Denied the Right to Rest in Peace
Denied the Right to Rest in Peace
October 21, 2021
DENIED THE RIGHT TO REST IN PEACE: THE OCCUPYING POWER’S DESECRATION OF AL-YOUSIFIEH ISLAMIC CEMETERY & ITS ONGOING VIOLATIONS AGAINST OCCUPIED JERUSALEM AND ITS PALESTINIAN CITIZENS
The year 2021 has witnessed a continuation of targeted Israeli attacks against occupied Jerusalem and its Palestinian citizens through the occupying power’s various illegal policies that aim to alter the character and identity of the occupied Palestinian capital. And despite recent international condemnations to the occupying power’s violations of Palestinian rights in Jerusalem, particularly concerning Israel’s plan to forcibly evict and transfer Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, Israel has continued to advance its colonial- settlement schemes at the expense of Palestinian rights, livelihoods, and freedoms.
THE DESECRATION OF AL-YOUSIFIEH ISLAMIC CEMETERY
Coinciding with Israel’s FM Lapid’s visit to Washington for meetings with key officials in the Biden administration and the farewell visit of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Jerusalem, the occupying power bulldozed part of the Muslim graves in Al-Yousifieh Islamic Cemetery, scattering the bones of those buried. This colonial episode, which took place on Sunday, 10 October, sparked anger whereby Palestinians blocked the bulldozer and obliged the occupation forces to stop the bulldozing works and leave the area. Ten Palestinians were reportedly injured, including one of the medics of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. On the following day, Palestinians gathered for prayer to rebury the unearthed skulls and bones of the dead, of which many were also smashed and broken.1
Al-Yousifieh is one of Jerusalem’s Islamic endowed sites and known to be the burial site of historical Islamic figures, the people of Jerusalem, leading scholars, and hundreds of martyrs, including Palestinians and Jordanian martyrs killed during the 1967 war. It’s therefore known as the Martyrs’ Cemetery and includes a monument to the Unknown Soldier.
The cemetery is about 4,000 square meters and is adjacent to Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound from the eastern side, just outside the Old City and its walls, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of the main five Muslim cemeteries in Jerusalem that Israel has continuously targeted.
Two cemeteries, Ma'man Allah (Mamilla), the largest Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem, and Nabi Da'ood, located in West Jerusalem, were confiscated and seized in 1948. Accordingly, what remains for Palestinian use are two cemeteries, Al-Mujahideen and Bab Al-Rahma, as Israel also bans Palestinian Muslims from burying their loved ones in Al-Yousifieh. In late 2016, and on the eastern side of Bab Al-Rahma cemetery, the occupation authorities (including employees from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority) placed warning signs with metal corners that read: "burial is forbidden in (this part of) the cemetery." This part of the cemetery includes a monument and the graves of 130 Egyptian martyrs who fell in Jerusalem during the 1948 Palestinian Nakba.
The centuries-old Al-Yousifieh cemetery was zoned as a green area and thus designated to be turned into what Israel calls a “biblical garden.” According to a letter signed by Jerusalem’s late Mayor Rawhi Al-Khatib in 1970 on the digging works carried out by the Israeli occupation authority in the city, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on 26 February 1970 that the so-called Israeli Ministry of Justice has no legal objections to plans seizing lands around the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City to establish gardens on them; specifying that these lands include both Bab Al-Rahma and Al-Yousifieh cemeteries. On 31 March 1974, some 1,110 dunams (~274 acres) surrounding the Old City walls were declared a national park.
In 2004, the then head of the so-called Jerusalem municipality Uri Lupolianski issued an administration order to demolish several graves in the cemetery and prevent maintenance works inside it. Ten years later, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority carried out the demolition of twenty graves, where the remains of martyrs that fought in defense of Jerusalem in 1967 were laid to rest.2 It’s worth noting that several incidents were reported about Israeli settlers storming the cemetery and spraying anti-Palestinian graffiti on the gravestones throughout the past years.
In late 2020, the occupation authority demolished Al-Yousifieh’s historic stairway and stone wall. Subsequently, the Committee for the Care of Islamic Cemeteries paid the equivalent of more than $15,000 to obtain an injunction order to stop the digging works inside the cemetery until further evidence is provided to the occupation’s court concerning the designation of the land under the administration of Jordan’s Jerusalem municipality.
The latest provoking incident is part of a series of offenses and colonial attempts to take over the cemetery. The committee’s lawyers are trying to obtain a permanent court order banning the so-called Jerusalem Municipality and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority from bulldozing and exhuming the graves. However, and for advancing the establishment of a “biblical garden,” Israel’s Magistrate Court, on the evening of 17 October, rejected their request. Now, the lawyers will appeal to Israel’s Central Court. Lawyer Muhannad Jbara clarified that such rejection is dangerous. It neither deals with the facts of matter nor takes into account the sanctity of the place that affects the feelings of Muslims in Jerusalem and the world.3 On Tuesday morning, 19 October, the Israeli intelligence and police arrested Engineer Mustafa Abu Zahra, Chairman of the Committee for the Care of Islamic Cemeteries, for interrogations that lasted four hours. Abu Zahra was later released on the condition of barring him from entering the cemetery for ten days.4
THE MUSEUM OF “TOLERANCE” BUILT ON THE REMAINS OF PALESTINIANS, ARABS, AND MUSLIMS IN MA'MAN ALLAH MUSLIM CEMETERY
Last week also witnessed the opening ceremony of the Friedman Center for “Peace through Strength” and the 10th annual conference of the Israeli Newspaper Jerusalem Post. Both events marked the inauguration of what Israel calls the museum of “tolerance.” Unashamedly, several international prominent figures, including FIFA President Gianni Infanito and members of the diplomatic corps accredited to Israel, participated in these events held in the same venue that was constructed after exhuming the remains of Palestinians from a cemetery over a thousand years old. Consequently, PLO Central Council Member and the head of the Palestinian Football Association, Jibril Rajoub, rejected a meeting with Infanito stating that his “participation in the Israeli event shows bias in favor of the Israeli occupation, politicization of sports, and a violation of its message, the Olympic Charter, and FIFA laws and regulations.”
During his visit, Infanito even suggested to Prime Minister Bennett “the possibility of Israel co-hosting the 2030 World Cup with some of its Middle East neighbors, such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE),” adding salt to injury by again deliberately provoking the Palestinian people and affirming his dismissal of their national and human rights and even the right of deceased Palestinians, and other Arab and Muslims buried in this cemetery to rest in peace, including companions to Prophet Mohammad according to Muslim tradition.
In a report about Ma’man Allah cemetery, titled “A Heritage Site at the Crossroads of Politics and Real Estate,” published in 2013, the Israeli non-governmental organization (NGO) Emek Shaveh stated that: “A combination of political and economic interests, ignorance, and disregard for the local legacy, have led to the approval of the construction of the Tolerance Museum. The cemetery offers the most substantial evidence of Muslim history in west Jerusalem; it appears that the desire to eradicate this history from the western part of the city was among considerations leading to the resolve to build here.”
The chief excavator, assigned by the Israeli Antiquities Authority, attested following the ruling of Israel’s Supreme Court in October 2008, authorizing the construction on the cemetery, that his conclusion was “the site should not be approved for construction.”5 Furthermore, an investigation by Haaretz in 2010 revealed how different prominent leaders and institutions in Israel, including the Antiquities Authority, Tel Aviv University, and the Supreme Court, together with an American Jewish Institution in Los Angeles, all played their role in desecrating and eradicating Ma’man Allah cemetery, which can be described at a minimum:
a testament and a further violation of the religious and cultural heritage of the people of Palestine and an assault on their dignity.
The description of this “project,” as explained on the website of the company in charge of the digging, stated: “Carrying out infrastructure work, removal of nuisances in the area of the project...” In its report, Haaretz noted: “What the site calls “nuisances” are in fact skeletons, bones, and skulls. Hundreds of skeletons that were buried in Jerusalem’s central Muslim cemetery over a period of some 1,000 years.”
The normalization of such a structure named "Tolerance Museum" is acquiescence and approval of a vile colonial ideology that shouldn't be tolerated in the twenty-first century. What is happening today in Al-Yousifieh Islamic Cemetery should thus be alarming to all peace-loving nations around the globe. It's urgent for world leaders and international organizations to uphold their responsibilities and take action against Israel's colonial schemes that undermine our national aspirations and inalienable rights, foremost the right to exist, self-determination, and freedom.
ISRAEL’S OBLIGATIONS AS AN OCCUPYING POWER UNDER INTERNATIONAL LAW
Israel, as an occupying power, must uphold and respect its obligations as stipulated under international law, namely under international humanitarian law. In the context of Israel’s violations against Al-Yousifieh Islamic Cemetery, Israel is in utter disregard to its obligations under the law as in the multitude of different aspects of Israel’s administration of the occupied territory.
Pursuant to the Fourth Geneva Convention “Protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances to respect for their persons, their honour, their family rights, their religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs. They shall be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against acts of violence or threats thereof and against insults and public curiosity…”6 all of which Israel has violated by desecrating the graves in Al-Yousifieh Islamic Cemetery. Furthermore, due to this cemetery’s religious and cultural significance to the protected Palestinian population, such destruction constitutes an attack on cultural heritage in Palestine and cultural heritage of mankind around the word, a violation of Article 56 of the Hague Regulations of 1907,7 Article 53 of Additional Protocol I,8 and Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention,9 which also constitutes a grave breach under Article 147 of the same Convention. Moreover, this incident comes as part and parcel of the Israeli occupation’s policy of collective punishment of the protected population, a violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Israel’s destruction of Palestinian religious and cultural heritage also constitutes a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.10
Decades-long impunity for Israel’s consistent violation of international law has led to not only the impediment of the living Palestinians from achieving their basic fundamental rights, but has also in this case reached the violation of the rights of the dead in their graves. In the words of the Commentary on the Fourth Geneva Convention, which reminds us of the importance of respect of the provisions of the law in general and the Convention in particular:
“It is in such situations, when human values appear to be in greatest danger, that the provision assumes its full significance.”11
CURRENT ISRAELI COLONIAL PLANS IN AND AROUND OCCUPIED JERUSALEM
In early 2021, on the eve of the Biden administration taking office, tenders for over 2,500 colonial-settlement units throughout the occupied West Bank were published, including in occupied Jerusalem. Throughout 2021, other major Israeli settlement plans were actively advanced according to a series of news reports and updates from Israeli NGOs, including Ir Amim and Peace Now, involving announcements for the construction of thousands of colonial-settlement units around occupied Jerusalem, including the following:
In the South: the approval to expropriate lands for public use in “Givat Hamatos” settlement, described by Ir Amim “to become the first new settlement built over the green line in Jerusalem in over two decades” with the pending construction of over 1250 colonial-settlement units. This is in addition to plans in progress for the new “Givat Eitam” settlement (known as E2) on lands belonging to the Palestinian villages of Khirbet An Nahla, Artas, and Khallet al Louza. On 20 May 2021, the official final approval for the construction of the “Har Homa E” settlement was published in a local Israeli newspaper, following a joint statement by France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK on 3 May 2021, urging Israel, the occupying power, to “cease its policy of settlement expansion,” and “reverse its decision.”
In the East: the advancement of the “E1” settlement plan with the scheduling of sessions for Palestinian objections in October and November 2021. The promotion of this plan, which successive US administrations rejected, threatens to displace over 3,000 Palestinians and has been repeatedly described as “the last nail in the coffin of the two-state solution.”
In the North: according to Ir Amim, an Israeli planning committee has recommended the deposit of a new outline plan on 13 October for the construction of additional colonial-settlement units in “Pisgat Zeev” settlement, the largest settlement in occupied Jerusalem, expanding it towards Israel’s annexation wall and “depleting the few remaining open land reserves in the area.” Additionally, a discussion is scheduled for early December 2021 to advance a new “Atarot” settlement, confiscating 1,243 dunams (~307 acres) and comprising 9,000 colonial-settlement units, commercial areas, and hotels. In a report published last August by Peace Now, “the plan counts as “state lands” since the days of the British Mandate when an airport was built in it. This fact enables Israel to build the settlement without the need to confiscate lands from their Palestinian owners. At the same time, large parts of the land count as private land and the plan is aimed to create a procedure of “unification and division” (without agreement) according to which all landowners get a certain part according to the value of the land they own.” The report added that this plan involves the demolition of several Palestinian buildings and houses.
Ir Amim also reported on 13 October 2021 about another new outline plan for the “Silicon Wadi” settlement, which is part of Israel’s “City Center” colonial plan that encompasses the most economically vibrant areas in occupied Jerusalem, to replace the existing Palestinian commercial area in the Wadi Al-Joz neighborhood, resulting in the confiscation of 2,000 dunums (~494 acres) of owned Palestinian land and the demolition of two hundred shops and service centers. In a related context, a new report by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, titled “Silicon Valley to Silicon Wadi: California's Economic Ties with Israel,” has blatantly disregarded the fact that East Jerusalem is an occupied Palestinian territory and that Palestinians have rights in the city. The report mentioned the word “Palestinian” only once in the context of this project’s focus of having workforce participation.
Another serious development during 2021, and towards confiscating more lands and properties from Palestinians is related to what Israel considers absentees12 per its “Absentee Property Law.” The Israeli occupation authorities, in collaboration with the Jewish National Fund, intend to launch a registration process that is expected to be in favor of Israeli settlers. The plan, expected to take five years, entails reviewing 17,000 files, including 2,050 assets in occupied East Jerusalem. As reported by Peace Now, “the move is potentially shifting to substantial expansion of the settlements, and in East Jerusalem there is a danger of dispossessing hundreds and possibly thousands of Palestinians from their homes, similarly to the procedures taking place these days in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan.”
UPDATE ON THE EVICTION THREAT FACING PALESTINIAN FAMILIES IN SHEIKH JARRAH AND THE DEMOLITION ORDERS OF OTHER PALESTINIAN HOMES IN SILWAN
The case of Sheikh Jarrah, which received wide international attention and support in 2021, concerns 70 Palestinian families at risk of forced evictions and transfer at the hands of the occupying power. The latest development involves four of these families: Skafi, Jaouni, Qasim, and Al-Kurd, whom Israel’s Supreme Court offered on 4 October 2021 the status of protected tenants and hence should pay an annual rent of nearly $750 to the Israeli settler organization “Nahlat Shimon” that cannot make any project or request changes before 15 years. If the offer was rejected by 2 November, the court would then make a decision. Additionally, on 9 August 2021, an Israeli court extended the freeze on the demolition orders of 56 Palestinian homes in the Al-Bustan part of Silwan for six more months; however, it retained the demolition orders of 16 other homes. In a related development, the Pandora Papers revealed that among the 565 Israelis identified in the leak is Matityahu Dan, the head of Ateret Cohanim, one of the prominent settler organizations, which targets the taking over of Palestinian homes in several parts of occupied Jerusalem to increase the Jewish population in the city at the expense of its Palestinian population.
OTHER ISRAELI VIOLATIONS AND ATTACKS ON PALESTINIANS IN OCCUPIED JERUSALEM
In addition to the occupying power’s reckless series of infrastructure and construction colonial projects in and around occupied Jerusalem to consolidate its military control and de jure annexation of the city, Israel also continues to allow Israeli settlers to conduct daily raids into Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound and in a recent precedent has allowed "silent” Jewish prayer inside the third holiest site for 1.9 billion Muslims.
The past weeks have also witnessed a continuation of Israeli targeted harassment and a plethora of other violations against Palestinians in the city, wherein approximately 260 violations were documented between 1 September and 18 October 2021, including the following13:
1 September: the Israeli occupying forces (IOF) stormed the Young Muslim Women Association's school in the Wadi Al-Joz neighborhood. They detained the school director and another employee, in addition to seizing several computers and files, under the pretext of meeting with employees from the Palestinian Ministry of Education.
4 September: under the pretext of not having a building permit, which is impossible to obtain, the IOF forced Ayman Abu Hadwan to self-demolish his 50-square-meter home to avoid paying heavy fines if the occupation authorities carried out the demolition.
12 September: IOF raided Al-Makassed hospital under the pretext of chasing protesters from a nearby area where an Israeli settler ran over Walid Abu Al-Hawa that sustained fractures and bruises.
10 September: IOF shot and killed Palestinian doctor Hazem Joulani, 50 years old, under the pretext of attempting to attack a soldier.
10 October: IOF banned the former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Sheikh Ekrima Sabri from entering Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound for a week after questioning him for over six hours allegedly for opposing an Israeli court decision allowing “silent” Jewish prayer in the Compound.
12 October: IOF stormed the plaza of Damascus Gate and fired stun grenades and tear gas at Palestinians in the area, injuring a child.
During this period, the IOF and authority killed two Palestinians in the city, detained over 130 Palestinians, carried out 40 fire attacks, demolished ten structures, including homes, and conducted nearly 40 assaults on religious sites.
On 19 October, as a large number of Palestinians celebrated Mawlid Al-Nabawi, the birthday of Prophet Mohammad, the Israeli occupying authorities imposed various restrictions at the entrances leading to Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound. The IOF also attacked those celebrating the occasion in Damascus Gate plaza with batons, skunk water, and sonic and tear gas grenades. Consequently, according to the Jerusalem Governorate Office, dozens of Palestinians were wounded. Also, on Sultan Sulieman Street, the IOF targeted the shops inside the station with skunk water, causing many cases of suffocation. At least 20 Palestinians were detained, the majority of which are children between 13 -15 years old that were beaten while in custody.
Israel’s state policies of occupation, colonization, and Jewish supremacism, including the disregard for Palestinian heritage and religious sites, remain the primary objectives of every Israeli government, including the current administration. Arab, Muslim, and international action is urgent and necessary to protect the city and its Palestinian and Arab identity in the face of Israel’s colonial plans that aim to take over the land, displace Palestinians, and replace them with its settlers. The Israeli violations we witnessed over the past weeks, including the desecration of two Muslim cemeteries in Jerusalem, have regretfully been ignored by members of the international community that continue to praise an Israeli government that has even failed to state any support for the implementation of signed agreements, let alone international law, UN resolutions, and even the two-state solution.
The occupying power will continue to target the alive and dead in Jerusalem for as long as the occupation remains. When will Israel end its belligerent occupation of the land and people of Palestine? This is the question.
1 According to Sheikh Omar Al-Kiswani, the director of Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound.
2 Spotlights on the Yusifiya cemetery in Al-Quds Al-Sharif, by Dr. Muhammad Buhais Aramin, the head of the Palestinian National Archives (in Arabic), published on 25 September 2014, https://pulpit.alwatanvoice.com/content/print/342971.html
5 Comparative Monument (Ma'man Allah): A Guide Book to a Collection of 69 Eucalyptus Camaldulensis Seeds in the Khalidi Library, Jerusalem (2012-14): “This conclusion was based on the facts that: his archaeological excavations were completed in only 10% of the entire project site, while in the remaining 90% of the site, 'excavation was either only partial or preliminary, 'A total of 250 skeletons were excavated, some of them from secondary burials, and another 200 graves were exposed but not excavated, and, the site contains at least 4 more as yet unexcavated layers of Muslim graves dating back to at least the 11th century, with an estimated 2000 graves remaining under the site.”
6 Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 27.
7 Article 56: “The property of municipalities, that of institutions dedicated to religion, charity and education, the arts and sciences, even when State property, shall be treated as private property. All seizure of, destruction or wilful damage done to institutions of this character, historic monuments, works of art and science, is forbidden, and should be made the subject of legal proceedings.”
8 Article 53 (a): “ … it is prohibited: (a) to commit any acts of hostility directed against the historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural and spiritual heritage of peoples…”
9 Article 53: “Any destruction by the Occupying Power to real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”
10 Article 8 (2) (b) (ix), Article 8 (2) (b) (xiii).
11 International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Commentary: IV Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, P. 205.
12 Jerusalemites Palestinians residing abroad or even outside East Jerusalem in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.
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