In what city officials are calling “one of the largest acts of deception in
recent years,” Jerusalem municipal employees last week cleared away some 300
“fictitious tombstones” from a historic Muslim cemetery located in the heart of
the capital. The cemetery abuts the planned site of a future “Museum of
On Thursday, city officials confirmed that the fraudulent
markers had been cleared from the site, and pointed blame at “Islamic officials”
who they said had sanctioned the placement of these markers in an attempt to
“illegally seize state lands.”
“Over the last month, Islamic officials
have acted fraudulently and erected new, fictitious tombstones inside the
ancient Muslim cemetery at Mamilla,” read an official statement released by the
Jerusalem Municipality on Thursday night.
“These officials exploited
permits they had received from the city’s sanitation department for the cleaning
and renovation of existing graves, and instead [used the permits to]
fraudulently erect fictitious tombstones in the cemetery, which is owned by the
Israel Lands Administration,” the statement said.
statement also stressed that “this is an ancient Muslim cemetery; however,
according to the Israel Antiquities Authority, it has not been used for burial since
The statement added that upon discovering the false tombstones at
the site, the municipality filed a complaint with police and halted the work
“During a court hearing [last Monday], a Jerusalem District
Court judge rejected an injunction that had been filed in the case and
authorized the municipality to begin removing the fictitious headstones,” the
municipality’s statement continued.
City officials added that the extent
of the fraud may not yet be completely known, and that work at the site to
identify additional false markers was still underway.
“So far,” the
municipality statement went on, “about 300 fictitious tombstones have been
removed, with each new location being identified and cleared only after review
and approval from an IAA expert.”
The municipality statement also alluded
to the “simple” method used in erecting the tombstones, in which workers placed
stone frames between 70 and 120 centimeters in size over the “tombs,” or used
authentic, older pieces of stone they found at the site.
added that the work was often done hastily, and that “under the fictitious
tombstones, plastic bottles, cigarette butts and sewage has been
“It is important to note that this is one of the greatest acts of
deception in recent years, with one specific goal – the illegal seizure of state
land,” the municipality statement added.
“The Jerusalem Municipality will
not allow extremist elements to illegally change the status quo, and will
continue to enforce law in order to prevent any attempt to illegally take over
The city’s account has reportedly been refuted by the
Islamic Movement, which last week accused the municipality of razing ancient
tombs inside the cemetery.
The cemetery itself is no stranger to
controversy; it abuts the planned site of a future “Museum of Tolerance” being
constructed by the US-based Simon Wiesenthal Center.
The center has long
fought against opponents of its plans to build at the site, expressly by
Palestinian groups who have petitioned against the museum’s construction. The
appeals, which have reached the United Nations, argue that the construction
would disturb centuries-old graves and desecrate the
Palestinian and Israeli advocacy groups filed a petition
against the planned construction in 2004 and have been contesting it ever
The Supreme Court considered the legal arguments for nearly four
years, finally giving the go-ahead in 2009 to the Los Angeles-based Wiesenthal
Earlier this year, however, The Jerusalem Post learned that the
Supreme Muslim Council of British Mandate Palestine had planned to build a large
commercial center directly on top of the cemetery in 1945.
A November 22,
1945 article from The Palestine Post (the pre-state name of The Jerusalem Post),
forwarded to the Wiesenthal Center in February, reported the council’s plans to
build “a six-storeyed building to house the Supreme Moslem Council and other
offices, a four-storeyed hotel, a bank and other buildings suitable for it, a
college, a club and a factory” directly over the cemetery.
article also describes plans by the council to transfer remains buried in the
cemetery to a separate, “walled reserve” and cites rulings from prominent Muslim
clerics at the time allowing for the building plans to go ahead.