Campaign to Protect Mamilla Cemetery in Jerusalem

At a Glance

Current Status 

Desecration of the historic cemetery continues despite efforts by CCR and the Campaign to Preserve Mamilla Cemetery, as well as international condemnation.

Date Filed: 

February 10, 2010

Co-Counsel 

Dima Khalidi of Palestine Legal

Client 

The Campaign to Preserve Mamilla Jerusalem Cemetery – a group of 60 individuals with ancestors buried in the cemetery.

Case Description 

The Mamilla Cemetery is an ancient Muslim burial ground and holy site in Jerusalem believed to date back to the 7th century.  A significant portion of the cemetery has been destroyed and hundreds of human remains have been desecrated so that the Simon Wiesenthal Center can build a facility called the “Museum of Tolerance.” Since 2010, CCR and the Campaign to Preserve Mamilla Cemetery have worked to halt construction of the new facility and preserve what remains of the site. To this end, we filed petitions with various UN bodies, including UNESCO to protect the sacred site. This advocacy effort is part of CCR’s longstanding commitment to support the struggle for Palestinian human rights.

Numerous saints of the Sufi faith and thousands of other officials, scholars, notables, and Jerusalem Palestinian families have been buried in the cemetery over the last 1000 years. Companions of the Prophet Muhammad were reputedly buried there. The Muslim Supreme Council declared the cemetery a historical site in 1927, and the British Mandate authorities pronounced it an antiquities site in 1944. It was an active burial ground until 1948 when the new State of Israel seized the western part of Jerusalem. Under Israeli control, the cemetery and other Islamic endowment properties, or waqf, were taken over by the Custodian for Absentee Property. Since then, Muslim authorities have not been allowed to maintain the cemetery.

The importance of the Mamilla Cemetery to Muslims is well known to the Israeli government. In 1948, the same year that Israel took control of the cemetery, the Israeli Religious Affairs Ministry recognized Mamilla “to be one of the most prominent Muslim cemeteries, where seventy thousand Muslim warriors of Saladin’s armies are interred along with many Muslim scholars. Israel will always know to protect and respect this site.” As recently as 1986, in response to an investigation by UNESCO regarding Israel’s development projects on Mamilla, the Israeli government stated that “no project exists for the deconsecration of the site and that on the contrary the site and its tombs are to be safeguarded.” Despite these reassurances and the cemetery’s inclusion in an Israeli Antiquities Authority list of “Special Antiquities Sites,” Israel has in fact destroyed a large section of the cemetery with the construction of buildings, parks, and even parking lots.

The “Museum of Tolerance” has resulted in the disinterment of hundreds of graves, and the whereabouts of the countless human remains that have been disposed of are unknown. With the help of the Israeli government, the Simon Wiesenthal Center continues to erect the museum atop thousands more graves. They justify the project by claiming that the cemetery is no longer sanctified, based on a 1964 proclamation by a Shari’a or Islamic law judge who lacked legitimacy in the Muslim community. The President of the Shari’a Court of Appeals in Israel has since deemed this ruling to be void and affirmed that the sanctity of cemeteries is eternal in Islam.

Under international law, UN resolutions, and its own domestic law, the Israeli government has an obligation to respect and protect the holy sites of its minority religious and ethnic populations, including Mamilla Cemetery. Its unwillingness to do so has drawn international condemnation, including Human Rights Council resolutions; a public petition signed by nearly 10,000 individuals from around the world; a letter from 84 respected archaeologists decrying the archaeological practices employed on the site; a resolution by the Central Conference of American Rabbis opposing the project; and the opposition of numerous prominent Israeli scholars.  

Case Timeline

June 5, 2014

CCR and the Campaign send a letter to the Chairman of the Organization of Islamic Countries and the State of Palestine’s Representative to UNESCO urging them to take immediate action to oppose UNESCO’s relationship with the Simon Wiesenthal Center and to urge UNESCO to preserve what remains of Mamilla Cemetery in Jerusalem.

June 5, 2014

CCR and the Campaign send a letter to the Chairman of the Organization of Islamic Countries and the State of Palestine’s Representative to UNESCO urging them to take immediate action to oppose UNESCO’s relationship with the Simon Wiesenthal Center and to urge UNESCO to preserve what remains of Mamilla Cemetery in Jerusalem.

June 5, 2012

CCR and the Campaign respond, with copy to U.N. authorities, to Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat. 

June 5, 2012

CCR and the Campaign respond, with copy to U.N. authorities, to Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat. 

They request that he provide information about the location of the reburials alleged in the March 26 letter and about the parties involved in the said reburial process. Moreover, CCR and the Campaign urge the Mayor to back the relocation of the museum project and work to ensure that sites of such religious, cultural, and historical importance are protected as mandated under international law.

May 31, 2012

New contract for the Museum is approved by six of thirty-one Jerusalem City Council Members.

May 31, 2012

New contract for the Museum is approved by six of thirty-one Jerusalem City Council Members.

March 26, 2012

New evidence of continuing excavations on the “Museum of Tolerance” site suggests that it still contains archaeological artifacts and human remains, 

March 26, 2012

New evidence of continuing excavations on the “Museum of Tolerance” site suggests that it still contains archaeological artifacts and human remains, 

This evidence is contrary to Simon Wiesenthal Center claims that bedrock has been reached on all portions of the site. Video footage here shows the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) inner closure and excavation pit. On this same date, the Advisor to the Mayor of Jerusalem signed a letter to CCR alleging that all of the exhumed graves had been “copied and re-buried, in coordination with representatives of the Muslim religion.”

March 1, 2012

CCR and the Campaign send a letter to Rabbi Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center urging him to stop construction of the Museum on the ancient Mamilla cemetery and requesting a meeting.

March 1, 2012

CCR and the Campaign send a letter to Rabbi Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center urging him to stop construction of the Museum on the ancient Mamilla cemetery and requesting a meeting.

October 20, 2011

84 leading archaeologists worldwide, with support from CCR and the Campaign, urge Board Members of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the mayor of Jerusalem, and the Head of the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) to immediately halt current and future construction of the “Museum of Tolerance” on the site of Mamilla.

October 20, 2011

84 leading archaeologists worldwide, with support from CCR and the Campaign, urge Board Members of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the mayor of Jerusalem, and the Head of the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) to immediately halt current and future construction of the “Museum of Tolerance” on the site of Mamilla.

Their letter also notes that the recent treatment of the site constituted a violation of archaeological, ethical and human rights principles.

July 21, 2011

Letter from 45 distinguished community leaders from Jerusalem and Israel is submitted to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Director-General of UNESCO.

 

July 21, 2011

Letter from 45 distinguished community leaders from Jerusalem and Israel is submitted to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Director-General of UNESCO.

 

The letter urges immediate intervention to stop the desecration of the cemetery by putting pressure on Israel and sending a delegation to investigate.
July 12, 2011

Israeli Interior Ministry approves construction plans for the “Museum of Tolerance,” providing the final administrative green light for construction to begin immediately.

July 12, 2011

Israeli Interior Ministry approves construction plans for the “Museum of Tolerance,” providing the final administrative green light for construction to begin immediately.

June 25, 2011

On June 25-26, 2011, Israeli bulldozers enter an intact part of Mamilla Cemetery and destroy and dispose of nearly 100 grave markers.

June 25, 2011

On June 25-26, 2011, Israeli bulldozers enter an intact part of Mamilla Cemetery and destroy and dispose of nearly 100 grave markers.

The covert night operation comes just three weeks after a Jerusalem municipal planning committee granted permission for construction of the “Museum of Tolerance” to begin within three months. The bulldozers retreat hastily when their operators realize that they were being filmed by local media and activists.
February 14, 2011

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief releases its report on communications with governments.

February 14, 2011

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief releases its report on communications with governments.

The report notes that it has not received a reply from Israel responding to its concerns regarding the Mamilla Cemetery nor to its requests that Israeli authorities provide information on measures to ensure that excavation and construction work respect and protect cultural heritage, cultural property, and freedom of religion or belief.

January 21, 2011

Petitioners submit an additional appeal to UNESCO to protect Mamilla Cemetery, urging UNESCO to fulfill its mandate to protect and preserve important cultural heritage sites.

January 21, 2011

Petitioners submit an additional appeal to UNESCO to protect Mamilla Cemetery, urging UNESCO to fulfill its mandate to protect and preserve important cultural heritage sites.

January 19, 2011

An Israeli district court rejects an injunction brought by the Israeli Shari’a court-appointed caretakers of the cemetery to stop the destruction of an additional 200 grave markers that have been recently renovated with the acquiescence of Israeli authorities.

January 19, 2011

An Israeli district court rejects an injunction brought by the Israeli Shari’a court-appointed caretakers of the cemetery to stop the destruction of an additional 200 grave markers that have been recently renovated with the acquiescence of Israeli authorities.

August 17, 2010

Petitioners submit updates on the further desecration of Mamilla Cemetery.

August 17, 2010

Petitioners submit updates on the further desecration of Mamilla Cemetery.

Updates detail the continuing work on the “Museum of Tolerance,” the reported decision by Israeli authorities to permit the construction of a judicial complex on another portion of the cemetery, as well as the recent bulldozing of newly refurbished grave-markers and some older headstones. Letters are sent to the U.N. Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Religion and Belief and on Contemporary Forms of Racism; the Independent Expert in the Field of Cultural Rights; the High Commissioner for Human Rights; the Director General of UNESCO; and the Federal Councillor of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of the Swiss Confederation.

June 14, 2010

Petitioners file an Addendum to their Petition, providing updates and new evidence.

June 14, 2010

Petitioners file an Addendum to their Petition, providing updates and new evidence.

February 10, 2010

Petitioners file Petition for Urgent Action on Human Rights Violations by Israel: Desecration of Ma’man Allah (Mamilla) Muslim Cemetery in the Holy City of Jerusalem.

February 10, 2010

Petitioners file Petition for Urgent Action on Human Rights Violations by Israel: Desecration of Ma’man Allah (Mamilla) Muslim Cemetery in the Holy City of Jerusalem.