Category Archives: palestine

one family in gaza

One Family in Gaza (2010, Jen Marlowe, 22 minutes) is a short film that documents the personal tragedy of one family in Gaza. What makes this film so powerful is that it is told entirely by the family themselves. There are a million or more stories like this in Palestine. Nearly everyone you meet has been affected in some way by decades of war and suffering, but it is worthwhile to hear it yourself from those who experienced it instead of reading it in a report or seeing it on television. The humanity conveyed in the tears of a mother or the anguished prayers of a father is hard to miss. You may contact the film maker here.

the almighty dollar, part 2: global islamist strategy

Part I of this series on the American Dollar can be found here.

Turkish water, Arab Gulf capital, Egyptian labor, and Israeli know-how will join hands in a sheer material enterprise with no identity or sense of direction. Consequently, there will be no feeling of pain caused by loss of dignity.

from The Imperialist Epistemological Vision” by Abdulwahab al Masseri

The Muslim world is a giant untapped well of power. Geo-strategically, the Middle East has always been important – straddling important trade routes and acting as a bridge between several continents. Even the Muslim minorities of the world, that is where Muslims make up a minority stake in a society, contain roughly 40% of the global ummah. Acting as a unified actor, the Muslim world is over a billion strong and contains much of the world’s capital and resources.

The issue is a splintering of the ummah that followed the rightly guided caliphs and the Golden Age of Islam. At one point, the Muslim world was one unified empire stretching from the Himalayas to the Straits of Gibraltar. Societies kept their identities and ways of life provided they were not against basic principles of Islamic governance. Identities were forged within the Muslim world – indeed, Egyptians in particular have always been fiercely nationalistic – but the kind of nationalism imported since the end of direct colonialism in the area is new and unfamiliar to many Muslims who still see themselves as Muslim first – Indian, Pakistani, Iraqi, Filipino second.

At the top of this Islamic world sits some of the greatest concentration of capital in the Gulf countries. Glimmering skyscrapers towering over empty streets, air-conditioned stadiums, and the sheikhas gliding through malls covered in black and gold, their filipino servants trailing behind buckling under the weight of shopping bags. It’s no wonder this Islamic elite has come under attack in recent decades by AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) as both an attempt at capital accumulation and an ancient drive from sects from the Sufis to the Khajarites who sought to deliver divine justice to the corrupt heads of the Caliphate. These today being those who control the capital and the two holy mosques of Mecca and Medina.

Yet the strategy has shifted in recent years and rage has grown considerably in these offshoot groups. Instead of seeing the House of Saud as solely responsible for their predicament of addictive shopping and rampant tastes of luxury, the global Islamic resistance movement have lifted their eyes to the very top – America and Europe. By smashing at the dollar they are forcing the rich and corrupt among them to either reconsider their lifestyles or run for the hills, as seen recently in Tunisia.

What part does Israel play in such a strategy? Abdullah Azzam, famous mujahid in Afghanistan, became somewhat disillusioned as he was told to keep his desire for jihad against Israel on the back-burner and continue his focus against the Soviets. Is it any surprise that he and others who shared his view suddenly turned up dead in Peshawar – their suspected killers being Iranian Intelligence, Mossad, or even Osama bin Laden himself? Why is Israel so protected from the brunt of Islamic militarism? The simple answer may be that it represents a strategic interest to foreign colonial powers. Considering that hundreds of millions of dollars worth of military equipment is kept in storage in Israel and their physical presence as a thorn in the side of the Middle East, this could be true. Yet they are becoming more and more brave, unafraid of keeping their American masters pleased with their progress. Why is this? I’ve come to understand that Israel poses little threat and possesses no real strength in its current position – it’s very presence in the Middle East is part of the strategy.

The decaying, autocratic Middle East and the Muslim world in general is propped up by a wilting dollar. Israel is the gun held to the heads of the Arab capitals, ensuring that they will not jump ship. Imagine an intricate game of mouse-trap, with the final string of yarn tied around the trigger of a Tavor held by the Israeli government. It is in their interest as well that the dollar sustains, considering much of their foreign capital is held abroad and – if one is to imagine (as Israelis themselves do) that Jews worldwide are simply expat Israelis, a large portion of their population and subsequent charitable income and moral support depends on it as well. The methods Israel uses for colonial advancement are dollar-heavy and follow traditional, if not sloppy, methods of free-trade strategy.

Like the housing bubble, nearly anything will be done to keep the system afloat in the Middle East, to keep the money from the Gulf tied up in luxury yachts and the rest of it tied up in weapons. In such a high pressure situation – that is to keep this attempt to keep the bubble inflated – nearly everyone’s interests will be to sustain the status quo, especially when it comes to the dollar. The Saudis want to stay in power, the Assads want to stay in power, the Hashemites want to stay in power, Mubarak wants to stay in power, and the Israelis want to continue making money and building settlements. Everything about Middle East diplomacy is about keeping thirty cats from scratching each other to death while someone else keeps stealing all the cheese. So where do those who want to change the status quo hit the hardest?

Maybe it takes years for the seeds to sprout, but as unrest begins to ripple across the Maghreb from Algeria to Tunisia to Libya to Egypt, we can see the house of cards start to tremble something terrible.

another day at the checkpoint

Palestine is icy cold when there is no insulation and drafty windows and heat comes in the form of electric heaters and hot water bottles. People dance from foot to foot at the checkpoint and nobody minds being crowded too much because the wind whips clear through the chicken wire, occasionally slamming a plastic piece of siding so loud that everyone jumps. Above the heads Qalandiya airport sits decaying in the distance. The air control tower stands empty and scrubweed has started to grow on the runway.

This is ridiculous someone mutters in Arabic. They’ve got the old here today.

An old fellahiya woman, crumpled with age and with white hair peeking out under her white hijab fumbles with her blue shopping bags. Is she one of the women you see in Jerusalem sitting on the ground with their herbs and vegetables, selling a kilo and a half for a handful of shekels to make ends meet at home? Her beautiful dress, embroidered with the colors of flowers and sunny days, is the only bit of spirit at the checkpoint on a gloomy, windy day.

Despite the desperation to move – it’s been an hour waiting now before the turnstile – she is shielded from pushing and hobbles through, moving slow with arthritis. She alone hauls her bag onto the X-ray machine and shuffles through the metal detector. A crackling voice over the intercom begins to bark orders in Hebrew. With trembling, oak-like fingers she presents her papers to the girl behind the bulletproof glass. The barking orders escalate into a shrieking insistence and it is clear the woman does not know Hebrew. Those behind the turnstiles watch in silence as the painfully loud, unfamiliar tones grow louder and more painful. A door opens and a young woman with long curly auburn hair comes out with a gun, towering over the woman like some ancient war idol, shrieking and pointing back, back! The woman wordlessly gathers her things from the x-ray machine and shuffles back through the checkpoint to the wordless gasps of the group still waiting. With as much dignity as she can muster, she walks back out through the traffic, soldiers, watchtowers, and children selling gum and information.

With a buzz and a click, the turnstile opens again and now two – no, three are allowed through. An old man drops his change in the metal detector and painfully stoops to collect it from the muddy, cold concrete. More shrieks, low growls, and sarcastic crackling tones.

Wait again for some twenty minutes before the next buzz-click, when more are let through. In line now, waiting with difficulty. It has been almost two hours. Too many through and waiting, a mistake perhaps? The shrieking slams down again, feedback accompanying the orders. A youth who knows Hebrew turns to the crowd. “We have to all go back,” he says in Arabic. Nobody moves. It’s been too long. Such a struggle to wait and squeeze through with bags, two or three to the gaps in the turnstile. No one will be first to move. Soldiers appear alongside the chicken wire with large, other-worldly guns, waving them at the crowd and yelling “RUH!” – move, go, get out. Nobody moves. Who is going to be the first?

The door opens again and out comes a young man in glasses, fat around the waist and with an annoyed look in his eye. He sputters in Hebrew and lifts his gun at the crowd, finger on the trigger. Nobody moves. Who is going to be the first? He steps closer, angry now at the disobedience. There are young and old animals here, animals on their way to class or to work, sick animals, hungry animals, but all the animals are cold and tired of waiting. Go home and bullshit with the friends at Mike’s Place over a beer – You wouldn’t believe how difficult the Arabs were today!

The youth turns again to the crowd, raising his hands. We need to go back through he says.

Back through the turnstiles? someone answers disbelievingly.

“Yes, back through the turnstiles. One by one. They want us through one by one.”

The crowd behind the turnstiles, those still waiting behind the wire, murmur with despair as one by one they are forced to make room for shuffling feet and unwieldy bags. Each one is another five, ten minutes added on to the time it takes to go three miles to Jerusalem.

When all of the people are back through the turnstiles, the door to the booth opens again and out come young women with hair up or down, standing with hips cocked sipping Fantas and lighting cigarettes. It’s time for a break, or perhaps a shift change. They pull out cell phones to call girlfriends in Tel Aviv and bitch about the weather.

La ilaha il Allah! one woman cries out, a reminder to everybody that it is only God who can protect them from the evil that he has created.

the suicide bomb

Is the suicide bomb an ethical weapon?

Many believe that no weapon is ethical, that bred within it is the cause for violence. There are those, also, who scale the ethics of weaponry as something that can be civilized vs. uncivilized. There are clean(er) ways of killing people, for instance, a predator drone or a gun. One can hardly imagine a film like Rambo where, instead of killing hundreds with a gun he decides to take them all out with a knife or his bare hands.

As weapons evolve, so does the death count. If we look at the trajectory of human development, as the population increases, so does the weaponry increase to kill more and more people. A hydrogen bomb, for example, or the machinery of the Nazi holocaust. The more space you put between you and someone else, the easier it is to kill, the less you feel it.

Whereas man used to be in touch with his violent side, confronted every day with the torments of violence in his world, nowadays we can comfortably kill people thousands of miles away and not feel a thing. The violence of the industrialized slaughterhouse also comes to mind.

So where do we rate the suicide bomb? Go to Nablus and you are confronted with posters and shrines to those who died or are imprisoned, a few of whom were suicide bombers or accomplices. Someone recently told me this was a glorification of violence. Open a Jane’s Defense and tell me who’s glorifying  violence.

In a place like Nablus, death is all around you. It stares at you from the walls, the wreckage, the bullet holes in the walls. It echoes in the eyes of others as they tell you their stories. Each death is like a blow to the face here. Mao once said, “To die for the reactionary is as light as a feather. But to die for the revolution is heavier than Mount Tai.” Compare it to the nameless, faceless coffins shipped back from Iraq.

Suicide bombers are not mindless drones lured by the temptations of heaven. They are human beings with families. They have to say good-bye and make preparations for their violence. They look their targets in the eye. They smile. They decide to go home when they see a baby carriage in a cafe. Predator drones don’t back down – the victims of wedding parties and funeral processions can tell you that. The human being in Nevada fires a missile and goes home to his family. The suicide bomber feels the weight of his or her decision with their entire body. It is literally the most important decision of their lives. The soldier in the foxhole tossing grenades can hardly say that each pull of the pin requires such forethought and soul searching.

Why is it that killing someone with your body is considered more barbaric and more cowardly in western civilization than killing someone with a tomahawk missile? Does the violence tickle that part of us left behind since the industrialization of war? Perhaps once we start to analyze the methods of war as closely as we do the reasons for killing will we rediscover the horror of taking lives.

what peace process?

Now that full-scale building has resumed in the West Bank, and land in East Jerusalem housing 30 Palestinian families has been handed over to Jewish settlers by the State of Israel, the “peace process” hangs in a delicate balance. Yet the very nature of such a process was created as tenuous by definition.

The Palestinian Authority has taken a stand against popular Palestinian sentiment to continue with talks despite continued land evictions, settler violence, and state terror. Now they are being set up for humiliation. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman addressed the United Nations yesterday, calling for an interim peace process that would “take a few decades” and involve a population transfer of Arab Israelis to Palestinian Authority control. These statements were not even contradicted by the Prime Minister’s office, and private sources say Netanyahu does not even necessarily disagree with such a proposal. Now Mahmoud Abbas and Barack Obama are standing like fools on stage with their hands out, while Israel brushes by as if they do not even exist.

The emotional problems are first and foremost the utter lack of confidence between the sides and issues such as Jerusalem, recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish People and refugees. Under these conditions, we should focus on coming up with a long-term intermediate agreement, something that could take a few decades. We need to raise an entire new generation that will have mutual trust and will not be influenced by incitement and extremist messages.

With this statement, Lieberman says plainly that the world must wait for a tamer, more passive Palestinian generation to emerge before a peace agreement can be worked out. Citing “emotional problems” (that sounds quite like a man shouting “hysteria!” at an enraged woman), he fails to bring up any mention of Jewish extremism – such as the celebrations marking the end of the building freeze attended by thousands in the West Bank – and whether it presents an obstacle to peace.

As for an “exchange of populated territories”, what he means is jettisoning most of the 1.4 million Palestinian citizens in Israel to become the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority, without their say in the matter. In exchange for this process, which would be ridding Israel of what they call a “demographic time-bomb”, Israel would be keeping hold of their Jewish settler population in the West Bank that currently carves up the land into a hellish archipelago – and, one assumes, the military presence there to “protect” the settlers. Win-win.

We can tell who the powerful party is by noticing who sets the rules, who keeps watch over the “emotional” landscape of the peace process. Even Barack Obama, who tried his hand to halt the Israelis from resuming full-scale settlement and colonization of the West Bank, faces humiliation at the hands of the Israeli leaders who take two billion dollars a year in aid with one hand while slapping him with the other.

Unfortunately, the Palestinians are simply window dressing – like the humiliation of Joe Biden earlier in the year when he visited Israel, the real story is about the Israeli right flexing its muscles publicly while America watches, unable to stop them or even speak up in a meaningful way. Meanwhile, the Palestinians continue to be forced off their land, continue to be imprisoned, and even their Israeli-passport-holding brothers and sisters are suddenly pale as their government – to whom they pay taxes and to whom they entrust the education of their children – talks about expelling them without even consulting them first.

The Palestinians are stuck with peace talks. They understand that the way the narrative is written, they will be laid with the guilt if the peace process fails. If they simply show up, try and put on a smile and extend a hand, the Israelis will slap it away and heap shame on their heads until they can’t stand it anymore. Yet, the alternative is nearly unthinkable as anti-PA activists continue to be imprisoned and tortured, as the PA continues to stifle protests against the peace process, etc. All for a sweet slice of foreign money and a world of humiliating defeats.

Palestinian aid culture

Say you’re going to Palestine and nearly everyone will vault their eyebrows at you. To most it’s a big deal, and they see flashes of media segments with stone throwing, tear gas, and bulldozers. The truth on the ground is much different. Traveling through Palestine as an international, you won’t find trouble unless you go looking for it. While difficulties due to the occupation are day-to-day realities, the kinds of oppression institutionalized here are less likely to make the 11 ‘o clock news.

Realities like checkpoints, road bypasses, dust, education, medical services, ID cards, permits, and visas are less likely to get the donors’ juices flowing. Blights like checkpoints and the wall affect people every day and for the long term. Walk through a checkpoint and tell me it wasn’t one of the most disturbing things you’ve done in your life. It won’t make the news like a clash in East Jerusalem, but it will deeply change your ideas about life in Palestine.

Political freedom is another issue, and because of the situation here it is difficult to fund grassroots initiatives without stipulating some clear baseline standards. USAID, for instance, conditions their money to those who work with, are approved by, and operate under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Organizations seeking to create broad appeal and be accessible to the entire population of Palestine will be excluded from funding.

Why is it that the Western mindset must be swayed by photos of gore and violence to commit their efforts? It’s possible one of the main reasons is that our attention span won’t commit the time necessary to understand the deeper, more complex issues that stem from conflict and post-conflict zones. When the killing is over, so is our interest. Therefore, those who want access to international support must tailor their proposals to appeal to such a soundbite mindset. Abroad, donors believe the situation is violent and are sadly ignorant to the deeper challenges.

Who is able or willing to confront the challenges of the civil society sector in such places? Can we discuss bureaucracy and corruption in such a situation?  Can we have a discussion on the horrors of pornography and its impact in such a difficult society? Can we look at the conflict through a lens of colonial theory – or must we restrict ourselves to “development” terminology to ensure funding?

Ask any Palestinian NGO what the greatest challenge facing them is, and they will immediately tell you that the dependence on foreign aid is the biggest. Organizations must have access to financial auditors, English-speakers to write reports, and must play ball with government authorities to ensure access to funds. “I used to spend three days in the field and three days in the office,” one director told me. “Now I spend almost seven days a week in the office trying to keep the money coming.”

Meanwhile, a flock of internationals descends to direct development efforts on the ground. Since they are the donors, they are able to completely tailor the development process to their own international standards, spreading western values, processes, and procedures and demanding respect for them as the gateway to foreign money. Stuck between a rock (PA) and a hard place (Int. interests), Palestinian NGOs can only lie and juggle, taking them out of the field and into the office.

Blood – Suja Sawafta

I.
Plasma, fluid full of cells,
Red, white, medical anatomy
Of iron that carries oxygen,
Drumlike, through the body,
In a wave of beats,
Flaps like a hummingbird,
Continuous, life is oxygen that moves through phases in a being,
Red, maroon, purple, blue.
Iron, salt, preservation is necessary
For life, circulation of platelets,
Or broken pain, which after all
Is nothing more than a blow to the nerves,
Bruising until it becomes a plush plum
Cloud under the skin,
Marble disfiguration, pollution.
Blood is rushing pleasure or
Settling fear, a feeling,
A metaphor for something that
Spills and spreads too easily, but
Nonetheless can stop dancing through your
Nerves in a beat, one moment,
Final, that defines a conclusion.

II.
Blood is a line,
A genetic history, belonging,
Love between two people,
A child, a muse, or traces
Of a caravan that traveled
From Baghdad to Jerusalem,
The descendants of which might now
Live in the Jordan Valley, a link.
Legacy, a story told and retold
From one generation to another,
A call in the wind, an echo,
The reincarnation of a soul,
Ethnic relevance, like the
Boshnak who once came from
Bosnia and now call themselves Palestinian.
Blood is sumac that flavors
A national dish, tomatoes
Grown in Jenin, Gaza
Star gazing, sleeping on a rooftop,
A shower of bullets, glittering,
That puncture people trying to live.
Blood is a walk in the grove, or
A tradition, it colors skin,
A bride blushing pink, or
A young man from Yaffa
Who is gold, his mother
Brown, withered like leather,
Lasting and authentic.
Here blood is loyalty,
It is brotherhood, it
Is steadfastness.

III.
Blood is a Palestinian child running,
For fear of spilling, of slipping
For loosing an irreplaceable amount
Of platelets, because she took
A walk in the grove or because
She refused to show the soldier
By the wadi her breasts.
Blood is humiliation
That she cannot be human,
Unpleasant like a scar from
A stray bullet.
Blood is inhumane, unpure,
A differing translation due to context,
Blood is the flow of resistance,
The sound of footsteps, a whisper,
it is the coping method of a mother
Who insists that her sons
Blood smells of lavender
Laced with the pure sweetness
Of being a martyr.
Blood is the reason for too much salt
In this earth rich with minerals
Because of the abundance of death.

Blood is a release from
the binding of life.

have fun in ramallah or die in gaza

There is another article is out about Ramallah, this time in the Jerusalem Post. Entitled “Palestine’s New Bride”, we glimpse a view of the thumping nightlife of Orjwan, value real estate prices, and a new Swedish luxury hotel. What kind of child thinks these are valid, positive economic indicators and not instead revealing of a class crisis in Palestine? After all, unemployment remains up to 40% in some parts of the West Bank, checkpoints are still manned by private security forces and Israeli teenagers, and kids are dragged out of bed in the dead of night without charges. The Jpost article doesn’t mention this, it just talks about how less corrupt the new Palestinian government is to be able to foster this “economic development”.

Surprisingly, it’s the only source I’ve seen so far that offers a perspective so often left out of other write-ups.

“Whether we like it or not, Ramallah has become the real capital of Palestine,” said Munir Hamdan, a local businessman and Fatah operative. “The president and prime minister have their offices here. So do the parliament and all the government ministries.”

Hamdan and other Palestinians accused the Palestinian Authority of “collusion” with Israel in turning Ramallah into the political and financial capital of the Palestinians. The latest project to build a government complex in Ramallah has left many residents here wondering whether their leadership has abandoned the dream to turn Jerusalem into their capital.

“If they are building a new government compound here, that means they have no plans to be based in Jerusalem,” complained Hatem Abdel Kader, a Fatah legislator from Jerusalem. “Unfortunately, the Palestinian government of Salam Fayyad has abandoned Jerusalem in favor of Ramallah.”

Abdel Kader is perhaps one of the few people who know what they are talking about when it comes to Jerusalem. About two years ago Fayyad appointed him as minister for Jerusalem affairs.

However, Abdel Kader resigned a few weeks later, saying he had discovered that his ministry did not even have enough money to buy a desk and a chair for him.

“I have to be honest with you and tell you that we have lost the battle for Jerusalem,” Abdel Kader lamented. “One of the reasons is because the Palestinian government doesn’t really care about Jerusalem.”

Two stark examples for the kids in the villages: Gaza and Ramallah. In Gaza, the government cares about Jerusalem. In Ramallah, the government doesn’t. Examine the differences between the locations. Losing Jerusalem is hardly a material loss – it was lost a long time ago – but losing the hope for Jerusalem indicates a loss of heart, which means Orjwan will be doing good business in the upcoming months. Really, a great investment opportunity for anyone who’s interested.

commodification and facebook

What does it take to dehumanize the enemy? Eden Abergil might know something about it. Ha’aretz might know something too, since they blurred out her face in the above photo, but not her captives.

It’s hard to say where the Geneva Conventions would fall on this, especially since Israel operates (like the United States) so outside the realm of traditional warfare. Either way, it’s a disgusting example of how to further dehumanize the enemy. Unlike the war photos of old, with  soldiers standing smiling over mutilated corpses, these photos do not find their way into Dad’s dusty old shoebox in the back of the closet. Instead, they are publicized on Facebook.

Some are making the case that this is akin to Abu Ghraib, but I would disagree. After all, while what happened in Abu Ghraib was beyond the pale in terms of human decency, the photos taken of soldiers jeering next to naked prisoners were never intended for public viewing on Facebook. Even now, Eden Abergil has locked her macabre mementos up behind a privacy wall, and there is no proof that she shows remorse or has even removed them from her personal galleries. Has the internet enabled us to further dehumanize the enemy by rationalizing that posting such things is “OK”? Or are we all  becoming more and more commodified by publicizing every detail of ourselves online, making these abused and violated Palestinians as just “window dressing” in the background of our internal lives? We’ve commodified our family, friends,  romantic relationships, personal interests, and our appearances in order to take part in this new world of socialization – why not commodify the POWs as well?

“That looks really sexy for you,” says a comment posted by one of Abergil’s friends on the social networking site, alongside a picture or the soldier smiling in front of two blindfold men.

Abergil’s repose, posted below, reads: “I wonder if he is on Facebook too – I’ll have to tag him in the photo.”

from Ha’aretz

digging up bodies for a museum of tolerance

Yesterday the Jerusalem Municipality bulldozed 15 tombstones and structures in Mamilla Cemetery, a Muslim cemetery dating from the 7th century. The reason for doing so is to make way for a planned “Museum of Tolerance and Human Dignity”, sponsored by the US-based Simon Wiesenthal Center.  Mamilla Cemetery is the one of the oldest Muslim cemeteries in Jerusalem, with Sufi saints and companions of the prophet among those buried there.

JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — Israel’s Jerusalem Municipality said Thursday that tombstones razed by authorities a day earlier in a 12th-century Muslim cemetery were “built illegally with the aim to take over the plot.”

At least 15 tombstones and structures were torn apart Wednesday in the Mamilla (Ma’man Allah) cemetery, the Al-Aqsa Foundation for Waqf and Heritage said. The latest demolitions follow the disinterment of over 1,500 graves in 2009 to make way for a controversial Museum of Tolerance. The foundation quickly denounced the move, describing it as a “heinous crime.”

Mandated with renovating burial grounds, the foundation said its crew led by Fawaz Hassan and Mustafa Abu Zuhra tried to block the bulldozers with their bodies but were removed by police. Israeli authorities razed the tombstones in the northeastern part of the cemetery, despite the crew’s objection, and left an hour after.

A spokesman for Israel’s national police did not return multiple calls seeking comment, but the Jerusalem municipality said in a statement that it had “located illegal activity at the site,” filed a complaint with police, and “turned to the Israel Land Administration, who owns the land, to restore [it] to its prior condition. The ILA cleared the vacant tombstones, which were built illegally with the aim to take over the plot.”

Dating back 1,000 years, the Mamilla cemetery was an active burial ground until 1948, when West Jerusalem became part of the newly declared State of Israel. According to Muslim tradition, it is the burial site of the Prophet Mohammad’s companions, Salah Ad-Din’s warriors, Sufi saints, as well as judges, scholars, and Palestinian dignitaries.

Plans for the museum, funded by the Simon Wisenthal Center, a Jewish charity in the US, were unveiled in 2004 and sparked immediate controversy. Palestinian descendants with relatives buried at the site have launched a lengthy legal and public relations battle in a bid to stay the museum’s construction. In 2008, however, they lost a case before Israel’s High Court, which ruled in favor of the museum.

One descendant is US academic Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University. He told Ma’an that “If it is true that further graves in the Mamilla cemetery have in fact been bulldozed, then clearly the ongoing process of desecration of this sacred space has not been halted by the efforts of the families of those interred there to bring this issue before a variety of international forums.”

“As far as the Israeli authorities are concerned, some graves merit respect, and some do not. Those of our ancestors in this cemetery, going back in some cases for many hundreds of years, obviously do not.”

In February, Mamilla descendants filed a petition with the UN, later submitting evidence compiled by the Israeli daily Haaretz, which revealed in a three-part expose the extent of disinterment, publishing photographs of remains being stuffed haphazardly into cardboard boxes. The families of those buried at the site say the Israeli government has yet to inform them of the location of their relatives’ remains.

Gideon Sulimani, an archeologist with Israel’s Antiquities Authority who carried out the initial digs in 2009, told the newspaper at the time: “They call this an archaeological excavation but it’s really a clearing-out, an erasure of the Muslim past. It is actually Jews against Arabs.”

In June, Nazareth-based journalist Jonathan Cook revealed that a second dig was in the works, with Israel planning a courthouse on the historic site. At least three tombstones were removed that same month.

Most of the graves are unrecognisable and in disrepair, owing to decades of neglect. Descendants of those buried there say personal attempts to replace or maintain tombstones have been repeatedly quashed and swiftly removed by Israeli authorities. The Al-Aqsa Foundation’s renovation crew says the municipality regularly thwarts their attempts to maintain the site.

The municipality says it “will not allow extremist elements to act illegally to change the status quo.”

from Ma’an News

Despite the fact that the Weisenthal Center has been offered alternative plots of land to build on, they have steadfastly refused to build elsewhere. The new Museum intends to focus on the differences and similarities between Jews within Israel. As usual, Palestinians are left out of the dialogue.

The Israeli High Court claims that since the cemetery has been abandoned for years, there should be no problem in building over it. The Weisenthal Center itself claims:

Given Jerusalem’s history, it is safe to assume that many prestigious academic and civic institutions may, in fact, be built on ancient remains. Human dignity demands that we respect and treat with reverence these remains of ancient civilizations without impeding the right of Jerusalem, or any other city, of building a future. If cities were not allowed to be built on the relics of previous civilizations, there would be no modern-day Rome, Jerusalem, or Cairo

Indeed, much of West Jerusalem has been bulldozed and built over, their previous occupants erased from architectural history. Like conquerors of the past, Israelis seek the kind of stewardship of the land that allows for bulldozing. Like renaming, destruction and rebuilding implies a deep ownership. The Weisenthal Center argues (1) There are no bodies buried under the tombstones where they are constructing the museum (Israeli archeologists contest this strongly) and (2) That ruling Muslim powers in 1964 had declared the cemetery as open for public development. However, the stories here differ and the families themselves were not consulted in any case. The Waqf in charge of the site argues that they have not been allowed access in order to care for the graves. As Rashid Khalidi – who has relatives buried in the cemetery – says, “the fact that it was desecrated in the ’60s doesn’t mean that it’s right to desecrate it further.”

No one can deny that bodies are often disinterred as part of adjusting cityscapes. A walk through the catacombs of Paris can prove this. However, in a city such as Jerusalem, which is so hotly contested, it seems unfair for the occupying power to “bulldoze” over people’s concerns in the name of “Tolerance and Human Dignity”.

I went into West Jerusalem, and I see a wall that’s probably twenty-five feet high, surrounded by surveillance cameras, which is where they’re building this so-called Museum of Tolerance. Right up to the edge of it, you see Muslim graves, Palestinian graves, all around it. And within even the part of the cemetery that still exists, which is only a few acres, because the Israelis have paved over other parts or built a park, it’s been desecrated. And every time they, Muslim people, attempt to fix it, it’s desecrated again. And within the site itself, I mean, the archaeologist that Rashid referred to called this an archaeological crime. This is an Israeli archaeologist. And you see they took out bones in cardboard boxes, relatives of the ancestors of the people on this petition…And they have no sense of where those people are. And the archaeologist said there’s at least 2,000 other graves under this site. So, to hear the rabbi from the Simon Wiesenthal Center talk about “there’s no bones, there’s no bodies under here” is just—it’s just a lie. That’s all I can say. That’s what it is.

More:

Democracy Now! with Rashid Khalidi

Mamilla Campaign

Simon Weisenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance Counterpoints