About Me

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Hussam has been a lifelong human rights activist who is passionate about promoting democratic societies, in the US and worldwide, in which all people, including immigrants, workers, minorities, and the poor enjoy freedom, justice, economic justice, respect, and equality. Mr. Ayloush frequently lectures on Islam, media relations, civil rights, hate crimes and international affairs. He has consistently appeared in local, national, and international media. Full biography at: http://hussamayloush.blogspot.com/2006/08/biography-of-hussam-ayloush.html

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Museum of Tolerance" not so tolerant of Muslims nor their graves (including Prophet's Sahabas/companions)

It is hard to believe that an institution which claims to promote tolerance towards Jews and others would build a "museum of tolerance" on top of the location of a historic Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem. The cemetery, called Ma'manullah or Mamilla, was one of the largest Muslim cemeteries in Palestine and was captured by the Israeli army in the 1948 war.

According to historians, the cemetery has over 15,000 graves, including those of Sahabas (companions) of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), as well as famous scholars and jurists from the past many centuries.

One must wonder how would the museum of tolerance react if some Muslim or Christian institution decides to forcibly build a museum or a theater on top of a Jewish holy site or an old Jewish cemetery? How would the world Jewish community feel if the graves of their leading scholars and rabbis of the last centuries were to be desecrated and disrespected by some insensitive group? Even as a non-Jew, I know that I would be horrified and I am certain that I will speak against such action.

Tolerance is not merely a slogan to raise, nor a fake title to give to a museum. Tolerance is a conviction, a genuine lifestyle, a practice, and set of actions that bring diverse people together in mutual respect and understanding.

Those whose hypocritical actions fan the flames of hatred, division, and bigotry should adopt a more accurate description for their true mission. Until it stops this insensitive and immoral action against 1.3 billion Muslims and our Islamic heritage, the Wiesenthal Center should more appropriately call its museum, the Museum of Intolerance, or the Museum of Selective Tolerance.

I commend and salute the true voices of the great Jewish faith who have vocally spoken against this injustice and aggression. Read more from a few of those courageous voices.
Richard Silverstein
Gershon Baskin
Charles Lenchner

Also, read the article below by Jonathan Cook.

More to come on this ongoing racism in the Holy Land.

(All Mamillah cemeteray photos are from palestineremembered.com)

Travesty of tolerance on display
November 10, 2008
By Jonathan Cook

The Israeli Supreme Court’s approval last week of the building of a Jewish Museum of Tolerance over an ancient Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem is the latest in a series of legal and physical assaults on Islamic holy places since Israel’s founding in 1948.

The verdict ended a four-year struggle by Islamic authorities inside Israel to stop development at the Mamilla cemetery, which lies in the shadow of Jerusalem’s Old City walls, close to Jaffa Gate.

After the judgment, Jerusalem’s mufti, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, called the museum’s building “an act of aggression” against the Muslim public.

The furore from both religious and secular Palestinians has apparently bemused most Israeli observers.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, initiator of the project, dismissed objections last week as cover for “a land grab by Islamic fundamentalists, who are in co-operation with Hamas”. His view that Muslim concerns are really an attack on the Jewish state’s sovereignty is shared by many.

Such sentiments have confirmed to most Palestinians the degree to which Israeli authorities make decisions while oblivious of Palestinian religious and national rights.

Although Muslim leaders angrily warned from the outset that the Museum of Tolerance would require the disinterring of graves, they were ignored until spring 2006, when it was reported that dozens of skeletons had been unearthed during the early excavations.
The local media also revealed at the time that state archaeologists had been secretly trying to move the skeletons without alerting the local Muslim authorities, as they should have done, and that many of the skeletons had been damaged in the process.

When several months of arbitration between the developers and Muslim leaders proved fruitless, the courts stepped in.

Ostensibly, the driving force behind the museum, which is to cost $250 million, is the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a private Los Angeles-based Jewish human rights organisation. But the venture is being pushed through with equal vigour by Israeli officials from the government, Jerusalem municipality and Lands Administration.
For many years it has been their priority to obscure all indications of the Muslim presence in the western part of Jerusalem -- as well as in many areas of Israel -- that predate the Jewish state’s founding in 1948.
The treatment of the Mamilla cemetery, which is said to include the burial sites of Prophet Mohammed’s companions, stands in stark contrast to another ancient cemetery, nearby on the Mount of Olives.

Since East Jerusalem was illegally occupied by Israel in the 1967 war, the Jewish cemetery on the Mount has been carefully renovated and expanded as a “heritage site”.

In contrast, the Mamilla cemetery, which lies just inside West Jerusalem and was captured by the Israeli army in the 1948 war, was immediately removed from Muslim control. Classified as refugee property, it was passed on to a new Israeli official called the custodian of absentee property.

This was far from an isolated incident. Before the creation of Israel, as much as one-tenth of all territory in the Holy Land was managed as part of an Islamic endowment known as the waqf, bequeathed by Muslims for religious and charitable purposes.

After 1948, however, Israel seized all waqf property -- in addition to private land belonging to refugees -- and transferred it to the custodian.

Under pressure from the government in the 1950s, the custodian passed most of the undeveloped land, particularly farmland, on to a state-run body known as the Development Authority, which was charged with using it for the “public interest”. That usually meant using the profit from the land for the benefit of the Jewish public.

Other waqf property -- mostly land on which holy places, including mosques and cemeteries, were located -- was managed by special Islamic trusts established by the state.

This has provided the main defence adopted today by Israeli officials in justifying the siting of the museum. They say that an Islamic trust deconsecrated the Mamilla cemetery in 1964, thereby freeing up the land for development.

What they fail to point out, however, is that the Islamic trusts have no legitimacy among Palestinian Muslims in Israel, nearly one-fifth of the country’s total population, let alone among Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Islamic officials on the trusts are widely seen as corrupt, appointed by the state because of their willingness to do the government’s bidding rather than because of their public standing or Islamic credentials.

They earned that reputation by rubber-stamping many land transactions of waqf property desired by the state. One of the most notorious occurred in the early 1960s when Muslim officials approved the sale of the large Abdul Nabi cemetery in today’s Tel Aviv for the building of a hotel and several Jewish housing developments.

This abuse of waqf land has provoked a simmering resentment among Israel’s Palestinian minority.

Last year Palestinians in the historic city of Jaffa, now little more than a suburb of Tel Aviv, tried to challenge the role of the Islamic trusts by petitioning the courts to turn control of waqf property over to genuine representatives of the Muslim public.

The government, however, refused to divulge what waqf property existed in Jaffa, claiming “the requested information would seriously harm Israel’s foreign relations”. This was presumed to refer to the damage that might be done to Israel’s image abroad should it be revealed to what uses the waqf property had been put.
Actual holy places have fared little better, with most now inaccessible even to Israel’s Palestinian citizens.

Some, such as the 900-year-old Hittin mosque built by Saladin in the Galilee region, have been fenced off and left to crumble. Others are used by rural Jewish communities as animal sheds. And yet more have been converted into discos, bars or nightclubs, including the Dahir al Umar mosque -- now the Dona Rosa restaurant -- in the former Palestinian village of Ayn Hawd.

Similar dubious practices occurred with the Mamilla cemetery. From the 1950s, during a period of military government that imposed severe restrictions on all Palestinians living inside Israel, the graves and tombs belonging to Jerusalem’s most notable families began to decay. Part of the land was turned into a car park.

After the 1967 war, as Meron Benvenisti, a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, has noted, the Muslim authorities lobbied to be allowed to rehabilitate and maintain the graves, but were refused permission.

Instead, in 1992 the custodian transferred the site to the Jerusalem municipality, which used the land to establish an Independence Park, named for Israel’s victory in the 1948 war. Then a few years later the municipality transferred a parcel of the land to the Wiesenthal Center for its Museum of Tolerance.

As Mr Benvenisti points out, over the years many Islamic sites in Jerusalem have been “turned into garbage dumps, parking lots, roads and construction sites”.

What makes the latest fight over the Mamilla cemetery different is that in the past decade a new breed of Muslim leader has emerged in Israel to overshadow the Islamic trusts. In particular the struggle over the fate of the holy places has been taken up by the leader of the Islamic Movement inside Israel, Sheikh Raed Salah.

Last week he warned: “We will mobilise in the Arab and Muslim world so that it puts pressure to halt the project.”

Tolerance, after all, has its limits.

-- Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair" (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net. A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.


richards1052 said...

Thanks Hussam for your praise of my work & Gershon Baskin's. You may be interested to know that Bradley Burston, Haaretz's columnist has also published a piece denouncing the site the Museum has chosen. Burston is nowhere near as progressive as me, so his views are indicative of an interesting shift possibly going on within Israeli opinion about this.

Hussam Ayloush said...

Thank you Richard. I added the link to Burston's article. I am glad to see more voices of reason and fairness coming from Jews in Israel in face of this misguided plan. If not stopped, the museum's hateful action risks to damage Muslim-Jewish relations for decades to come.
I pray for the best.

Best regards and keep up the good work.