Mamilla Cemetery is a historic Muslim cemetery located just to the west of the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, Israel.The cemetery, at the center of which lies the Mamilla Pool, contains the remains of figures from the early Islamic period,several Sufi shrines and Mamluk-era tombs. The cemetery grounds also contain the bodies of thousands of Christians killed in the pre-Islamic era, as well as several tombs from the time of the Crusades.Its identity as an Islamic cemetery is noted by Arab and Persian writers as early as the 11th century. It was used as a burial site up until 1927 when the Supreme Muslim Council decided to preserve it as a historic site.Following the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the cemetery and other waqfproperties in West Jerusalem fell under the control of Israeligovernmental bodies. A number of buildings, a road and other public facilities, such as a park, a parking lot and public lavatories have since been constructed on the cemetery grounds, destroying grave markers and tombs. A plan to build a Museum of Tolerance on part of the cemetery grounds, announced in 2004, aroused much controversy and faced several stop work orders before being given final approval in July 2011.
Once again, dozens of Jewish headstones have been vandalized, stoking fears of heightened anti-Semitism. And once again, members of the Muslim community are rallying to help.The latest spate of destruction came over the weekend at the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Philadelphia, where 75 to 100 tombstones were toppled over. A week earlier, at least 170 headstones were damaged at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis.Muslim activist Tarek El-Messidi, who had started a fund-raising campaign to help clean up the St. Louis cemetery, sprung to action again after the Philadelphia attack.“I want to ask all Muslims to reach out to your Jewish brothers and sisters and stand together against this bigotry,” he wrote on Facebook.“Last week, our Muslim community raised money for the vandalized Jewish Cemetery in St Louis. Since we raised well above the goal, we can now use extra funds to help here in Philadelphia.”As of Tuesday morning, the campaign had raised $138,000 — nearly seven times the original goal of $20,000.El-Messidi said he immediately visited the Philadelphia Jewish cemetery and offered his support after hearing the news. After all, Muslims can relate to the feeling of racial intolerance.
At the time of Israel’s assertion of control over West Jerusalem in 1948, the cemetery, which contained thousands of grave markers, came under the administration of the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property and the Muslim Affairs Department of Israel’s Ministry of Religious Affairs. By the end of the 1967 war that resulted in the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, only a handful of broken grave markers remained standing. A large part of the cemetery was bulldozed and converted into a parking lot in 1964 and a public lavatory was also built on the cemetery grounds.In the 1950s, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, sensitive to how the treatment of waqf properties would be viewed internationally, criticized government policy towards the cemetery. A ministry representative described the vandalism to tombstones, including their use by the guard appointed by the Religious Ministry to build a henhouse beside his shelter in the cemetery, and the destruction of ancient tombs by bulldozers cleaning the Mamilla Pool.Noting the site constituted waqf property and lay within sight of the American Consulate, the ministry said it viewed the situation, which included plans for new roads and the parceling out of portions to private landowners as compensation for other properties confiscated by the state, with deep regret.Israeli authorities bulldozed several tombs in the cemetery, including some of those identified as Frankish by Clermont-Ganneau, to establish Mamilla Park (or Independence Park) in 1955. Two of the largest and finest tombs survived, though the lid of one was overturned when it moved from its original spot. The other is the Mamluk era funerary chapel known as al-Kebekiyeh (or Zawiya Kubakiyya), now located in the eastern end of Independence Park.Besides Independence Park, other parts of downtown Jerusalem erected on the cemetery grounds include the Experimental School, Agron Street, Beit Agron, and Kikar Hahatulot (Cats’ Square), among others. Government buildings on the cemetery grounds include the main headquarters of the Israeli Ministry of Trade and Industry, and the Customs Department building, which is said to be located on what was once the site of the chapel dedicated to St. Mamilla.
Earlier this week hundreds of Muslims – young and old – marched through the centre of Jerusalem towards the city’s Mamilla cemetery.Police helicopters flew overhead and security was tight. The focus of the march, and of increasing Muslim anger, was the Israeli Supreme Court decision to sanction a controversial new building on part of the Muslim cemetery.
On 9 August 2010, 300 Muslim gravestones in the cemetery were bulldozed by the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) in an area US Jewish human rights activists said was very close to the planned site for the Museum of Tolerance. A reporter from Agence France Presse witnessed the destruction of 200 graves until the work was briefly suspended while the court heard a stop work petition it rejected, allowing demolitions to continue that same day. The judge later issued an order prohibiting harm to ancient graves and mandating that the ILA coordinate work with the Israel Antiquities Authority and representatives of the Islamic Movement.The Jerusalem city council issued its first official response in a written statement on 12 August, saying that, “The municipality and the (Israel Lands) Authority destroyed around 300 dummy gravestones which were set up illegally in Independence Park on public land.” It said these “fake” gravestones were not erected over any human remains and were placed in the park in an effort to “illegally take over state land.”Mahmud Abu Atta, a spokesman for the Al-Aqsa Foundation, denied the city council’s claim that new tombs were added illegally. He said that between 500 and 600 tombs had been renovated in total “with the municipality’s agreement,” that “some of the tombs had to be totally rebuilt,” but that “all the tombs that we built or renovated contain bodies.”Twenty graves were completely destroyed or had their tombstones removed by vandals in January 2011. On the night of 25–26 June 2011, about 100 gravestones in an intact part of the cemetery were destroyed by Israeli bulldozers. Footage filmed by local media and activists appeared on Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera and showed the bulldozers pulling out quickly after realizing they were being filmed; Israeli officials made no comment on the incident.
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