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Israel is replacing a 200-year old Muslim cemetery with a homeless shelter

  • 8 Jul 2020

Jaffa has seen countless cemeteries razed and replaced with construction projects, in what many see as an attempt to erase the Arab and Muslim character of the city.

An Israeli court overruled an injunction against construction on the side of a 200-year old Muslim cemetery. ( Palestinian Media Center - Nasira )

Tel Aviv’s District Court shut down an appeal by the Jaffa Islamic Council on Tuesday, which sought to prevent construction of a homeless shelter on the 200-year old Al-Isaaf Muslim cemetery.

But this is hardly the first cemetery or heritage site to be demolished. Jaffa’s Hilton Hotel is built over the cemetery of Abd al-Nabi village. Tel Aviv University built a parking lot over the Sheikh al-Muwannis cemetery.

Khalid Malouh, an activist of the Jaffa Islamic Council spoke to TRT World about the controversial issue.

“There’s plenty of space in Jaffa. They are specifically targeting sites of heritage, and they’re using special forces to crack down on protesters. Over 17 people were arrested for trying to stop the digging. They’re offering to let us keep the bones,” says Malouh.

But that’s not all, he adds.

“This is only part of a larger strategy of discrimination seen in every part of our lives. Employment, security, courts, housing and media. This is our land, and we are still the majority even after they pushed 95 percent of us out during the Nakba.”

“What does that tell you?,” he asks plaintively.

The Al-Isaaf cemetery has been used for nearly 200 years, and is nearly at capacity. For Palestinians with relatives and ancestors buried there, the idea of construction that would see the tombstones razed and their occupants disturbed is preposterous.

Even Jerusalem has not escaped this. A Museum of Jewish Tolerance was built over the Mamilla cemetery.

The construction over the Al-Isaaf cemetery initially sparked days of demonstrations in the Arab-majority city of Jaffa, which was crushed by Israeli special police forces using brute force. Nonetheless, a temporary injunction against construction at the site was issued.

The injunction has since been overturned, while the Jaffa Islamic Council was ordered to pay the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality and Tel Aviv Foundations nearly $2,200 each.

The Islamic Council’s attorney Ramzi Katilat stated that the Islamic Council was willing to find an alternative location and incur whatever costs associated with transferring the project.

“Our rights do not derive from courts. They derive from the fact that we are the original residents of this land. Those rights do not change by a court’s decree. The protests will continue until the solution we want as Muslims and as Jaffa residents is achieved, which is the end of the construction,” said Katilat.

For Palestinian citizens of Israel, the court decision is one in a long line of attempts to erase Palestinian heritage.

History crumbling

Since the Nakba of 1948, Jaffa has seen its historic sites slowly eroded.

The Al-Isaaf cemetery, situated near the Hassan Bek mosque, is nearly 200 years old. Unused for nearly 90 years, and nearly at capacity, it is home to hundreds of Palestinian tombs.”

“If Jewish graves are vandalized in Europe, there’s horror and a lot of noise. With us, we’re ignored,” says Malouh.

“Are we any less human?,” he asks rhetorically.

“No, we’re the occupied,” he concludes.

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