Members of prominent Palestinian families from Jerusalem have come out today in protest against plans to build a Museum of Tolerance on top of part of the ancient Mamilla Cemetery where their ancestors are buried. Until now, much of the opposition to the building plan came from Israeli and Jewish rights activists — including Danny Seidemann, a lawyer who founded Ir-Amim (which works for an equitably shared Jerusalem), and Gershon Baskin, co-Director of the Israeli Palestinian Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), who have argued, in part, that the construction offended their Jewish beliefs and values, and was against Jewish religious and moral teachings. They have tried, through the Israeli court system, and through appeals directed mainly to Israeli and international Jewish public opinion, to block the construction of the Museum of Tolerance on the Mamilla Cemetary in Jerusalem. Excavations began on the site in 2005. It is now surrounded by a high white metal fence, with security cameras posted all around, and armed guards in navy blue shirts and trousers, wearing black sunglasses. The initiative being taken by the Palestinian families today is reaching out to a larger audience, and includes filing a petition today in Geneva to various United Nations Human Rights bodies, and to the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO), which is responsible for protecting the world’s cultural heritage. The petition is also being addressed to the Swiss Government, which is the repository for the Geneva Conventions.
More information is available on the website of the New-York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, here. There is also a website for the 60 Palestinian families from Jerusalem who have launched this campaign, here. This Mamilla Campaign website says that “Sixty individual petitioners who have attested that their ancestors … are interred in Mamilla (Ma’man Allah) Cemetery … including the following Jerusalem notables: * Abdullah Ali Koloti * Ahmad Agha Duzdar * Al-Amir Esa Bin Muhamad al-Hakari * Bader el-Din Zain * Ghaleb Jawad Ismail ‘Aref Musa Taher Abdul-Samad Ben Abdulatif Husseini * Jamal Eddine Al-Imam * Shams al-Din Muhammad ibn `Abdullah al-Dayri al-Khalidi al-`Absi * Omar Saleh Zain * Qadi Burhan al-Din Ibn Nusayba * Qadi Mahmoud al-Khalidi * Salah El-Rahal al-Sadi * Shaykh Ahmad Ali Dajani * Shaykh Said Abdullah Ansari * TajuDin Abul Wafa Mohammad Ben ‘AlauDin ‘Ali Ben AbulWafa Al-Badri al-Husseini * Uthman Suleiman al-Kurdi * Yousef and Ali Beks Hallak * Yousef H.A. al-Kurd Individual Petitioners (at 1 February 2010).” According to the Mamilla Campaign website, the petitioners also include Adnan Husseini, who is the Palestinian Authority’s appointed Governor of Jerusalem; AbdulQader Husseini, the son of the late Faisal Husseini, who was the PLO representative in Jerusalem and a member of the Palestinian team incorporated in the Jordanian delegation to the Madrid Peace Conference; Rafiq Husseini, an advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas; Huda Imam, directrice of the Al-Quds University Center located in the Souk al-Qattanin in the Old City of East Jerusalem; and Sari Nusseibeh, head of Al-Quds University in Abu Dis. In a press conference held in Jerusalem this morning, moderated by Huda Imam, several of the signatories briefly spoke, according to Adnan Abdel Razek (a former UN staff member who is an expert on issues related to Palestinian property seized after the 1948 war), who attended: He said that Asem Khalidi noted that a number of men from Saleh ed-Din’s army, who liberated Jerusalem from the Crusaders, were buried in the Mamilla Cemetary. Hajj Toufiq Abu Zuhra, Director (“al-Qayam”) of the Mamilla Waqf explained his efforts to block the excavations in the Israeli Supreme Court, and he reported that he recently found wood shavings scattered on other areas of the Mamilla Cemetary, which he and others from the Mamilla Waqf went to clean up — he said he feared this indicated that other areas of the cemetary would be obliterated and claimed for other purposes. And Adnan Husseini called what was happening immoral and illegal. Much of the momentum behind today’s initiative comes from Palestinians who grew up and who still live in the diaspora, many in the United States. Press conferences are being held in Jerusalem, Geneva, and Los Angeles, home of the Simon Wiesenthal Center which is moving forward with its plans to build the Museum of Tolerance on top of the Mamilla Cemetary. The Mamilla Cemetary is in West Jerusalem, which fell under Israeli control during the fighting that surrounded the proclamation of the Jewish State in mid-May 1948. The last burial there was reportedly at that time. From the May 1948 war, until the June 1967 war when Israeli forces captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank (and the Golan Heights, and the Gaza Strip, as well), the Cemetary was inaccessible to many if not most of the Palestinian families concerned. Because it is in West Jerusalem, Palestinians have hesitated, until now, to take any high-profile action asserting claims, moral or physical. The U.S. Consulate-General’s office in West Jerusalem is across a park (“Independence Park”) from another corner of the Mamilla Cemetary. A glamourous new hotel and mall is at another corner of the Mamilla Cemetary, and an affiliate of another New-York-based prestigious hotel is building a Jerusalem branch in a historic building facing the Mamilla Cemetary. Many Israeli and international visitors to the area are simply unaware of the cemetary’s history, or even its presence. Rashid Khalidi, Professor of History at Columbia University in New York, noted in a statement included in a press release announcing today’s initiative and petition, that allowing the continuation of construction of the Museum of Tolearance on top of part of the Mamilla Cemetary in West Jerusalem is “a blatant violation of the ethical, moral, and legal responsibilities of the Israeli government, which protested the desecration of ancient Jewish cemetaries in [n.b. – East] Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967″. At a public discussion sponsored by IPCRI some months ago in [East] Jerusalem, which included lawyers representing the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance project in West Jerusalem, one Palestinian offered to donate alternative land for construction of the Museum of Tolerance near The Wall which Israel is currently completing around the Jerusalem area to isolate areas of dense Palestinian population. At that alternative site, the Palestinian donor said, both Israelis and Palestinians could visit the future Museum of Tolerance. The lawyers for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance merely smiled, without replying. There are both Palestinian and Israeli groups who are listed as CO- PETITIONERS on the Mamilla Organization website, including: 1. Mustafa Abu-Zahra, Mutawalli of Ma’man Allah Cemetery 2. Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association 3. Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights 4. Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights 5. Al-Haq 6. Al-Quds Human Rights Clinic 7. Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) 8. Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Internally Displaced in Israel (ADRID) 9. Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights 10. Housing and Land Rights Network – Habitat International Coalition 11. Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC) 12. The International Committee of the National Lawyers Guild 13. The Independent Commission for Human Rights 14. The National Lawyers Guild – Free Palestine Subcommittee 15. Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLAC) 16. Zochrot Association