The Occupation Notebooks: Entry 9: Ma’man Allah Cemetery

I dedicate this blog entry to indigenous colleagues and friends working on repatriation and grave protection issues in the United States.

For the morning of Saturday, January 18, we went to Ma’man Allah (Mamilla) Cemetery in East Jerusalem with one of its current Muslim advocates.
The Ma’man Allah Cemetery is a Muslim burial ground that dates back to the 7th Century, when close companions of the Prophet Muhammad were alleged to have been buried there. (http://ccrjustice.org/Mamilla; http://www.mamillacampaign.org) “Islamic jurisprudence consistently holds burial sites to be eternally sanctified, and disinterment of human remains is expressly prohibited.” (http://www.mamillacampaign.org)
Even before the 7thcentury, the cemetery was the site of a Byzantine church and cemetery. It is well attested as housing the remains of soldiers and officials of the Muslim ruler Saladin from the 12th century, as well as generations of important Jerusalem families and notables. The cemetery grounds also contain numerous monuments, structures, and gravestones attesting to its hallowed history, including the ancient Mamilla Pool, which dates back to the Herodian period, or the 1st century B.C. Since 1860, the cemetery has been clearly demarcated by stone walls and a road surrounding its 134.5 dunums (about 33 acres). (http://www.mamillacampaign.org) 

In 1927, the Muslim Supreme Council declared the cemetery to be a historical site; in 1944, the British Mandate did the same. It was an active burial site until the war of 1948, when the area fell under Israeli control. Upon the insistence of Jordan, the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs affirmed the cemetery “to be one of the most prominent Muslim cemeteries, where seventy thousand Muslim warriors of [Saladin’s] armies are interred along with many Muslim scholars.” (http://www.mamillacampaign.org) Following 1948, no new burials were permitted.
In 1949, the United Nations General Assembly, in resolution 303(IV), restated its intention that “Jerusalem should be placed under a permanent international regime, which should envisage appropriate guarantees for the protection of the Holy Places, both within and outside Jerusalem …” (http://www.mamillacampaign.org)

In 1967, Israel expressly passed the Holy Places Law, which protects religious sites, but then forbad the Islamic Waqf Department the right to maintain the cemetery as was part of its historic charge. (http://www.jerusalemquarterly.org/viewarticle.aspx?id=297)

In 1986, Israel reassured UNESCO that it was safeguarding the cemetery and even included it on an Israeli Antiquities Authority list of historical sites. (http://ccrjustice.org/Mamilla; http://www.mamillacampaign.org)

But instead of fulfilling its charge to protect the cemetery, Israel allowed the municipality of Jerusalem to dig up a number of graves, destroy the remains, and turn a portion of the cemetery into a public park called “Independence Park.” Israel advertises the park as “the city’s gay cruising ground.” (Jerusalem: The Mini Rough Guide.) “On January 15th, 2005 the Israeli Electricity Company performed further excavations obliterating more tombs in order to lay some cables. Another part of the cemetery is used now as the main headquarters of the Israeli Ministry of Trade and Industry.” (http://www.jerusalemquarterly.org/viewarticle.aspx?id=297)

In 2004, Governor Arnold Schwarzenger (R-CA) laid the foundation stone for the “Center for Human Dignity—Museum of Tolerance.” The museum is a joint project between Israel and The Simon Wiesenthal Center of Los Angeles. It proposes to include two large buildings; one would be Human Dignity, the other the Museum of Tolerance.  (http://www.jerusalemquarterly.org/viewarticle.aspx?id=297)

In 2005, construction began. This work has resulted in the disinterment of numerous graves and individual remains (http://ccrjustice.org/Mamilla; http://www.mamillacampaign.orgThe antiquity of the cemetery was confirmed by the Chief Excavator assigned to excavate the Museum site by the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA), who reported that over 400 graves containing human remains buried according to Muslim traditions were exhumed or exposed during excavations on the Museum site, many dating to the 12th century. His estimation that at least two thousand additional graves remain under the Museum site in 4 layers, the lowest dating to the 11th century, also verifies the antiquity and importance of the cemetery. http://www.mamillacampaign.org Israel justifies its actions on the grounds that the cemetery is no longer “sanctified” or “active.” (http://ccrjustice.org/Mamilla)

The walk through the cemetery, and small prayers and offerings we were able to leave for the Muslim ancestors and their families, was very difficult. The active desecration and vandalism of the burial site (including graffiti that reads Die Arabs!) is not only disturbing. It is as if Israelis are telling–screaming, really– in the face of Palestinians that they do not matter–neither them, their ancestors or their descendants, for thousands of generations they do not matter.

At the same time, Israel claims to be the great multicultural, democratic society, celebrating “human dignity” and “tolerance.” It would be laughable if it was not so inhumane.
Works Cited/Referenced
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