The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Descendants File Protest with United Nations over Israeli Plans to Build on 12th Century Muslim Cemetery

Simon Wiesenthal Center Intends “Museum of Tolerance” for Site Despite Desecration


Today, parties defending a 12th Century Muslim cemetery and holy
site from desecration by Israeli authorities and a U.S. developer
brought their case to the United Nations and held press conferences in
Geneva, Jerusalem and Los Angeles. The filing of the "Petition for
Urgent Action on Human Rights Violations by Israel: Desecration of
Ma'man Allah (Mamilla) Muslim Cemetery in the Holy City of Jerusalem."
took place in Geneva; the cemetery, Ma'man Allah (also known as
Mamilla), is in Jerusalem; and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which has
plans to build a Museum of Tolerance on the site, is based in Los
Angeles. The Center for Constitutional Rights in New York is
representing descendants, including 60 signatories from 15 of the
oldest Jerusalem families with ancestors going back to the 12th
century. The Petition may be consulted at

"The callous disregard for the most basic values of tolerance
involved in building this museum in the most ancient and revered Muslim
cemetery in Jerusalem is not just an affront by the Simon Wiesenthal
Center to the many Jerusalemites whose families, like my own, have had
ancestors buried there for many centuries," said Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies Department of History at Columbia University in New York.
"It is also a blatant violation of the ethical, moral and legal
responsibilities of the Israeli government, which itself repeatedly
protested the desecration of ancient Jewish cemeteries in Jerusalem
between 1948 and 1967."

The construction project has resulted in the disinterment and
disposal of hundreds of graves and human remains, the whereabouts of
which are currently unknown. Frank Gehry, the original architect for
the museum, has withdrawn his designs and his participation in the

This will be the first known time Palestinian individuals have taken
collective action against Israel to bring such an issue before a UN
forum and comes after all remedies in Israel were exhausted. The
families, NGO's and attorneys argue the desecration of the cemetery
violates international conventions protecting cultural heritage, the
manifestation of religious beliefs, and the right to family.

Said Maria LaHood, Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Attorney, "Left
with no recourse in Israel, families of people buried in Mamilla
cemetery have come together to petition the United Nations to safeguard
their international human rights to be free from discrimination, to
manifest religious beliefs, and to have their cultural heritage
protected. We call on the international community to denounce this
shameful desecration of a historic Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem."

The plan to build a "Center for Human Dignity - Museum of Tolerance"
on the remains of important Muslim figures and men, women and children
buried there over the course of a thousand years has faced widespread
opposition from Muslim, Christian and Jewish personalities in Israel,
Palestine and around the world. Nonetheless, the Israeli Supreme Court
has ruled in favor of construction of the Museum, and the Israeli
government has refused to halt the disinterment of human remains and
the destruction of the ancient cemetery.

The Center for Constitutional Rights and others are petitioning the
United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Religion and Belief
and on Contemporary Forms of Racism; the Independent Expert on Culture;
the High Commissioner for Human Rights; and the Director General of
UNESCO on behalf of Palestinian families whose ancestors are buried in
the cemetery. The parties are asking these international bodies to act
urgently to demand that the government of Israel halt further
construction of the "Center for Human Dignity - Museum of Tolerance" on
the Mamilla Cemetery site, investigate human rights violations,
document and reveal to petitioners the whereabouts of all human remains
and artifacts, recover and rebury all human remains where they were
originally found in coordination with the proper Muslim authorities,
and declare the Mamilla Cemetery an antiquity to be preserved and

Said Stanley Sheinbaum, Jewish leader in Los Angeles and former President of the Los Angeles Police Commission,
"In regard to the proposed construction of a new Simon Wiesenthal
Center on the ancient Mamilla Cemetery, I would with great respect for
both Palestinians and Israelis suggest that Israeli governmental
authorities seek out an alternative building site upon which to build
the Museum of Tolerance. It seems to me that to desecrate hundreds of
human remains on this sacred burial site in order to build a center
dedicated to tolerance is particularly ironic."

The Mamilla Cemetery has been a Muslim burial ground and holy site
since as early as the 7th century, when companions of the Prophet
Muhammad were reputedly buried there. In addition, numerous Sufi saints
and thousands of other officials, scholars, notables, and Jerusalemite
families have been buried in the cemetery over the last 1000 years. The
Muslim Supreme Council declared the cemetery an 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 and the cemetery
fell under Israeli control.

Read more about the Mamilla Cemetery on CCR's case page.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. CCR is committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

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