Yesterday was a long exhausting day, touring around cemeteries in Jerusalem. Of course, one cannot expect fun when visiting a cemetery. This one was more of a tour of excitement. After a second article I worte about the problem of the continuing issue of theft of the graves, a real turmoil took place. I usually expect anger and disappointment from those my articles address. But it has been since a long time that someone would think of calling my family and get me in this whirlpool of tribal issues. The man in charge was quite polite. Mustafa Abu Zahra, who went to my uncle to complain about my article that accused him in the mismanagement of the cemetery. An older guy who was quite insisting on showing me his side of the story while touring for three hours between the graves.
The story started last month when a close friend of mine posted with pictures about the attempted theft and removal of his grandfather’s grave. The grandfather was not just any grandfather, and a prominent figure and was the sheik of the Aqsa mosque. The stroy unveiled many similar stories. Tens of stories were revealing, with leading names and related stories. Digging in the areas between the graves and making spaces for new burials, and selling the original grave to a new guest from the dead whose family will pay well for the location. Some case mentioned horrible stories of how the graves disappeared. People felt desperate, not knowing what to do; a state of bullying and threat was the only response they received.
Abu Zahra sounded as lovely as he looked, but according to the testimonies of those who lost their graves or got new, unexpected neighbors, he did not have the last say on things.
Fear was the main factor each time I encountered anyone. Even though the same people would share their opinion of Facebook, they can write a message and contribute to a post, but no one dared to go to the media or the police.
The police, of course, is a closed issue for most: WE DONT GO TO ISRAELI POLICE. In such a case in particular. the Israeli authorities are targetting the cemeteries not any less than the houses. However, it feels like knocking one’s head in a wall. You cannot do anything about it. You either shut up, or you become a traitor, and in between, you are not safe because of those people are not just people, a series of mafia-style people who the Israeli authority know very well about and watch as they continue to violate with no single response. Somehow it is also not a coincidence that most people choose not to go to the Israeli police because they know nothing will happen as well. It would be worse because they will be left with more pressure and blame for going to the Israeli to complain and might be called “traitors.”
I usually understand the pressure, and I get to a level fo thinking it is always easy to talk.
This time was a different story. I still feel what it means to be in fear.
I have to admit I am not new to this. I lived years of stalking by my ex-husband, and my relationship with the police was that of great disappointment. You need to get to a level where you are practically killed for them to respond. By the time they reach, you are already suffocating with your last breath. And the one who assaulted is out there again soon to harass you to a scarier level. So I can imagine how horrific it becomes when your assaulter is a ghost you have not necessarily met…yet.
Sometimes I feel that my portion of wisdom is saved for critical situations. I decided to go to the meeting with the Shiekh to explain to me the truth about the situation from his angle with some friends. IT is not hard to understand the original plan of that meeting if I went alone.
The man was devotedly explaining to the group and me how effortless the work in the cemeteries is. The difficulties and the threats the Israelis continue to impose. He desperately wanted to prove to me that the old graves are preserved. I could not show any wow feeling to the “keeping” of the ancient tombs when this should be a formality. The bab al Rahmeh cemetry, according to his own words, is the oldest and the first cemetery in Palestine. Figures from the early islamic century are buried there, and it witnesses a continued history of Islamic civilization in a series of millenia and a half. Well, I have of course serious reservation on the amount of neglect hte palce is hosting from grass and dirt. But I also know well that the place was unendurable some years ago. So the man was explaining an exceptional change in the situation of the cemetery in comparison to years of previous neglect.
I can, not argue about a significant fact, and I noticed while we were holding the dicussion\ explanation, whoever needs to be in charge of a cemetery should be a specialist \ a scholar in history. I cannot blame the people who work therefor not seeing what I see. for not resembling what I say. I felt like someone living in another plant as I was explaining the importance of cemeteries n reflect a peoples heritage and how it can mark the level of living in specific eras.
The cemetery is so rich of a history I never knew it was as vivid as this place reflected. Graves from the Turkish era that can clearly explain the elite levels, the engraving, the titles, the status, the richness, etc… this whole thing of connecting the living era with that precedes the death of the people who ruled and lived. Whatever anyone can see is a history of a nation that can easily be connected from one generation to the other and from one civilization that succeeded the other. And now, the maximum the people in charge think of is space. The man had a very legitimate question: where do I go with all the dead people?
Jerusalem hosted three cemeteries for its Muslim people along time. Thirty years ago a hundred thousand people were living in the city. Today there are more than three hundred thousand, so, naturally, the needs for space are a crucial issue. But could making spaces be the answer in such a place that is full of a heritage that we are vigorously striving to preserve?
the scene in the cemeteries is saddening, and the more discussion evolves, the more desperate the situation becomes.
It was not the assault I received that made me rest my case. After ten minutes of the tour, a man suddenly invaded the group and was calling me by my name. He started screaming, and luckily, the three men that were there took him away after a real struggle. He behaved like a wild bull even though he looked small. I wasn’t taken by surprise because somehow, in my mind, I was prepared to all unwanted tragic possible scenarios. But yet it caught me when I went back home in thought. Life can be in a single moment taken by such a no one. It is true that I seriously don’t care much about death; after all, life is not that pleasant trip. But yet, dying by a knife from someone who looked like a doped creature screaming was not the best scenario I have in mind. And somewhere,e the whole scene of what may happen next of such an assault had its backlashes in my head. Police, blame game form those who are closest to you. Warnings that were always raised. A tight circle of despair and blame.
But anyway… I did not die. The man was taken away. They swore he would be blamed!!! he turned out to be one of the people who work in the cemetery. And sarcastically while he was assaulting me, he was filming threatening that he will distribute this like fire in the social media!!!
but again, this was not what made me rest my case…
It was another discussion that took place later under the camera. When a disputed Palestinian figure’s memorial site and burial was in the study. Addition to tombs, or removing the resemblance was a serious discussion among the group. I was reminded with al Qaeda when they took over the rule in Afghanistan and celebrated the destruction of the Buddhist millennia heritage site with pride!!