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. FelipeBR

    Israeli gvmnt is the same as taleban with a different imaginary friend.
    They deserve every single enemy they have.

    August 14, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
  2. Steve

    How is this any different than what the Taliban did to the gian Buddah statues in Afghanistan. The world should be outraged!

    August 14, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
    • Disgusted

      It's b/c Israel and the Jewish population have allot of $$$, plain and simple. Money = Power. You think if Israel didn't have such and economic influence the US would be there ally? The Federal Reserve Bank is controlled by 10 private banks, all Jewish banks. Not hating on them b/c they're smart. Where Muslims are classified as terrorists for what they due out in the open, things are done behind the scenes by Jews which are just as bad if not worse but they do a great job of covering it up. Just like demolishing his cemetery at night and kicking out reporters.

      August 14, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
    • BibleRulez

      As bad as it was what Taliban did. There was not a Buddhist monk in those idols. THINK before you post.

      August 14, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
  3. Shadia

    So the Israelis want to destroy a sacred Muslim site to build a "Museum of Tolerance?" Wow!!! Wish they will just stop and think for a moment.

    August 14, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
    • Matt J.

      Amazingly, the irony is lost on them.

      August 16, 2010 at 5:41 pm |
    • Hanna

      They allready have done that, in 2009 they demolished 1500 graves and build the museum there. This is another graveyard they are demolishing

      August 19, 2010 at 4:44 am |
  4. Arison

    When will America wake up to the Jewish idiocy.. at least whatever Muslims do it seems we are focused with their intentions but Israel and it's agents who masquarade as Americans and fill the highest offices in America and the MEDIA seems to have us on a leash, they practically contorll America... and even the president and all politicians fear them immesily or they lose everything... seems that the only thing that has the power to bring down America is THEM.

    August 14, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
    • Abe

      You fool. You don't even see your true enemy. Either that or you're a muslim. And you are the true enemy.

      August 14, 2010 at 1:40 pm |
    • gmash

      fully agree with you Arison. Of course people like Abe feel threathened because Amercians are beginning to see Israel for what it really is: a PREDATORY OCCUPATION. I commend for seeing the light and speaking your mind.

      August 14, 2010 at 10:18 pm |
  5. misanthropicus

    Love it. The Muslims who oppose this surely applaud and support the construction of the Ground-Zero mosque – where is Foxman to weasal out his ADL from this?

    August 14, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
  6. Carol

    Also to the idiot that says Muslims tore down Abraham temple in Jerusalem to build the Dome Mosque, you are an ignorant idiot.

    One, Muslim loves Abraham more than the Jews. The temple was torn down by the Romans, and then centuries later a new building, the Dome, was built on the land to honor Abraham. This is the site that God (Allah) told Abraham to sacrifice his son (which we know it was just a test)

    Note that Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the little black building, that Muslims pray near each year, is actually the first temple Abraham ever built.

    Also to the ignorant Americans that does not understand the word Allah, Allah is the Arabic name for God. Muslim believes in a single God that has no son or father or mother.

    Let me put it in a way that ignorant Americans can understand. The God that you call the father, or the father of Jesus, to Muslims is Allah. But Muslims believe Jesus is a messenger of God and not a son. And Muslims love Jesus more than anyone and even you. And yes he will return soon!

    Yes Jesus had no father. But look at the messenger Adam, the first human. He neither had a father or mother.

    But we humans love Jesus so much, we raised him to the level of God because we are ignorant and want to be Gods as well, instead of just humans created to worship.

    August 14, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
    • Colin Fox

      you lose any crediblity you think you have as soon as you start call people nasty names.

      August 14, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
    • Matt J.

      You do not love Jesus as much as you say you do, as long as you continue to deny that He is consubstantial to his Father. By no means is He just a 'messenger'.

      August 16, 2010 at 5:40 pm |
  7. Paul Freedman

    ...but thanks for reminding supporters of Israel why it is forbidden to appease those who seek the eradication of Israeli and Jewish culture, not redress of rightful grievances.

    Keep it up.

    August 14, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
    • BibleRulez

      You want to support Israel and Jewish people then go and take a piece of land from Germany who did atrocities against you. Let us see if you can claim a piece of Rhein land by shouting antisemitism.

      August 14, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
  8. Paul Freedman

    btw, for freepalestine and others like that poster–debate is not called for with anti-Semites but victory. Zion will flourish long after the anti-Semitic rabble who post anti-Jewish slurs have silently joined the other past generations of antii-Semitic demagogues and mindless haters of generations past.

    August 14, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
    • Disgusted

      Nothing will ever be solved until BOTH sides can admit mistakes!!! In all walks of life whenever two sides have difference it's almost never one sides fault. As a muslim I agree that mistakes have been made, but my problem is that it seems that all the blame is being put on muslims and palestine. That's not the case and I've yet to see Israel accept fault for anything it's done. It's always excuse after excuse. I'll praise them that they say they want peace but then they continue to do things like this, expand settlements and other things. Yet the UN has stated that building settlements is a violation of international law, but no sanctions have made. Why?

      August 14, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
    • BibleRulez

      How long are you going to cry antisemitism. Shouldn't you rather be anti-xenophobic or are you too self centered and egotist to take an elevated position. Wait a minute, you are self proposed "chosen people". I am sorry! (sarcastic).

      August 14, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
  9. Disgusted

    I am a muslim and have lived in NY my whole life. I don't oppose the mosque by ground zero b/c that would be me agreeing that my faith was the cause of those attacks and it's not. Just b/c groups use faith as a front doesn't mean that you blame the faith. 9/11 was wrong but do not blame a faith. Do we blame the Catholic church for the KKK? No, so don't blame a faith (that most of you don't take the time to actually understand) and blame it. I've taken my time to research Christianity and Judaism. Most of you don't even get how similar the three faiths are or you don't want to accept it.
    If they want to monitor the mosque then go ahead, there are thousands of mosques around the world that are part of there communities and are nothing but peaceful, but again the media focuses on a very few that may be corrupt. Not like churches or temples have been corrupt? Don't blame the masses for the actions of a few.

    August 14, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
    • Matt J.

      You certainly should be disgusted - at your own lack of education. How can you talk about blaming the Catholics for the KKK? The KKK was and still is a Protestant movement: they attacked blacks AND Catholics.

      August 16, 2010 at 5:38 pm |
  10. Paul Freedman

    In fact, Islamic religious authorities had declared that the cemetary was no longer being used–that it was "dormant"–but Islam in Palestine, far from being a religion of peace, becomes a supremacist religion of anti-Jewish and anti-"infidel"
    racism, in service of which, any propaganda trick is permitted it seems–but left-leaning journalists are incapable of maintaining objectivity when it comes to defaming Israel or Jews or even Christians in the service of miindless kowtowing to their own sense of self-righteous preening by succumbing into patronizing and infantalizing fantasies of Islamic superiority and purity:

    "In 1962, the Mamilla cemetery was declared mundras (dormant) in accordance with Islamic law by the highest Shari'a court in the country. By that time, no one had been buried there for 40 years. In the 1930's, Yasser Arafat's uncle, Haj Amin al-Husseini built a hotel on the cemetery's grounds (the Palace Hotel – now Israel's ministry of industry and trade) and attempted to build an Islamic university on this 'holy' cemetery.

    The cemetery was declared mundras in 1962 to permit the city of Jerusalem to build a parking lot over part of it."

    August 14, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
  11. Marianne

    Educated...your posts are filled with grammar mistakes, run-on sentences, and a lot of emotionally-driven bantering. So how exactly are you "educated" as you claim? It's sad really, anyone can call themselves what they want. Very much like calling a building the "Museum of Tolerance" when it's built over the tombs of sacred individuals.

    And to Jon…name calling is the sign of immaturity and lack of debate skills. If you have facts, bring them forward. If not, go grow a spine and get off a forum that is intended for adults.

    August 14, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
    • mohawk067

      Isn't that the pot calling the kettle black! opps

      August 14, 2010 at 4:04 pm |
  12. freepalestine

    all practicing jews are anti-christ by nature.

    August 14, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
  13. Paul Ffreedman

    To all those going on and on about the Jews being the root of evil, CNN, as a typical "liberal" MSN outlet neglects to report that the "graves" have been proven to be fake–there are no graves under the fake headstones. Thiis is a propaganda stunt–anti-Semitism is usually reinforced by actual and intentional fakery.

    "The Jerusalem Municipality has thus far removed 300 false tombstones that were built in the course of the past few weeks at the Mamilla Muslim cemetery in central Jerusalem. The tombs were built by Muslim elements who took advantage of the fact that the Jerusalem Municipality's Health Department granted them a permit to clean up and fix existing tombstones. Instead of just cleaning graves, however, the Muslims hired workers to try and grab land from the adjoining Independence Park (Gan HaAtzmaut)."

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

      Maybe your opinion would have been different if your forefathers were in that cemetery.

      August 14, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
    • Shadia

      Yeah we get it everyone is antisemite...but go back and read the article. Israelis want to demolish a holy cemetery to build a "museum of tolerance" I HATE what Israel is doing to Palestinians and Im getting sick of Israelis whinning.

      August 14, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
    • Matt J.

      But why are YOU so sure they are fake? Because an Israeli ministry says so? But of course they would claim this. They would not hesitate to lie about something like this, so their word has no weight.

      August 16, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
  14. David Alaron

    Are these the same people who built the Al Aqsa Mosque on the site of the Jewish Temple, the holiest Jewish site, who are complaining about building on holy sites? How the re-writers of history can believe that the truth is not self evident.

    August 14, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
  15. Annexian

    "The Juwes are the ones what always got away with it!"
    -Anonymous graffiti in the whitechapel district of London

    It's time to stop this "Belsen Feast" the Jews have. Not 1% of the population but they nearly totally control the media and have huge influence over business and finance. And they rave "Holocaust! Holocaust!" while in their own horrible country they behave like their former oppressors. The recent ones, rather, they've been hated by everyone.

    For ONE lifetime in man's history it hasn't been "Cool" to walk up to one and smash him in the face, screaming "How did it feel to murder Christ, covetous Jew!?" For one lifetime they've been -at least- "Human beings". And look at how they behave.

    It's time to get them out of the media (reduce it to say 10% versus 99%) end the "Kosher Tax" (let every "Kosher" product loudly proclaim it!) and end all subsidies to Israel. I'm not a neo- you know what, quite the opposite. It's horrible how they've been treated, but the way things are now it'll go right back that way in another decade when their fake "PC Wall" crashes down by pressure. Better to dismantle the wall while they still aren't scum of the earth so they are on the defensive again, versus the "Nerd becomes a bully because he thinks he's protected" they are now.

    August 14, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
  16. Carol

    You are all idiots.
    The twin towers fell because of idiots like you. Yes they were Muslims, but it has nothing to do with Islam. They were just idiots like ignorant Americans.

    Then you are saying Christians are responsible of killing 6 millions Jews because Hitler was a Christian.

    And then you are saying all Jews are bad because one idiot Jew betrayed Jesus.

    August 14, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
    • freepalestine

      christian is a label...doesn't mean you're saved.

      August 14, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
    • Jones

      "Nothing to do with Islam"? Is that why they did it "in the name of Allah" and for the "Holy War". It had everything to do with Islam idiot.

      August 14, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
    • Keith

      You want to listen to "Allah Akbar" four or five times a day blaring on the loudspeakers looking over ground zero? The last thing those flying the planes were saying? I say NO! To hell with those people and all of you who are too weak or too stupid to stand up to these throat-cutters.

      August 14, 2010 at 7:36 pm |
    • Matt J.

      But it wasn't just one Jew. It was the entire Sanhedrin which condemned Him, and did so illegally (trial at night). And they DID get the agreement of the people, even many of the same people who hailed him as Son of David not quite a whole week before.

      August 16, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  17. SGT SKI

    This was a really stupid move on behalf of Israel to do something like this! Granted land is at a high level commodity but to destroy a historic graveyard for a cultural center is counter productive and ignorant. An you would think people would have more respect for the dead?

    August 14, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
  18. Hypocrites

    And who can prove me or the world that Jews are not the roots of all evil?

    August 14, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
    • Matt J.

      Lots of people can. ANyone who, for example, realizes that instead of being the roots of these evils, they are just ignorant pawns being manipulate by even darker evil powers.

      August 16, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
  19. Raphael Muchahazini

    As a muslim, I believe that the mosque at ground zero is inappropriate. I also feel that the bulldozing over any cemetery is inappropriate; regardless of what religion is affiliated with it there really is no excuse for disturbing the final resting place of the deceased.

    I agree with the member above who compared the site of 9/11 as a never ending cemetery – many people were burned alive and burned to dust. The site of 9/11 will ALWAYS AND FOREVER be the final resting place of many of our beloved Americans forever.

    I wish President Obama would have taken a different stand. I OPPOSE THE MOSQUE AT GROUND ZERO! If we as Muslims ever want to be taken seriously, we need to show respect and try our best to understand the feelings of people arouind us. It's incredibly selfish for them to continue on with this place when so much controversy surrounds it.

    Just how I feel.


    August 14, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
    • LizardMom

      Raphael, thank you for your empathy. Most of the rest of the folks writing here have only exposed their bigotry. Pick a religion. Any religion. Now let's hate all members of that religion for whatever reason. Yeah, that works!

      May God be with you...let's pray that the rest of these folks see the Light one day.

      August 14, 2010 at 1:20 pm |
  20. Carlton

    What we are seeing all over the world is Muslim tolerance and intolerance towards any other belief!!! In the name of Jesus Christ I send this Kingdom prayer and decree that all false beliefs systems and religions come down and ONLY the Kingdom of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ stands!!! If you agree say Amen and if you don't watch out because only that which is of Jesus Christ will stand!!!

    Pastor Evans

    August 14, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
    • BibleRulez

      Pastor, look what Jesus said about you in the Bible:
      Matthew 7:22 – Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

      August 14, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
    • gmash

      Pastor Evans – You should be ashamed of yourself. You're supposed to be a man of God and you should respect other religions. What happened to turning the other cheek? Or could you possibly be a Zionist Christian!!

      August 14, 2010 at 9:57 pm |
    • Matt J.


      Why do you think being "a man of God" means he should "respect other religions"? Perhaps you just haven't heard? When the heretic Cerinthus entered the same bath house where St. John the Evangelist was taking a bath, he said to those with him, "Let us get out of here before the roof caves in. For the enemy of truth, Cerinthus, is inside".

      THAT is the attitude we are to have to other beliefs, not your mamby-pamby 'respect'.

      August 16, 2010 at 5:30 pm |
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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.