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. Abe

    FAKE GRAVES!!!!!

    August 14, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
    • solsytem

      Abe, I'm really sorry but you are the biggest Moran I ever come a cross

      August 14, 2010 at 10:51 pm |
  2. DAVID


    August 14, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
  3. sdhello

    dude.. I borderline hate palestinians, and muslims, but watching that video, that is wrong, you don't have cops guarding asking for no photos etc. because it is wrong, Israel is really pushing buttons, no wonder they lob rockets over the fences all the time

    August 14, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
  4. solsytem

    Israel , they are not destroying a cemetery they are digging their grave

    August 14, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
    • Abe

      You're sick.

      Everybody, let me introduce you to a muslim.

      August 14, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
  5. Keith

    Aruetz 7 caught the Muslim liars planting fake graves. God gave the land to Israel. Get over it!

    August 14, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
    • Matt J.

      God gave you the land, yes, but then He took it away when you were bad. And it was not God who gave it back to you, you hoodwinked some really foolish and short-sighted Brits into collaborating with your plan to steal it back. And ever since, you have been bad again, maybe worse.

      August 16, 2010 at 5:54 pm |
  6. solsytem

    9/11 was done by Criminals and dos not have any connection to billions of Muslims represented in this world. Osman Bin laden WAS Trained by CIA to fight the Russia army in Afghanistan, as the Oklahoma Bombing dos not make a all Christians a Local Terrorist, SO Wake up America and stop falling for the Propaganda in Making Islam Look Bad, and Thank you President Obama for Cleaning up the Mess left behind by W. Bush the Killer of 5000 American Solders and Thousand of Civilians

    August 14, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
    • Moli

      Thank u

      August 14, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
  7. Surthurfurd

    I see that we choose who is innocent and harmed by deciding first who's side we want to be on. Sick.

    August 14, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  8. Abe

    Muslims murder thousands of people and nobody has a problem with them building a mosque near the site of this atrocity.

    Israel demolishes fake graves and the world is in an uproar.

    You fools!!!!!!

    August 14, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
    • solsytem

      9/11 was done by Criminals and dos not have any connection to billions of Muslims represented in this world

      August 14, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
    • Abe

      Was done in the name of islam.

      Stop with this excuse when all we hear about are atrocities done by muslims.

      Oh it's just the criminals. blah blah blah.

      August 14, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
    • Disgusted

      Do you know how many muslims there are in world? If every or even the majority of them were terrorists then you'd have a point. The crimes done by christians and jews date back to thousands of years ago, like the jew murder of jesus christ! Don't blame the actions of a few on the masses.

      August 14, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
    • Abe


      You fool. The crimes the muslims have done against humanity far outweigh anybody else in the history of mankind.

      The Romans killed Jesus. Jesus and all the desciples were all Jewish. If one betrayed Jesus then why blame the Jews? Jesus was Jewish and all the other desciples who didn't betray Jesus were also Jewish.

      August 14, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
    • solsytem

      If any Criminals do not represent Islam even if they claim this and "Abe" you do not represent the Israelis , so stop saying WE

      August 14, 2010 at 11:05 pm |
  9. Abe

    They've been building fake graves!!!!

    August 14, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
    • Matt J.

      So the Israelis say. But why would we believe them or you? And even if they were, that would not make such a big difference. Look at all the fuss they raise, for example, when some modern construction project gets too close to an ancient Indian burial ground in America. And that is when no one has been buried their for hundreds of years.

      Face it: Israel is being pig-headed AGAIN. They are insisting on sticking stick in the eyes of Palestinians, and ordering them to like it.

      August 16, 2010 at 5:51 pm |
  10. Icurheinie

    Senseless and disrespectful. Israel continues it's irrational behavior. Morons really. How many more roadblocks can they deliberately put in the way of peace? How frustrating.

    August 14, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
  11. Pacoatemiami

    The dead are dead. Cemeteries are for the survivors. Once a person is dead and all of the mourners are dead too, why waste valuable land on bones?

    August 14, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
    • sdhello

      uh.. because it is a historical gravesite? It means something to the people, it would be like a developer bulldozing Thomas Edison, or Benjamin Franklins grave for us

      August 14, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
    • Abe

      They've been putting up fake graves.

      August 14, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
    • Matt J.

      Just asking this question shows a total lack of understanding of not only Islam, but even Christianity and Judaism! There is a REASON all three religions have practices for honoring the dead, practices that include taking care of their physical remains in a respectful way.

      August 16, 2010 at 5:48 pm |
  12. WHAT?

    Hey Muslims....are you the pot or the kettle.....now you know how Americans feel about building a Muslim "playground" at Ground Zero!

    August 14, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
  13. Jim

    We should build a pork processing plant next door to the Mosque. And on the other side a stray dog shelter.

    August 14, 2010 at 1:18 pm |
    • BibleRulez

      It shows the maturity and respect and family values you grew in.

      August 14, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
    • solsytem

      Jim are you the Pig or the stray dog , ???

      August 14, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
    • Abe

      Solsytem. What's wrong with what Jim said? It's a free country afterall. That's what the muslims say when they want to build a mosque.

      August 14, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
    • Moli

      Jewish people do not eat pork either.

      August 14, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
    • mohawk067

      Lets put a strip club across the street

      August 14, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
  14. Hughie

    OK, so the Pals destroyed Israeli graves and used the tombstones as toilet flooring. The Israelis are blading the tombstones of Pals and using the land for housing. Now both sides are even.
    What a way for people to live among each other! It seems to me that the entire ME is one big toilet and the dwellers are the turds.

    August 14, 2010 at 1:18 pm |
    • Abe

      Hughie. Great idea!!!!

      August 14, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
  15. Adam

    1964 declaration by "the highest Muslim religious authorities" that the "entire area" was "an abandoned, ancient cemetery where public facilities may be built."
    Wait now it's a problem. Muslims change their views with the times. In 1964 it was rare to see a woman in a burqa, now half of the muslim population is fighting for it as part of their culture.

    August 14, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
    • Colin Fox

      How true. The pali and muslim outrage is only to suit themselves given a certain circumstance. Its just fine for them to murder women and use children as human shields and homicide bombers and they never self criticize for that. Only when they are caught do they blame someone else.
      Sort of like the "plight" of the pal "refugees". They seem to forget that they are in camps in other muslim countries because the residents in those countries do not want them. All the aid money they get and they are still no further ahead? Exactly how does that work?

      August 14, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
    • BibleRulez

      In 1964 it was rare to see a homosexual now there are parades everywhere. So whats your point?

      August 14, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  16. qmcs

    How about a re-write of the constitution and give every one except MUSLIMS and JEWS religious freedom. In other words...kick them out!

    August 14, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  17. James

    For all those saying "now Muslims know how we feel about the ground zero mosque:" It is an apples and oranges comparison.
    The outrage of the "ground zero mosque" is the fact that it is a mosque being build. There would be no outrage if it were a church or synagogue, or anything else. The outrage over this is that fact that anything at all is being built on ON an cemetery (not two blocks away).

    August 14, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
    • Jones

      Yeah there would be no outrage if it were anything else because MUSLIMS did 9/11 genius.

      August 14, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
    • BibleRulez

      So by the same logic when Christians annihilated and took land from the Indians there should be no church built here in America?

      August 14, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
    • laredomom

      Please stop saying the comparison is "apples and oranges." To you it may be so. To others it seems the same type of disrespect. If these gravestones in question are not marking genuine gravesites, then there should be no problem. I believe that aspect is still being investigated. On the other hand, we know that thousands of people lost their lives at Ground Zero and that their ashes scattered far and wide in that area. Some people may think that building any type of Muslim-affiliated building in that area is disrespectful because the Muslims who caused the damage were doing out of their religious beliefs.

      August 14, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      Why is it that they only thing people associate with the 9/11 bombers is their religion? I know that's why they said they did the attacks, but it's not the only thing that united them. They were all men. They were foreigners. And yet–no one is screaming about that. No one is blaming all men or all foreigners.

      Maybe all Muslims aren't to blame either? Just saying.

      August 15, 2010 at 10:37 am |
  18. nobullshit

    This is the same as the mosque being built near ground zero. No difference. So now all the muslims have an idea of why so many are opposed to it. Regardless of religious freedoms, it will desicrate the memory of the victims of 9/11. No argument on earth will ever change Americans minds. If you want to build a mosque a mile away, fine.

    August 14, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
  19. edgarX

    That’s the problem with the Israelis, the want everything for themselves and nothing for anybody else; they demand respect with the barrel of a gun yet respect nothing or nobody else. That’s why there will never be peace in the Middle East.

    August 14, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
    • Matt J.

      Never? There was peace when it was ruled from Constantinople. Maybe that is the secret recipe to restoring peace in the Middle East: restore the Byzantine Empire and let it rule the Middle East again!

      August 16, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
  20. Yehonatan

    Ok... I have issue with this article. I am in Jerusalem; I am currently living very close to Mamilla Cemetery and I witnessed them building fake graves. The news here said there were over 300 fake graves built there: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/139095 . CNN your article is nothing more than anti-Israel incitement and you should be ashamed of yourselves for publishing such garbage. The WAQF builds fake graves in an attempt to increase their land holdings within Jerusalem and instead of publishing that story you publish a story about how evil Israel is for destroying the hundreds of fake graves that were illegal built!

    August 14, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
    • Disgusted

      why would cnn want to post anti-israel articles? Yea ok, I'm sure cnn is less biased than a website called Israel News lol. I went to the site and the front page and every other page is the same story, Muslims are evil, and jews are the victims. Your sites shows muslims throwing rocks but nothing that israeli's are shooting at them and invading there land. Nah, can't actually show the whole side of it, what a surprise. Keep believing your own ignorance. At least admit that there some fault on your side and then maybe progress will be made. I admit there are faults on there side, but you won't do the same.

      August 14, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
    • Yehonatan

      Excuse me... that is an Israeli news site that reports actual facts. CNN has a history of Anti-Israel Incitement. I also know the facts because I am living right down the road from Mamilla cemetery and personally witnessed them building headstones on empty land with no graves! See why don't you pull you head out of your rear end and climb out from behind your computer and quit believing all the trash and go find out for yourself. I have been all over and I have seen it. So why don't you exam your own ignorance. But I doubt you will, because you will sit back in your safe suburban or city home in the US or Canada and pass judgement on situations and people that you have no clue about other than biased reports your read on the Internet and see on your tv. See I am actually here living it.

      August 14, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
    • Disgusted

      Since you want to take personal shots, are you a complete moron or are you just missing a few chromosomes? Keep believing your ignorance of being the chosen people and once again not accepting any fault. Typical once again. You're right down the block, so I'm sure you were woken up at night by the demolition they were too afraid to due in the daytime and kicked out reporters covering it. I don't see your website reporting about innocent people being kicked out of there homes so more settlements can be developed or how the UN doesn't impose sanctions that it would to any other country.
      How would you feel if your ancestors or relatives graves were destoryed? If someone destroyed gravesites from the holocaust. Keep trying to get the world to believe in your jewish guilt you jerk off. You've been everywhere? Clearly you haven't been to the land of common sense! I actually do research from various outlets unlike you that just believes everything reported by the israeli media. There won't be peace b/c of people like you. Those who think they're entitled to everything and take not accountability for their actions.

      August 14, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
    • gmash

      let me guess: you are an unbuased observor. correct?

      You'll excuse me if I did not believe your or Israel's lies. Mamilla cemetery has been around for centuries...It is documented history.

      August 14, 2010 at 10:24 pm |
    • One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

      Let's say for a minute that I believe you that the graves were fake. I think that's reasonable and thought so when it was mentioned in the CNN article.

      But let's look at the bigger picture. Why are the Palestinians building fake graves? could it be because they are trying everything they can to push back an invading force? You live in Jerusalem. OK–how long has your family been there?

      The Palestinians are outnumbered and outgunned; just as they were post-WWII when their land was taken from them. Of course they are trying everything conceivable to get their land back.

      August 15, 2010 at 10:34 am |
    • Matt J.

      You lose all credibility when you accuse CNN of bias, but show your own bias with " Israeli news site that reports actual facts."

      August 16, 2010 at 5:44 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.