Israel accused of destroying Muslim graves in East Jerusalem to make way for park

'The Israeli Nature Authority – backed by large numbers of Israeli forces – stormed the historical cemetery and knocked down eight graves,' says Islamic preservation committee head

Harriet Agerholm
Wednesday 02 November 2016 19:34 GMT
Palestinian graves destroyed in East Jerusalem allegedly to build Israeli park

Israeli authorities have demolished several graves in occupied east Jerusalem's historical Bab al-Rahmeh cemetery next to a long fought-over mosque, a Palestinian official has said.

Parts of the ancient cemetery were confiscated in September 2015 by Israeli authorities to make way for a national park according to local sources.

“Personnel from the so-called Israeli Nature Authority – backed by large numbers of Israeli forces – stormed the historical Bab al-Rahmeh cemetery and knocked down eight graves,” Mustafa Abu Zahra, head of the committee for the preservation of Islamic cemeteries in Jerusalem told the Turkish state-run Anadolu news agency.

“Israel wants to transform the cemetery into a national park for Israeli Jews,” he added.

Sheikh Omar al-Qiswani, the director of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, told Anadolu: “Israel claims the graves are situated on land owned by the Israeli Nature Authority.

“But Israel has no historical or legal basis on which to claim any right to the cemetery. The site is an Islamic Waqf [endowment], and will remain so.”

In a varying account of the damage, Mr al-Qiswani, told Palestinian news agency Ma’an six graves had been destroyed,

He underlined past efforts by Israel’s Nature and Parks authorities to seize land from the cemetery and to ban Palestinians from digging grave plots in the confiscated zones

The Muslim cemetery is over 1,400 years old and is considered a significant historical site in East Jerusalem.

The United Nations cultural agency Unesco recognised the Al-Aqsa Mosque as a Muslim holy site in mid-October. Many Muslims consider the site to be their third most sacred place.

Unesco's decision was welcomed by Palestinians, who said it was an “important message to Israel that it must end its occupation and recognise the Palestinian state".

But the ruling prompted Israel to accuse Unesco of "denying Jewish history" and saw the country suspend all ties with the international body.

Palestinian Authority adviser on religious and Islamic affairs Mahmoud al-Habbash told Ma'an the destruction of the graves was a sign of “Israeli political confusion” following the decision by the organisation.

Relations between United Nations agencies and the Jewish state have become further strained after the body released a report that found Israel was causing rising poverty and “despair” among Palestinians by refusing their development rights.

Israel first annexed East Jerusalem following its invasion in 1967 as part of its military occupation.

Jewish settlers and Zionist organisations have long called for complete Jewish control over the mosque compound.

The Independent has contacted Israeli Nature and Parks Authority for comment.

  • Update: Tali Tenenbaum, spokesperson for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, said the sites in question were not located in the Bab al-Rahmeh cemetery but in the area of the national park. She told The Independent: “The INPA and police forces evacuated invasion execution performed illegally present in the national park surrounding the walls of Jerusalem”. 9/11/16

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