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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. M&M

    Well, God don't like ugly! As much as I don't agree with what Israel is doing to the Pals, the same way I don't like what the Muslims are doing building a Mosque at Ground Zero in NYC. Payback is a B!tch isn't it?

    August 14, 2010 at 8:46 pm |
  2. Dave

    Can any of the anti-Semitic morons actually read? The Moslems deconsecrated this ground before any of us were born. In fact, they were not at all concerned about it until the Wiesenthal Center wanted to build on it. Plus, they have had the opportunity to present their case before one of the world's best Supreme Courts (as anyone with knowlege of jurisprudence can confirm). It becomes absolutely undeniable that some people are just looking for a fig leaf to hide their rabid anti-Semitism. Just beneath contempt.

    August 14, 2010 at 8:40 pm |
  3. Keith

    check out obama's executive order of Dec. 16, 2010 giving INTERPOL free reign in this country. They answer to no one. obama's thought police. cnn is the new newspeak.

    August 14, 2010 at 8:37 pm |
  4. Meaty Portion

    Whoop de sh1t. Muslims are building a mosque where people say sacred ground lies. I guess they are getting a taste of their own medicine.

    August 14, 2010 at 8:36 pm |
  5. fireybuddha

    Israel sucks.

    August 14, 2010 at 8:34 pm |
  6. Mike

    Build mosque in NYC....threaten to kill creators of South Park....love this religion

    August 14, 2010 at 8:31 pm |
  7. Andrew

    And let me guess, the irony is completely lost on the Muslims, huh?

    August 14, 2010 at 8:26 pm |
  8. Christie

    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."

    FAKE TOMBSTONES.... Muslims lie and then wonder why nobody trusts them. They are claiming it goes back to the 6th century..Wasn't Mohammad not born until the 7th century???

    August 14, 2010 at 8:23 pm |
    • Matt J.

      But why are YOU so sure they really are fake? Just because the Israelis say so? Well pardon me, but I need better evidence than that. Apparently, so does the judge handling this matter in court, since he ordered ALL sides in the dispute to come back with better evidence for their claims.

      The Muslims are claiming that they were RESTORING headstones, not faking them. YOU have given no good reason to believe they are wrong.

      August 16, 2010 at 6:11 pm |
  9. KDW31

    To all the morons that keep talking about the mosque in NYC. It is not being built on or at ground zero. It is being built two blocks away on a site that already contains a mosque. Get your facts straight before you start posting nonsense.

    August 14, 2010 at 8:22 pm |
  10. Amine

    AND we wonder why the muslim hate the west?

    August 14, 2010 at 8:22 pm |
  11. Dave

    The terrorists of 9/11 and their families have paid a price for their terrorism and they continue to pay the price as they try to defend themselves from the mighty USA which is near impossible. Japan paid a severe price when it bombed Pearl Harbor.. Look at the injustices in history and eventually there is a payback.. The Jewish state of Israel is a contradiction. They are trying to make a little "USA like" place, democratic, etc but without equal rights, or tolerance (if you are Jewish you have special rights). And they are doing it by a carefully planned form of genocide, terrorism, and simply sheer bullying.. That will come back and bite them in the end. It will also come back and bite the supporters of Israel. It has already come back and bitten us for our undying support of Israel. What prompted the terrorists to give their lives to harm the USA on 9/11? Why didn't they attack China or Mexico, or Brazil instead?? We have all lost as a result of our undying support of the Israeli state. With the internet, digital recording, testimony, etc... evidence is mounting and it is near indisputable. The Gaza strip is not much more than a concentration camp. Will the justice come during my lifetime? I'm not sure, but I suspect that it will. The atrocities the Israelis have put on the Palestinians are well documented. The time is approaching for the criminals to stand trial.. Sometimes it takes years, decades,... but justice does eventually prevail.. in the end. The pendulum of justice sometimes takes a while to swing the other way .. but it always does.. Right is right and wrong is wrong ... The Israeli's have convinced themselves that they can ignore the basics of justice... A 5 year old kid knows it is wrong to bulldoze a cemetery. It is simply wrong. Wake up Israel... time is running out for you. Embrace the equality of people and the right to religions other than Judaism or perish. Tolerance is not an option. There really is no choice..
    And for those people who only believe what Rush says .. wake up, the proposed Mosque is 3 NYC blocks ground zero. Look at a map. What's the problem??

    August 14, 2010 at 8:21 pm |
  12. Goldie993

    The irony in this right now is priceless.

    August 14, 2010 at 8:13 pm |
    • Andrew

      Guess I'm not the only one who thought that 🙂

      August 14, 2010 at 8:27 pm |
  13. Tippycanoe

    If we were to do the same to a Jewish Cemetery no matter where it was or if it han't been used for 100n years there would be hell to pay. Israel needs to have all US support money cut off NOW!!!

    August 14, 2010 at 8:13 pm |
  14. Lee Oates

    When you see a historical past destroyed in direct defiance of the people it represents, your have a nation looking for war. This is no better than the Tahliban destroying the giant statue of the Buddha a few years back. Israel has lost its direction and heads towards its own destruction.

    August 14, 2010 at 8:12 pm |
  15. Greg

    What a bunch of sheep. Gee I wonder why CNN put this story up? Could it be to incite more people to spout off about the Mosque in NYC? And the sheep did not disappoint. Way to be predictable. Baa Baa

    August 14, 2010 at 8:11 pm |
    • Keith

      You're half right. I think it's bait. All these comments are recorded along with your name and address so the Thought Police can round up any dissenters once obama declares martial law. Thing is, not all the sheep will go peacefully to the slaughter. He already has them in INTERPOL actually. He signed that little ole executive order on Dec. 16, 2010. INTERPOL has free reign here now and there's nothing our constitution or anyone can do to stop them. Some kind of change, huh?

      August 14, 2010 at 8:33 pm |
  16. George

    Totally WRONG. It's sickening. I'm not anti-Jew, and I don't like Muslims. This move by Israel is disgusting because a ancient historical site is being wiped away. It's horrible and they should stop.

    August 14, 2010 at 8:09 pm |
  17. mnguest

    let's throw in a church across the street just for fun

    August 14, 2010 at 8:04 pm |
  18. Mike

    So you smelly muslims want to build a mosque by ground zero. That's ok though right? We should just let them build it then on a friday send in a drone and get a payback! Give allah our regards.

    August 14, 2010 at 8:03 pm |
  19. Keith

    I'll bet Obama and Bloomberg can't wait to hear "allah-akbar", the last thing the high jackers were screaming on the radio, blaring on the loudspeakers 5 times a day. Maybe imam Rauf can stop by and pick up Bin Laden and bring him back for the ground-breaking ceremony-all on the taxpayers' dime of course! Just like the Bible says, good will be considered evil and evil good. Just in case you've been in a coma for the last 10 years...No you did not wake up in bizzaro world, just a screwed up PC America.

    August 14, 2010 at 7:51 pm |
  20. cheikh

    i've met palestinians living in western countries,and believe me they are so cocky and love trouble and they dont really care what's happening in palestine.

    August 14, 2010 at 7:40 pm |
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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.