The Hypocrisy of Tolerance

Hundreds of years, and even in the recent decades, the dead of the families of Husseini, Nusseibeh, Muaked, Dajani, Kuteini, Namari, Abu-Saud and others have rested in Mamila's earth, until the initiators of the Museum of Tolerance arrived to disturb their peace.

The initiators of the white elephant called the Museum of Tolerance declared that they do not deal with Holocaust-related issues and will not deal with issues relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The first statement was meant to ensure Yad Vashem's monopoly on Holocaust issues. The meaning of the second statement is now transpiring: The tolerance preachers couldn't care less that they are building on a foundation of generations of Muslim skeletons. After all, they promised not to deal with the local conflict. Let Moria, the company owned by the reunited city of Jerusalem, deal with skeleton matters. After almost 40 years of sanctimoniousness and double standards, City Hall should know how to cover up the hypocrisy of building a museum of tolerance on - of all places - a desecrated Muslim cemetery.

Whoever decided to place the ostentatious building of the museum in the graveyard must have known that digging the foundations would unearth hundreds of skeletons. After all, already in the '70s and '80s the Muslim waqf authorities protested the desecration of graves on that site. On the eve of the project's presentation, more than three years ago, many warned of the inevitable scandal that this would cause.

But nobody was bothered. After all, a Jewish-Israeli expert had established that the site's "sanctity had been removed," and contemptuously dismissed arguments of Muslim religious leaders to the contrary. Anyway, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Religious Affairs Ministry were supervising the site and instructing the workers to clean the skeletons "and cover them with a white nylon sheet."

The authorities' supervision of the shabby remains of the cemetery - once the largest and most important in Jerusalem - was clearly reflected by the neglected, smashed headstones, including tombstones dating back to the Ayyubid and Mameluk periods.

"Whoever is buried in Jerusalem, in a place called Zeitun al-Malk [Mamila of today], will be buried, if one can say so, in the lower heaven," wrote historian Mujir Al-Din in 1495. After the city's unification, the Muslim authorities asked for permission to rehabilitate the graves and maintain them, but the Israeli authorities refused. They saw this as a precedent to recognizing the Muslims' hold over sacred properties, such as mosques and cemeteries, in the western city.

Indeed, while "salvation excavations" - a sanitized way of saying "destroying Muslim graves" - are going ahead in Mamila, in the west of the city, the Jewish graveyard on the Mount of Olives (in the east) is to be designated a "Jewish heritage site." For that, millions of shekels have already been earmarked.

The city's unification was intended to restore its past glory, and every Muslim demand for equal treatment of sacred Muslim properties in the western city is firmly rejected, since it is seen as a demand for the "right of return, which means the destruction of Israel." If Israel surrenders to the Muslims' demands in Mamila, it might start a snowball effect and they would demand their graveyards in Dir Yassin, Lifta, Malha and Ein Kerem - all in the jurisdiction of Jerusalem's municipality. These sites have also been turned into garbage dumps, parking lots, roads and construction sites.

Throughout Israel there are hundreds of sites that were once Muslim graveyards, whose remains are still evident at a few dozen of them. The rest have vanished, whether because the tombstones crumbled or because the sites were used for roads, farming or building institutions and residential buildings. The Muslim cemeteries' condition is so outrageous that if it existed in another civilized state it would raise a public storm.

From time to time conflicts between the al-Aqsa Association for the Construction of Islamic Holy Places based in Umm al-Fahmm (and other Israeli-Muslim groups) and Israeli bodies erupt over the damage to these graveyards and the efforts to preserve them. Open burial sites are scattered throughout the country, human bones are strewed about, and tombstones are shattered, covered with garbage. The most famous site is the Balad a-Sheikh graveyard, located near Haifa in the town of Nesher - where Sheikh Azz a-Din a-Qassam is buried. This cemetery is the site of repeated clashes between vandals wishing to desecrate it and Muslim groups fighting to preserve it.

"Development pressures and public needs" are used as a pretext to justify the destruction of abandoned Muslim graveyards. The authorities excuse these acts saying Islam allows changing a cemetery's designation a few generations after the last burial, once a religious fatwa (Muslim ruling) is issued. They base this on Muslim precedents. The Muslim religious authorities deny this, noting that all the permits the Israelis have obtained were issued by corrupt clergymen and "waqf trustees." The Israelis never waited for their ruling, but always obtained it after the act, they say.

The Muslim cemeteries transcend the narrow religious context. They are means of holding onto the landscape. As the Israelis aspire to wipe them out, so the Arabs aspire to preserve them. There is no stronger evidence for roots in the landscape than the graves of the fathers. Hundreds of years, and even in the recent decades, the dead of the families of Husseini, Nusseibeh, Muaked, Dajani, Kuteini, Namari, Abu-Saud and others have rested in Mamila's earth, until the initiators of the Museum of Tolerance arrived to disturb their peace. Let them not say then that their vandalism "is not related to the local conflict." And they should not be surprised at the eruption of fury and insult of Muslims who cannot prevent the desecration of their dead.