Saturday, February 11, 2006

Don't put tolerance in a museum!

In old Jerusalem:
People need tolerance, and more, but not in a Museum!

WAR is peace! Remember the way such slogans and misuse of language maintained control of the public mind in George Orwell's 1984? The official tongue was Newspeak, the method of confusion Doublespeak. "Orwellian" has become a common term to describe the language those in power use to muffle reality - like carpet-bombing of an area is "pacification".

Well, how about disregarding the wishes and feelings of a large group of citizens, letting them know they don't count, and don't belong where they have lived for centuries, but doing it in the name of "tolerance"?

Robert Bevan's book The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War deals with the way warmakers deliberately destroy buildings and places that symbolise a culture and memory. In former Yugoslavia, the ethnic cleansers (how's that for an Orwellian phrase to describe a bloody, shitty operation?) were not content with driving people from their homes, they had to blow up minarets and even dig up cemeteries to eradicate trace of past centuries' co-existence.

But did they think of erecting a "museum of tolerance"?
Here's two articles about such a project happening in the city of peace, Jerusalem. Behind it is the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre. Who else? (Pity they could not at least let that old Nazi-hunter lie in peace, and rename themselves the "Arnie Schwartzengger Centre", after the governor of California who has been their biggest sponsor, first from his own wealth, then from the taxpayers).

Vancouver Sun
Thursday, February 09, 2006

Israel ignores Muslim pleas to halt work in cemetery
The plan is to build Museum of Tolerance on the Jerusalem site

Jerusalem -- A dispute over the fate of an ancient Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem threatened Wednesday to ignite tensions in the Holy City as workers removed skeletons from the site despite Muslim pleas for the work to end.

Israeli developers and archeologists are removing the tombs to make room for the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center to build a multi-million-dollar Museum of Tolerance, dedicated in part to promoting understanding among different religions.

Muslims are incensed. Mufti Ikrema Sabri, the senior Islamic cleric in Jerusalem, on Wednesday demanded that the dig stop at the site which until 1948 served as the main Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem."There should be a complete cessation of work on the cemetery because it is sacred for the Muslims," Sabri said in an interview. The Waqf, the Muslim council in Jerusalem that Sabri oversees, was not consulted on the dig, he said. The cemetery was in use for 150 years, Sabri said.

On Sunday, a Muslim court in Jerusalem ordered work at the site halted. The development company conducting the work, Moriah, said the court did not have jurisdiction over the dig. Work to remove the tombs was stopped for two days this week, but continued Wednesday, Moriah spokesman Itsho Gur said.

"There are tensions over this work," Gur said."But as long as we don't get an official order from police or from a court, we won't stop the work."Israel's Supreme Court is slated to rule later this month on a petition by Israeli Muslim groups to halt the tomb removals. It has refused to issue a temporary restraining order halting the dig until it makes a final decision. Gur denied a report in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz on Wednesday that workers had damaged the bones that were removed. The bones are being turned over to Israeli religious authorities, Gur said, adding that the Israeli Antiquities Authority is overseeing the dig according to Israeli law. A spokeswoman for the authority, Osnat Goaz, would not comment when asked if Muslim authorities were consulted about the dig.

Construction on former Jewish, Christian and Muslim cemeteries goes on daily in Israel, after the proper removal of the tombs, Goaz said. The bones are then reburied, she said."Israel is more crowded with ancient artifacts than any other country in the world," Goaz said. "If we didn't build on former cemeteries, we would never build in Israel."
Associated Press

Here's what a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem has to say, in Ha'aretz:

The hypocrisy of tolerance

By Meron Benvenisti

The initiators of the white elephant called the Museum of Tolerance declared that they do not deal with Holocaust-related issues and will not deal with issues relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The first statement was meant to ensure Yad Vashem's monopoly on Holocaust issues. The meaning of the second statement is now transpiring: The tolerance preachers couldn't care less that they are building on a foundation of generations of Muslim skeletons.

After all, they promised not to deal with the local conflict. Let Moria, the company owned by the reunited city of Jerusalem, deal with skeleton matters. After almost 40 years of sanctimoniousness and double standards, City Hall should know how to cover up the hypocrisy of building a museum of tolerance on - of all places - a desecrated Muslim cemetery.

Whoever decided to place the ostentatious building of the museum in the graveyard must have known that digging the foundations would unearth hundreds of skeletons. After all, already in the '70s and '80s the Muslim waqf authorities protested the desecration of graves on that site. On the eve of the project's presentation, more than three years ago, many warned of the inevitable scandal that this would cause.

But nobody was bothered.

After all, a Jewish-Israeli expert had established that the site's "sanctity had been removed," and contemptuously dismissed arguments of Muslim religious leaders to the contrary. Anyway, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Religious Affairs Ministry were supervising the site and instructing the workers to clean the skeletons "and cover them with a white nylon sheet."

The authorities' supervision of the shabby remains of the cemetery - once the largest and most important in Jerusalem - was clearly reflected by the neglected, smashed headstones, including tombstones dating back to the Ayyubid and Mameluk periods. "Whoever is buried in Jerusalem, in a place called Zeitun al-Malk [Mamila of today], will be buried, if one can say so, in the lower heaven," wrote historian Mujir Al-Din in 1495.

After the city's unification, the Muslim authorities asked for permission to rehabilitate the graves and maintain them, but the Israeli authorities refused. They saw this as a precedent to recognizing the Muslims' hold over sacred properties, such as mosques and cemeteries, in the western city. Indeed, while "salvation excavations" - a sanitized way of saying "destroying Muslim graves" - are going ahead in Mamila, in the west of the city, the Jewish graveyard on the Mount of Olives (in the east) is to be designated a "Jewish heritage site."

For that, millions of shekels have already been earmarked. The city's unification was intended to restore its past glory, and every Muslim demand for equal treatment of sacred Muslim properties in the western city is firmly rejected, since it is seen as a demand for the "right of return, which means the destruction of Israel." If Israel surrenders to the Muslims' demands in Mamila, it might start a snowball effect and they would demand their graveyards in Dir Yassin, Lifta, Malha and Ein Kerem - all in the jurisdiction of Jerusalem's municipality. These sites have also been turned into garbage dumps, parking lots, roads and construction sites.

Throughout Israel there are hundreds of sites that were once Muslim graveyards, whose remains are still evident at a few dozen of them. The rest have vanished, whether because the tombstones crumbled or because the sites were used for roads, farming or building institutions and residential buildings. The Muslim cemeteries' condition is so outrageous that if it existed in another civilized state it would raise a public storm. From time to time conflicts between the al-Aqsa Association for the Construction of Islamic Holy Places based in Um al-Fahm (and other Israeli-Muslim groups) and Israeli bodies erupt over the damage to these graveyards and the efforts to preserve them.

Open burial sites are scattered throughout the country, human bones are strewed about, and tombstones are shattered, covered with garbage. The most famous site is the Balad a-Sheikh graveyard, located near Haifa in the town of Nesher - where Sheikh Azz a-Din a-Qassam is buried. This cemetery is the site of repeated clashes between vandals wishing to desecrate it and Muslim groups fighting to preserve it. "Development pressures and public needs" are used as a pretext to justify the destruction of abandoned Muslim graveyards. The authorities excuse these acts saying Islam allows changing a cemetery's designation a few generations after the last burial, once a religious fatwa (Muslim ruling) is issued. They base this on Muslim precedents.

The Muslim religious authorities deny this, noting that all the permits the Israelis have obtained were issued by corrupt clergymen and "waqf trustees." The Israelis never waited for their ruling, but always obtained it after the act, they say. The Muslim cemeteries transcend the narrow religious context. They are means of holding onto the landscape. As the Israelis aspire to wipe them out, so the Arabs aspire to preserve them. There is no stronger evidence for roots in the landscape than the graves of the fathers. Hundreds of years, and even in the recent decades, the dead of the families of Husseini, Nusseibeh, Muaked, Dajani, Kuteini, Namari, Abu-Saud and others have rested in Mamila's earth, until the initiators of the Museum of Tolerance arrived to disturb their peace.

Let them not say then that their vandalism "is not related to the local conflict." And they should not be surprised at the eruption of fury and insult of Muslims who cannot prevent the desecration of their dead.

* First the Pat Robertson Armageddon preachers were offered buckshee Galilee real estate for a theme park. Then the Nazi Holocaust deniers (whose main centre is the Institute for Historic Review, just along from the Wiesenthal Centre in California) were invited to come and join the loonies in Tehran. Now the Wiesenthaler-Schwarzenegger come behind the diggers to provoke outrage in Jerusalem.

If Americans are that keen on museums how about rebuilding those in Baghdad and restoring some of the loot they've taken? They could even put a Museum of Tolerance in the home of the Babylonian Talmud, Falluja, as part of rebuilding the city that US forces destroyed.

If the Holocaust-deniers and Armageddon warriors could be kept out of the Middle East, and made to fight their battles out in "God's Own Country", Jews and Arabs would find it much easier to establish peace and tolerance.

If Israel, the Arab states and Iran had governments that thought about getting along with their neighbours instead of inviting foreign imperialists, settlers, antisemites and racists in .... DAYENU (it would suffice)!



At 4:37 PM, Blogger DesertPeace said...

Charlie, Israel has done alot more than destroy Muslim cemetaries. It is continually destroying Muslim families and homes. Go see my latest thread called... 'Just a few reaspns why Palestine elected Hamas'...
Cemetaries are just one f many issues....

At 10:02 AM, Blogger DesertPeace said...

Just as a sidenote...
About ten years ago, constructin began on a bridge near my home n northern Jerusalem. While digging, the workers came upon an ancient Jewish cemetary dating back to the 2nd Temple Period.
Ultra Orthodox Jews appearead out of 'nowhere' and demonstrated to halt construction.
Guess what??
Construction WAS halted and the plans for the bridge were moved over a few metres as not to touch the cemetary.
Why cannot that be done in the case of a Muslim cemetary believed to contain the remains of close associates of the Prophet Mohammed?
Where do we draw the line? Does no one else matter to Judaism? If not, than its damn near time to change that attitude... and fast!

At 9:05 AM, Blogger bataween said...

i note that your picture shows the arch erected on the site where the Hurva synagogue once stood. This magnificent 19th century synagogue, together with 56 others in the Jewish quarter, was destroyed during the Jordanian occupation of Jerusalem.


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