by Jonathan Cook in Nazareth
authorities are pressing ahead with plans to build a courthouse complex
on a large historic Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem that is already at the
centre of protest over plans to locate a “Museum of Tolerance” there.
proposed courthouse is expected to provoke stiff opposition, especially
from Islamic groups, after it was revealed that an excavation last year
for the museum, close by, unearthed as many as 1,500 Muslim graves.
Beinisch, the president of the Supreme Court, who last year expressed
reservations about the location of the new courthouse, is reported to
have lifted her objections recently. According to Meir Margalit, a
Jerusalem city councillor, municipal officials said they had assured the
judge that no graves had been discovered at the new site during
a spokeswoman for the Israeli antiquities authority, which is
responsible for carrying out such digs, said in an interview that
ancient graves were found at the proposed courthouse site when a trial
excavation was conducted two years ago, and that the discovery was
reported to the government.
and Islamic groups point out that the courts were similarly misled when
they approved the museum project in 2008, after they had been promised
that only “a few dozen graves” would be found at the site, not many
“The municipality and
government simply can’t be trusted on this issue as has been amply
demonstrated over the Museum of Tolerance plans,” Mr Margalit said.
“They have a history of not acting in good faith.”
courthouse plan is certain to revive a long-running controversy over
what Muslim organisations have called Israel’s “desecration” of the
Mamilla cemetery, which lies just outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls.
The graveyard dates back 1,000 years and, according to Islamic
tradition, includes the resting places of the Prophet Mohammed’s
companions and tens of thousands of Saladin’s warriors.
Known and very popular cialis coupon which gives all the chance to receive a discount for a preparation which has to be available and exactly cialis coupons has been found in the distant room of this big house about which wood-grouses in the houses tell.
for a Museum of Tolerance, unveiled in 2004 by the Simon Wiesenthal
Centre, a US Jewish group that has built a similar museum in Los
Angeles, provoked a row that has yet to abate.
families whose relatives are buried in Mamilla and the Islamic
Movement, the main group representing religious Muslims in Israel, lost
their legal battle against the museum in the Supreme Court in October
But they are to revive their
legal action after an investigation by the liberal Haaretz newspaper
last month revealed major irregularities in a dig to prepare the site
for the museum’s construction. The groups also believe the investigation
provides them with ammunition against the courthouse plan.
to Haaretz, the antiquities authority oversaw a five-month excavation
last year at the museum site that was carried out in record time as
three teams did shifts around the clock amid great secrecy to excavate
graves and rebury the remains nearby.
Palestinians were employed, and all workers had to sign a
confidentiality agreement. They were searched for any electronic
devices, including phones, before entering the site, were not allowed to
leave during their shift, and were watched at all times by security
The measures, the Haaretz
report suggested, were designed to ensure that no word leaked out about
the large number of graves found there or that promises to the courts
about treating the graves with the utmost respect were being violated.
told the paper that, faced with a large number of graves exposed in
five layers down to the bedrock, Israeli officials cut corners and
hurriedly dug out ancient skulls and bones, some of which disintegrated
in the process.
paper published photographs appearing to show that remains had been
stuffed into cardboard boxes rather than removed using advanced
techniques the antiquities authority had proposed, including one that
was supposed to freeze the earth around the bones before their removal.
Sulimani, a senior archaeologist with the antiquities authority who
carried out initial excavations, told Haaretz: “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.”
Greenberg, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University, was also critical.
“In another country, they would devote years to such an excavation, and
also build a special lab to analyse the results.” He accused the
antiquities authority of betraying its role as the guardian of the
country’s historical assets and instead promoting the “wellbeing of
investigation has worried observers that similar deceptions may be
employed in the case of the courthouse.
Nasser, a lawyer for seven Palestinian families and for an Islamic
charity opposed to the museum project, said he would petition the courts
to reverse the museum ruling and ask them to block the courthouse
“The graves have already been
removed, but we hope to persuade the courts to order that the remains be
returned and this uniquely important site rehabilitated,” he said.
sure that, if the courthouse goes ahead, as many graves will need to be
removed as the 1,500 that were unearthed for the museum.”
new courthouse in Jerusalem has been under consideration for at least a
decade, Mr Margalit said, but it had been difficult to find a large
enough site in such a crowded city. A spokesman for the municipality
termed the new court complex “a strategic project to strengthen the
centre of the city”.
school is currently on the site proposed for the courthouse, close to an
area known as Independence Park. Mr Margalit said the authorities may
have found graves when they dug the school’s foundations in the 1970s
and kept the information secret.
Greenberg said claims that there were no graves under or close to the
school were “ridiculous”.
added that at both sites there was a wealth of other important
antiquities that were being ignored or destroyed by the current
excavations. He said they included an Iron Age house, an aqueduct and a
dam built across what was once a valley.
antiquities authority, he said, should have announced the important
finds and fought to preserve them. Instead, he said, in what he called
“a pattern of submitting to outside pressure”, the authority had spread
“misinformation” about the site.
the rushed excavations, work on the museum has yet to begin. It has
been delayed by the departure of Frank Gehry, the project’s world-famous
architect, and financial troubles caused by the global economic
The museum has attracted
growing opposition from within the Jewish community in both Israel and
the US. Last year American Reform rabbis, representing the largest
stream of Judaism in the US, called for the museum to be relocated,
comparing the plans to the historic “desecration” of Jewish cemeteries.
Israeli intellectuals have voiced opposition too, including Shimon
Shamir, a Tel Aviv University professor and a former ambassador to
Jordan, and Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, considered one of Israel’s foremost
experts on Jerusalem’s history.
Marvin Hier, head of the Wiesenthal Centre, has defended the museum on
the grounds that part of the site was used as a muncipal car park from
the 1960s, following the site’s deconsecration by a Jerusalem qadi, or
Islamic groups have pointed out that the judge was appointed by the
Israeli authorities and was later jailed for corruption. They have also
noted that there was no chance to oppose his decision at the time
because Israel’s Muslim population was living under martial law.
Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest
books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the
Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing
Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His
website is www.jkcook.net.