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Photo by: Jerusalem Municipality
Fake graves cleared from J'lem cemetery
By ABE SELIG
08/15/2010
"Islamic officials" blamed for attempting to "illegally seize state land."
 
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 Tolerance.”

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.

The municipality 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 1927.”

The statement added that upon discovering the false tombstones at the site, the municipality filed a complaint with police and halted the work immediately.

“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.

City officials added that the work was often done hastily, and that “under the fictitious tombstones, plastic bottles, cigarette butts and sewage has been found.

“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 public land.”

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 cemetery.

Palestinian and Israeli advocacy groups filed a petition against the planned construction in 2004 and have been contesting it ever since.

The Supreme Court considered the legal arguments for nearly four years, finally giving the go-ahead in 2009 to the Los Angeles-based Wiesenthal Center.

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.

The 1945 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.
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