August 14, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  8. thebagel

    How ironic! Israelis plan to build a 'museum of tolerance' over this cemetery even as they behave in such completely INTOLERANT and despicable ways. As usual, isreal getting it's way with everything it wants and everyone too afraid to stop it.

    August 14, 2010 at 11:42 am |
  9. Ellen

    I do not think it is acceptable to build on an ancient cemetery. I also think the Muslims should not build a mosque and whatever that close to ground zero. Disrespect does not foster understanding and peace.

    August 14, 2010 at 11:39 am |
    • Lily

      Ellen, come on. The remains of dead ancient humans probably litter every habitable square inch of this planet. Does that mean the whole surface of the earth is sacred ground & shouldn't be developed? At some point, people need to accept the fact that a cemetery has fallen into disuse and the people buried there are long forgotten. This whole outcry is nothing more than "Palestinians" (in fact, there is no such thing as a "Palestinian") trying to make trouble for Israel.

      August 14, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
    • Matt J.

      True. But Israel has never learned this. Instead, like the stubborn and stiff-necked people they are, just as Moses called them, they insist that the only human right Palestinians have is to continue to be abused by Israel.

      August 16, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
  10. FAN

    It is amazing the ignorance that blinds people and the hate that fills their hearts. The dead should be respected regardless of who they are and what religion they belong to. Also for you who do not comprehend, the proposed mosque is not being built on ground zero. It is amazing how racist we still are as a society to equate a religion with a bunch of terrorists that do not belong to or represent the religion. Please ignorant people, go really get educated then make comments. But I am sure this will fall on deaf ears for racism is part of what some people who they are.

    August 14, 2010 at 11:38 am |
    • FAN

      sorry the last sentence is supposed to read that Racism is part of who some people are.

      August 14, 2010 at 11:43 am |
    • gmash

      did not fall on deaf ears. i totally agree.

      August 14, 2010 at 9:39 pm |
    • Timothy

      It is amazing how STUPID people are – once you are dead, you are now compost. I could care less what happens to my body when I cam gone.

      Learn history to find out that "Palestine" was a creation of the Romans who invaded Israel...

      August 14, 2010 at 10:53 pm |
  11. Frank Rizzo

    Shameful act on all involved, now the Jihadist have more resin to attack Israel and the US. Israel has created so many problems for the US I don't understand why we keep supporting these horrible People and why of life.

    Now, I'm bingeing to understand why Iran wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth how can anyone put up this abuse and not respond. I not longer support Israel either by donations or morality, Israel shame of you and all who support this rouge Nation.

    August 14, 2010 at 11:35 am |
  12. sue

    excuse me Educated, the land belongs to Palestine. If you read history, you know that jewish-british generals took the land from palestinians. It's like America invading Afghanistan, except they actually make it a country and every country in the world was too afraid to say no to them. 🙂 So if you think palestinians are bunch of sensitive n violent people, just remember they're fighting for their country, just like us americans fought for our independence.

    If that cemetery has your family's bodies in it, you would be furious too. 🙂

    August 14, 2010 at 11:35 am |
    • Mike

      True. True.

      August 14, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
    • wasabiwahabi

      You're an idiot.

      August 14, 2010 at 9:02 pm |
    • History

      You keep up your silly lies sweetheart. There never was a "palestine". There never was a people called "palestinians" until Israel defeated the Arab/Muslim Empire. Go live in one of your 22 other countries and leave our people alone.

      August 14, 2010 at 10:33 pm |
  13. BibleRulez

    When you read some of the comments you wonder where the people writing such hate grew up, did they have parents who taught them respect and tolerance. Then you remember that America is a country of bastards, literally as so many children are born out of wed lock. So you can see people like Jon and Educated who are bastards who profess to love and follow Jesus and then turn the other cheek but when asked to practice they open their foul mouths, the mouths of bastards......Jesus said about them in the Bible... O ye evil and adulterous generation...get away from me

    August 14, 2010 at 11:32 am |
  14. Abdul Aziz

    Typical filth

    August 14, 2010 at 11:14 am |
    • Kermit Roosevelt

      ,,,being cleaned up by the Israelis.

      August 14, 2010 at 11:26 am |
    • fed up

      Sorry Kermit, if Israel wanted to clean up the filth it would detonate an A-bomb in Tel Aviv.

      August 14, 2010 at 11:29 am |
    • BibleRulez

      Maybe American Indians should have blown A-bomb when the Europeans came and took over their land too.

      August 14, 2010 at 11:47 am |
  15. Jay

    Put a Catholic church on it.

    August 14, 2010 at 11:08 am |
  16. Educated

    The only one's at fault here, are the Palestinians who claim it is sacred land. They gave an okay in 1964 to Israel to build on that land! Now that Israel is, Palestine is mad, and frantically building tombstones on it and claiming they date back 600 years. Yea sure. They would of shot them apart themselves in the last 10 years with the rockets they shoot at Israel every day that fall short and hit their own people yet, that they then turn and blame Israel for! "I shot a rocket at that Israeli kids school, it didn't make it, fell short and killed my wife and kids!! This is Israel's fault!!" Yea...okay there spikey...

    August 14, 2010 at 11:08 am |
    • fed up

      Put a sock in it, there is NO justification for revenge. Israel wants to be seen as a "modern" and "forward" society, most likely only so they can buy the weapons they need to bully their neighbors. The odds should be equal with Israel having to fight with sticks and stones. I'm sure the world would see a lot less aggression from the cowards who call themselves Jews.

      August 14, 2010 at 11:14 am |
    • steven harnack

      In 1964 there was no expectation that Israel would be building anything there. It's one thing to decide how to use your own property, and it's another when an invader comes in and decides for you.

      August 14, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
    • Educated

      Israel owns all of the land Palestine lives on (talk about invading). Do as they want with it.

      August 14, 2010 at 7:28 pm |
    • gmash

      Educated – just guessing from your lack of common sense and your lack of knowledge of Mideast history, you're not too EDUCATED.

      August 14, 2010 at 9:36 pm |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      Educated–I suppose you believe in manifest destiny, too? Israel stole land from the Palestinians every bit as much as whites stole from Native Americans.

      Possession maybe 9/10th the law, but that doesn't make it right.

      August 15, 2010 at 10:16 am |
  17. sparknut

    So it's OK because the Muslims did it in 1948? Maybe believe in "an eye for an eye?"
    "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." Gandhi
    There's plenty of blindness going around these days.

    August 14, 2010 at 11:05 am |
  18. Really?


    August 14, 2010 at 11:04 am |
    • Matt J.

      And they both remind us of those faults seven times a day!

      August 16, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
  19. SkepticalKAK

    Now where will I relieve my bowels when I visit Jerusalem?

    August 14, 2010 at 11:03 am |
    • fed up

      I'm sure there's still loads of Jewish cemataries that could use your fertilizer.

      August 14, 2010 at 11:05 am |
    • Educated

      What is a cematary? I know what a cemetery is. But no one desecrates a Jewish cemetery without being extremely ignorant.

      August 14, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
  20. phil

    How ironic that there was no outcry over the destruction of every Jewish cemetery and place of worship in East Jerusalem after the war of 1948. In that instance the cemeteries being desecrated were not abandoned but rather actively maintained. The headstones were than used to pave streets. Ironic how those who live in glass houses love to throw stones. At some point constant calls for genocide, declarations of war and a lack of respect for all non-muslims end up generating some payback. If this were a non-confrontational group or even one willing to discuss peace on reasonable terms that would be one thing. This is not. This is a fundamentalist religious group which wants nothing but domination over all others. I have no sympathies for them. Until Islam evolves out of its militant state and begins to respect other belief systems they deserve nothing but hostility and contempt.

    August 14, 2010 at 10:59 am |
    • fed up

      Well then, shouldn't they be the first to show tolerance? But I digress, the world knows that Israel lives for it's revenge and doesn't know the first thing about compassion or forgiveness to any other religion or race.

      August 14, 2010 at 11:02 am |
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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.