After nearly a year, the Israel Lands Authority this month resumed work removing
500 fake tombstones from the Muslim Mamilla Cemetery in downtown Jerusalem,
prompting furious condemnation from Muslim groups.
Last August, Jerusalem
municipality officials, working in conjunction with the ILA and the Israel
Antiquities Authority, removed around 300 counterfeit tombstones, calling their
erection “one of the largest acts of deception in recent years.”
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Islamic Movement accused the authorities of wantonly destroying graves, and
appealed to the courts to impose a stop-work order on the removal. The order was
rescinded in late June, said ILA spokeswoman Ortal Tzabar.
authorities have removed an additional 100 fake gravestones.
accuses the head of the Islamic Movement’s northern branch, Sheikh Raed Salah,
who was recently arrested in London, of personally supervising the construction
of the counterfeit tombstones.
The issue started in 2007, when members of
the Islamic Movement appealed to the Jerusalem Municipality for a permit to
renovate and clean graves in the cemetery. The request was granted, but
authorities are accusing the Islamic Movement of hastily erecting new
gravestones in an effort to “illegally seize state land,” the municipality said
“We’re talking about fraud on a massive scale,” said Israel
Scoop, head of the ILA’s supervision department, said on Wednesday, adding that
it was an attempt to “create facts on the ground.”
Last summer, the
Jerusalem municipality said that plastic bottles, cigarette butts and sewage had
been found underneath the fake tombstones. They added that workers sometimes
used authentic, older pieces of stone found on the site to build new
Dr. Said Khalidi, a leader in the Campaign to Preserve the
Mamilla Jerusalem Cemetery, agreed that some of the tomb renovations were
hastily done and insufficient, but argued that the new gravesites still marked
hallowed areas containing the remains of local Muslim families dating back 800
“I personally didn’t agree with the way they did the renovation,
it was not done in the best way,” Khalidi said on Wednesday. “It looked
deceiving – if you have an old tomb that’s renovated with new stones, it doesn’t
look old,” he said.
But the gravestones are not the most important aspect
of the site, Khalidi argued.
“It doesn’t matter what’s on top, it matters
what’s beneath the ground.
Beneath the ground lies the remains of people,
and we must respect people and their souls and their bones,” said Khalidi, who
is a consultant for the United Nations Conference on Trade and
“I don’t think the argument is ‘real or not?’ We know that
this is a cemetery.”
The cemetery is no stranger to
It has figured prominently in the news following claims that
the future Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance, which received final
building permits on July 13, would be located on part of the Mamilla
The center was embroiled in a four-year legal battle with Arab
activists over the controversial site. The Supreme Court eventually ruled in
favor of the State of Israel, which had given the land to the museum. The
Campaign for the Preservation of the Mamilla Jerusalem Cemetery, comprising 60
families whose ancestors are buried in the cemetery, plans to continue to
challenge the decision.