Mamilla Cemetery Chutzpah and the Museum of Tolerance
Last week, the Jerusalem Post ran a front page story on the decision of the Supreme Muslim Council, in 1945, to turn the Mamilla Cemetery into a business center. The reason the Post gave it such prominence is because it belies the sheer hypocrisy of Palestinian groups and a few of their Israeli supporters and NGOs who, for four years, have criticized the Simon Wiesenthal Center for building a Museum of Tolerance on what was once the City’s municipal car park.
The article appeared in the Palestine Post on page 2 on November 22, 1945, when Jerusalem was still under British Mandate and before Israel came into being. Entitled “Cemetery Into Business Centre,” the article read:
“An area of over 450 dunams [111 acres] in the heart of Jerusalem, now forming the Mamillah Cemetery, is to be converted into a business centre. The townplan is being completed under the supervision of the Supreme Muslim Council in conjunction with the Government Town Planning Adviser. A six-storeyed building to house the Supreme Muslim Council and other offices, a four-storeyed hotel, a bank and other buildings suitable for a college, a club and a factory are to be the main structures. There will also be a park to be called the Salah ed Din Park, after the Muslim warrior of Crusader times.”
“The remains buried in the Cemetery are being transferred to a spot round the tomb of al Sayid al Kurashi, ancestor of the Dajani family, in a 40 dunams walled reserve.”
“In an interview with ‘Al Wihda,’ the Jerusalem weekly, a member of the Supreme Muslim Council stated that the use of Muslim cemeteries in the public interest had many precedents both in Palestine and elsewhere. He quoted the cases of the Bab al Sahira (Herod’s Gate) Cemetery, which formerly stretched down Saint Stephen‘s Gate; the Jaffa Cemetery, which was converted into a commercial centre and Queen Farida Square in Cairo, which not long ago was a cemetery.”
“The member added that the Supreme Muslim Council intended to publish a statement containing dispensations by Egyptian, Hejazi and Damascene clerics sanctioning the building programme….”
It is the epitome of chutzpah and a double standard for those who were prepared to exhume the remains of the entire Mamilla Cemetery in order to build a bank and factory, to tell the Simon Wiesenthal Center not to build a Museum of Tolerance on a parking lot that the Supreme Court of Israel unanimously concluded: “For almost 50 years the compound has not been a part of the cemetery, both in the normative sense and in the practical sense…. During all those years no one raised any claim, on even one occasion, that the planning procedures violated the sanctity of the site, or that they were contrary to the law as a result of the historical and religious uniqueness of the site…. For decades this area was not regarded as a cemetery by the general public or by the Muslim community…. No one denied this position.”
In fact, the entire area of the Mamilla Cemetery had long been regarded by Muslim religious leaders as ‘Mundras’ (abandoned and without sanctity).
The opponents of the Museum knew very well that they were not going to win on the merits of the case so they needed to create a diversion and the perception that the Center was violating the Cemetery. Hence, they spun fables – they would take media to the adjacent tombstones, pose for photographs, and pretend that that is where the Museum was being built. Then they argued that the Muslim community knew all along that the nearby car park that we’re building on was a part of the Mamilla Cemetery. Yet, for 50 years, Muslims, as well as people of all faiths parked cars there – you don’t park cars on cemeteries. Next, when some bones were found, they said that under Islamic law, bones could not be re-interred. Now we see that in 1945, the Supreme Muslim Council itself was prepared to exhume all the bones from the actual Mamilla Cemetery just to build a business center.
Finally, in a last ditch effort, they have thrown a “Hail Mary,” attempting to do an end-run around a unanimous Supreme Court decision by the only democratic, sovereign nation in the Middle-East, by taking their cause to the United Nations in the hope that somehow the “love affair” between the UN and Israel will help their case.
Guess what? The case is over. Now it is time for the Museum to be built, which is exactly what is going to happen.
Rabbi Marvin Hier is the Founder and Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance