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February 21, 2010

Buried Facts Around Cemetery Controversy

Saree Makdisi, a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times Op-Ed page who calls for the dissolution of the Jewish state of Israel, argued Feb. 12 against the Simon Weisenthal's planned Museum of Tolerance, slated to be built over a parking lot which was formerly a Muslim cemetery. His impassioned plea to prevent the alleged desecration of Muslim graves took a huge hit last week with the revelation of a 1945 Palestine Post article about Muslim plans to build over the very same site. The Jerusalem Post reports:

However, a November 22, 1945 article from The Palestine Post (the pre-state name of The Jerusalem Post), which was forwarded to the Wiesenthal Center on Monday after being posted on a blog, reports Muslim plans to build directly over the cemetery.

The report states, “An area of over 450 dunams in the heart of Jerusalem, now forming the Mamilla Cemetery, is to be converted into a business centre.

“The town-plan is being completed under the supervision of the Supreme Moslem Council in conjunction with the Government Town Planning Adviser,” the article continues.

“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 are to be the main structures. There will also be a park to be called the Salah ed Din Park, after the Moslem warrior of Crusader times.”

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 progress.

“In an interview with Al-Wih-da, the Jerusalem weekly,” the Palestine Post article continues, “a member of the Supreme Moslem Council stated that the use of Moslem cemeteries in the public interest had many precedents both in Palestine and elsewhere.

“The member added that the Supreme Moslem Council intended to publish a statement containing dispensations by Egyptian, Hijazi and Demascene clerics sanctioning the building programme. He pointed out that the work would be carried out in stages and by public tender. Several companies had already been formed in anticipation, and funds were plentiful.”

Also, writing in the Los Angeles Daily Journal about the Makdisi Op-Ed, Gideon Kanner pointed out:

There they go again. With rhythmic regularity of the tides, the Los Angeles Times regales us with stories of assorted legal misdeeds said to be perpetrated by the government of Israel upon the long-suffering Arab population in connection with land-use. But as noted in some of my earlier columns, upon analysis, the “atrocity” du jour can turn out to be a garden-variety land-use dispute in which the Israelis conduct themselves the same as we do over here. . . .

For one thing, cemeteries are routinely taken by eminent domain for other uses. There is even an old English vaudeville song entitled “They’re Movin’ Father’s Grave to Build a Sewer” - you can hear a recording of it by the Clancy Brothers.

Even as I write, the ink has barely dried on an Illinois court decision allowing Chicago to take a cemetery for the expansion of O’Hare Airport (Art Barnum, “Chicago Wins Cemetery Land for New O’Hare Runway,” Chicago Tribune, Feb. 8, 2010). But you won’t find any lachrymose Los Angeles Times op-eds decrying the affront to the “sensibilities” of those Illinois folks. Closer to home, California has litigated this business up one side and down the other, in state and federal courts, so that our law is clear that though cemetery land may be consecrated, it is not immune to being taken for other uses.

Posted by TS at February 21, 2010 04:38 AM

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part of the very old Jewish cemetery on the eastern slope of the Kidron Valley, that is, the western slope of the Mount of Valleys, was taken by Jordan in the mid-1960s in order to build an access road to the then new Intercontinental Hotel on the top of the Mount of Olives across from the al-Aqsa Mosque.
Moreover, Jordan used Jewish tombstones from the Mt of Olives to build latrines and a path to a latrine for an army camp of the Arab Legion, Jordan's army.
This happened before the Six Day War.

Posted by: Elliott A Green at February 21, 2010 09:56 AM

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