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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. dmf

    What say you Speaker Ginerich ? The Palestinians , as a history teacher you know , are secular people . The oppressed and occupied Palestinians are waiting for the necons in the U. S. to raise their voice of protests against the racist Zionist regime's destruction of civil properties and other atrocities in the occupied lands of Palestine .

    August 14, 2010 at 4:14 pm |
  2. Chuck in Jasper Ga

    Sure seem to be a lot of "experts" about the land in Jerusalem. I wonder how many people have actually been there that "know" so much about who's land it is or is not. I wonder how many of you experts have lived there too that made you such "experts". I also wonder what law schools some of you attended given there seem to be a lot of outhouse lawyers posting as well. I see people posting "if you researched you would find this",, but none of the posters claiming they have information not in this article, nobody has posted a link to view the information they "claim" is truth..Could it be because they are hollow claims?

    August 14, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
  3. JohnnyCleveland

    Yeh. As if Islam cared about civility or truth. Putting phony headstones in a cemetery to acquire land isn't quite ghoulish enough for the American left, is it?

    How about if I put up a church in Mecca? Oh, I forgot, the "Religion of Peace" wouldn't tolerate something like that! But, since the American left hates religion, it will do or say nothing to defend Jews or Christians; even if the aggessor religion is a group or racist, sexist, homophobe xenophobes whose ethos is diametrically opposed to the views of the average "liberal" here in America.

    Useful idiots. Cowards. Fools.

    August 14, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
  4. Barbara A. Kraskin

    T.S. What's with the double standard?

    August 14, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
  5. Cochise

    If this cemetery dates back to 6 AD, then the entombed are not "Muslims" in the sense of Islam. Islam came 600 years after Christianity.
    Sorry Palestinians, you've cried wolf one too many times.

    August 14, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
  6. D

    Last I checked there wasn't video footage of graves being destroyed by bulldozers to build this Cultural center in NYC which also contains a pool, gym, classrooms for education, and yes, a prayer room, but people are blowing this so out of proportion "Oh they are building this 10 story Mosque right on Ground Zero" uh, no...its two blocks away, and anyone from NYC will tell you two blocks can make quite a difference.

    In addition, studies have been done showing that Mosques actually decrease the chances of radicalization because guess what people, terrorists aren't following Islam, they are following a perverted version of it and using it to justify the horrible actions they carry out. 99.99999% of Muslims are peaceful people like you and I. Lumping everyone together isn't the answer, what if everyone called you racist because you were white simply because they know about the KKK. It's just plain silly.

    August 14, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
  7. Cochise

    Something is wrong here. How many muslims were in this area in 6 AD?

    August 14, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
    • WhatTheHuh

      BINGO! check out hagia sophia in instanbul if you want to see the respect the muslims have for other religions...

      August 14, 2010 at 6:02 pm |
    • Matt J.

      What's wrong is your inability to READ. The article does not say "6 AD". It says "sixth CENTURY AD". That is about right: Mohammed was born in 570.

      August 16, 2010 at 6:03 pm |
  8. Whopee

    More 'Standard Muslim Bullcrap'. Cry, when you feel violated...yet violate everyone else whenever you can. Forget 'tolerance'; had enough of their baloney – bulldoze the cemetery...then let's get going on bulldozing the Mosque idea in NYC...

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

      Where do you see Muslims violating everyone else? It is the extremists that have caused Muslims to be so revered in the public's eyes by committing acts that true Muslims condemn.

      August 14, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
  9. Phillllllllllllll

    I tire of your 'Religious Tolerance' claims and the fools that back it up. You want me to tolerate your superstition to the point that it effects my life? I do not believe in your superstitions, nor your claim that there is such thing as 'scared land'. To me this land is just that....land. It does not matter if you buried dead bodies, cats, dogs, whatever! Dead things are just that....dead. The whole concept of burring dead things then calling the land they occupy 'scared' seems like a waste to me. But this is your idea of 'religious tolerance', to waste land and then tell me that this is how it shall be, because your imaginary god says so. Where is the tolerance for those that think your actions are just a waste? Where is the tolerance for those that say your religion is a lie and there is no god? There is none. There is no toleration for those that do not believe, so in the meantime you people argue and fight over dead bodies rights to take up useful space for what? Religious people are very unrealistic.

    August 14, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
  10. Cristina

    Regardless of religion or belief, no one in this planet should to disrespect a sacred place in any way. Both, this situation and Ground Zero's current controversy, should not be happening. It is just wrong. This kind of selfishness and disrespect is what keeps us humans in wars.

    August 14, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
    • Cristina

      Have to add to my comment: I don't know how legitimate these tombs are though. If they are not, then it is very wrong for the Palestinians to "stage" the Israelis with such a lie. Still sad.

      August 14, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
  11. JustAGirl

    Alright, I am tired of all this BS.
    Ppl, can we pleazeeeeeeeee STOP Killing each other? What the H*** is wrong with us ?

    & for the cookooz who compare this to Ground Zero – The sad and inhumane act of the bombing of the twin towers happened in the U.S. It had NOTHING to do with Israel; so please stop being so ignorant and stating that Israel is taking revenge for 9/11!!! That mentality would justify me or some idiot out there going out and killing Germans because of what they did to the Jews!!! Right? Right?

    My concern and upset is about the fact that this spot is a historic site, regardless of who and what is in/on it, it should be preserved.

    ps. get your facts right you loosers – the mosques is NOT going to build ON ground zero but near it !!!! ughhhhhh the stupidity!
    Some of y'all are the reason why everyone in the world thinks ALL Americans are stupid 😦

    August 14, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
    • Yehonatan

      While I would agree with you as a Historian... the problem is that the Jerusalem Municipality isn't destroying the grave yard, that is WAQF propaganda attempting to make Israel look bad. The Jerusalem Municipality is destroying over 300 fake... yes proven to be fake graves that the WAQF had constructed over the past few weeks in an attempt to take land from Independence Park. These are facts, and I can personally testify to it, walking by each day I saw bags and bags of empty cement bags stacked up at the corner of the graveyard. The only thing the Jerusalem Municipality is doing is destroying fake graves that are less than a month old.

      August 14, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
    • MutantZ-man

      @JustAGirl

      WIN

      August 16, 2010 at 3:44 am |
  12. Are you all Daft

    Sexual preference should not even figure into this Allahuakbar, you need to know your facts and grow up . Neither does country or upbringing..we have all been deprived at one time or another! Horrible comment !! I do hope it is deleted!

    August 14, 2010 at 3:14 pm |
  13. Are you all Daft

    In my opinion! Weather or not in 1964 the made a declaration! Would you agree to destroy something so sacred IF you family were laid to rest there! I think NOT!

    August 14, 2010 at 3:12 pm |
  14. Allahuakbar

    Jews will burn in hell, More than half are already gay

    August 14, 2010 at 3:08 pm |
    • Keith

      Hey Al, Do you or your religion have a problem with gay people?

      August 15, 2010 at 8:49 am |
  15. TLOS

    Why does this article not quote a single Israeli source? Does CNN have any journalistic integrity or training. Just two days ago they reported about the "Israeli" serial killer without mentioning that he was an Arab.

    August 14, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
    • Tolerance

      Where oh where do you get that he was an Arab? He is an Israeli national who was headed back to Israel. Did you just read his name and decipher that he is Arab because it sounds Arab? FYI, Arab and Hebrew names and languages can sound quite alike and he is NOT an Arab

      August 14, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  16. Travis D. Piper

    It isn't right to desecrate a cemetery, regardless of who it is. It just isn't right. I am not an Arab or a Muslim, but, in this case, I agree with them. I don't support them on much, but, I do in this one case.

    August 14, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
  17. Sherry

    It is no different than what we have done to the Native American sacred sites, including burial grounds. So don't be in so much of a hurry to blame anyone else!!!

    August 14, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
  18. Jabra

    Heya Frank, know anything of history? If you think that the palestinian rat parasites of terrorist would stop firing rockets, dont you think Israel would be more lax? Muslims are getting everything that they deserve, maybe less than what they deserve.

    August 14, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
  19. Frank Rizzo

    Israel deserves everything it gets from being the Monster they have become, if these were Arabs destroying Jewish Graves OMG the US and its puppet friends would yelling hell over water, the Israeli's are a bunch of blood sucking human waste lowlife's

    August 14, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
  20. PAUL

    when i die i want to be cremated , i do not want to sleep in some cemetary with dead people,

    August 14, 2010 at 2:43 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.