Mamilla’s face of intolerance: a park on a graveyard

Commencing with the beginning of the 1960’s, Israel apparently began “encroaching” on the Mamilla cemetery. Initially, a road was paved connecting Hillel St. and Ben Sira St. at the northern tip of the site. After that, the plot created to the north of this road was re-zoned, which, in 1976, led to the necessity of the re-parallelization scheme of the entire bloc, mentioned above. Some buildings were erected on this northern tip of the site, and the parking lot was established, with only the northern part of the parking lot involving groundbreaking and construction, with the southern part of the lot only being paved over, with no underground construction.[1]

Mamilla was originally established in 1890 just west of the Old City by Muslim and Christian Arabs but during the 1920s was inhabited by Jews as well. The Mammilla district was an important commercial area, site of the municipal buildings as well as the first post office outside the Old City walls.

As a result of the 1948 war,  heavy shelling left many buildings severely damaged and deserted; as a result, the neighborhood turned into a border area and suffered decay, becoming a home for the poor of Jerusalem. The King David Hotel and the YMCA at the edge of the district maintained some of the neighborhood’s prestige, however.

After the Six Day War in 1967, when the area became safe, residents were evacuated to other sectors so that a major overhaul of the community could be undertaken. Since 1990, Mammilla has developed into the site of many prestigious residential projects. The new projects, beginning with David’s Village and now King David’s Residence, the Alrov project with its promenade of cafes and stores, and the rebuilding of the famous Palace Hotel by the Reichman family have brought elegance and life back to the area.[2]

A bit further away there is the old Mamilla cemetery of the Arab nobles and the Mamilla Pool; a water reservoir dug by Pontius Pilate. During the development works, the workers came upon a burial cave holding hundreds of skulls and bones. It was adorned with a cross and the legend: ‘God alone knows their names.’ The Biblical Archaeology Review, published by the Jewish American Herschel Shanks, printed a long feature by the Israeli archaeologist Ronny Reich on this discovery.[3]

The dead were laid to their eternal rest in AD 614, the most terrible year in the history of Palestine until the Twentieth Century. The Scottish scholar, Adam Smith, wrote in his Historical Geography of the Holy Land: “until now, the terrible devastation of 614 is visible in the land, it could not be healed”.

In 614 local Palestinian Jews allied with their Babylonian co-religionists and assisted the Persians in their conquest of the Holy Land. 26,000 Jews participated in the onslaught. In the aftermath of the Persian victory, the Jews perpetrated a massive holocaust of the Gentiles of Palestine. They burned the churches and the monasteries, killed monks and priests, burned books. The beautiful basilica of Fishes and Loaves in Tabgha, the Ascension on the Mount of Olives, St Stephen opposite Damascus Gate and the Hagia Sion on Mt Zion are just at the top of the list of perished edifices. Indeed, very few churches survived the onslaught. The Great Laura of St Sabas, tucked away in the bottomless Ravine of Fire (Wadi an-Nar) was saved by its remote location and steep crags. The Church of the Nativity miraculously survived: when Jews commanded its destruction, the Persians balked. They perceived the Magi mosaic above the lintel as the portrait of Persian kings.

This devastation was not the worst crime. When Jerusalem surrendered to the Persians, thousands of local Christians became prisoners of war and were herded to the Mamilla Pool area. The Israeli archaeologist Ronny Reich writes:

They were probably sold to the highest bidder. According to some sources, the Christian captives at Mamilla Pond were bought by Jews and were then slain on the spot. It had come at length, the long-expected hour of triumph and vengeance; and the Jews did not neglect the opportunity. They washed away the profanation of the holy city in Christian blood. The Persians are said to have sold the miserable captives for money. The vengeance of the Jews was stronger than their avarice; not only did they not scruple to sacrifice their treasures in the purchase of these devoted bondsmen, they put to death all they had purchased at a lavish price. It was a rumor of the time that 90,000 perished.[4]

An eyewitness to the massacre, Strategius of St Sabas, was more vivid:

Thereupon the vile Jews… rejoiced exceedingly, because they detested the Christians, and they conceived an evil plan. As of old, they bought the Lord from the Jews with silver, so they purchased Christians out of the reservoir… How many souls were slain in the reservoir of Mamilla! How many perished of hunger and thirst! How many priests and the sword massacred monks! How many maidens, refusing their abominable outrages, the enemy gave over to death! How many parents perished on top of their children! How many of the people were brought up by the Jews and butchered, and became confessors of Christ! Who can count the multitude of the corpses of those who were massacred in Jerusalem!’

Strategies estimated the victims of the Holocaust at 66,000.[5]

The holocaust of the Christian Palestinians in year 614 is well documented, and you will find it described in older books. It has been censored out of new guides and history books. Elliott Horowitz explained, in his brilliant expose of the Jewish apologia how almost all Jewish historians suppressed the facts and re-wrote history. The cover-up continues even now. [6]

The Sixth Century was a century of strong Jewish influence, and it had more than its fair share of genocide. Just a few years before 614, in 610, the Jews of Antioch massacred Christians. The Jewish historian Graetz wrote:

[The Jews] fell upon their Christian neighbors and retaliated for the injuries which they had suffered; they killed all that fell into their hands, and threw their bodies into the fire, as the Christians had done to them a century before. They shamefully abused the Patriarch Anastasius, an object of particular hate and his body dragged through the streets before he was put to death.[7]

After the Arab conquest, a majority of Palestinian Jews accepted the message of the Messenger, as did the majority of Palestinian Christians, albeit for somewhat different reasons. For local Christians, Islam was a sort of Nestorian Christianity without icons, without Constantinople’s interference, and Greeks. (The Greek domination of the Palestinian church remains a problem for the local Christians to this very day.)

For ordinary local Jews, Islam was the return to the faith of Abraham and Moses. They had not been able to follow the intricacies of the new Babylonian faith anyway. The majority of them became Muslims and blended into the Palestinian population.

The Mamilla Cemetery and Palestinian view:

Mamilla Muslim Cemetery straddles both the one-time geographical seam line and the still-relevant cultural seam line between east and west Jerusalem. The cemetery has filled its current role for hundreds of years; it dates back to Byzantine Jerusalem when it housed both a church and the resting places of the monks who live there, and it gradually became one of the preferred burial grounds for Jerusalem’s Muslim community. Within the cemetery grounds are several impressive mausoleums for prominent regional Muslim sages, squat, domed buildings with beautiful Arabic calligraphy in bas-relief.

Rashid Khalidi writes:

“For over six centuries, many of my ancestors have been buried in a historic cemetery that holds the remains of some of the most prominent public figures and military leaders ever to live inside the Holy City of Jerusalem.  The Mamilla cemetery is said to contain the remains of Muslims who walked alongside the Prophet Muhammad, fought in the Crusades, and influenced the city over many centuries.  It is one of the largest remaining Muslim heritage sites in the Holy Land.”[8]

When Israel was established, much of the cemetery had fallen into considerable disrepair, and parts of it had been either paved over or made part of a public Park, schools, and a municipal parking garage was raised on cemetery grounds.

Graves uncovered there were removed so they would not impede construction. In the course of renovating the current-day Waldorf Astoria and during its construction, workers unearthed more graves. [9] There was no systematic excavation, research, or preservation in the process, and as a result, many graves were destroyed without trace or any record whatsoever. The cemetery shrunk from 200 dunams to 20, mostly surrounding the pool. In recent years the Jerusalem Municipality and the State of Israel have been developing building and landscaping plans for the area, the best known of which is the project to build a Museum of Tolerance on much of the cemetery’s grounds.

Archaeological digs at the site intended for the museum revealed hundreds of Muslim graves. Archaeologists responding to the findings recommended ceasing the excavations for construction and preserving the cemetery as a heritage site.

Gideon Sulimani, a senior archaeologist with the Antiquities Authority who carried out initial excavations, told Haaretz: “They call this an archaeological dig, but it’s a clearing-out, an erasure of the Muslim past. It is Jews against Arabs.”[10]

Rafi Greenberg, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University, was also critical. “In another country, they would devote years to such an excavation, and also build a special lab to analyze the results.” He accused the antiquities authority of betraying its role as the guardian of the country’s historical assets and instead promoting the “wellbeing of entrepreneurs.”[11]

Despite the public debate that ensued, at the end of the legal battle, Israel’s High Court approved the construction of the museum. Policy makers and the Israeli public do not view the cemetery as a significant heritage site testifying to the city’s rich genealogy, but as vacant and prime real estate. A combination of political and economic interests, ignorance, and disregard for the historical legacy has 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. A hasty archaeological dig, assembly-line style, was conducted at the site. Speedy work on a vast area made proper research and investigation impossible.[12] Some 1000 skeletons were taken out of the cemetery, and some areas were damaged, but today one can still find tombstones from many periods and a great variety of designs. Some of the graves have been identified as Crusader graves.

The excavation points to about 1000 years of burials in four strata. The styles and tombstones bear witness to the vibrant and colorful nature of Jerusalem’s Muslim communities over the past millennium. “Hundreds of sets of remains have been disinterred and carted off for disposal in unmarked mass graves in unknown locations, or worse. The Jerusalem municipality has enabled this effort with the approval of the Israeli Antiquities Authority. This project is a grotesque attempt to erase the well-established history of a continuous Muslim presence in the city that dates back over a millennium.”[13]

To show that these claims are patently false, one need only look to the Israeli Religious Affairs Ministry’s 1948 declaration of Mamilla as “one of the most prominent Muslim cemeteries, where seventy thousand Muslim warriors of [Saladin’s] armies are interred along with many Muslim scholars… Israel will always know to protect and respect this site.”  As recently as 1986, in response to a UNESCO investigation regarding Israel’s development projects on the location, the Israeli government stated, “no plan exists for the deconsecrating of the site… the site and its tombs are to be safeguarded.”[14]

Complexity, double standards and radicalism

It’s no wonder, however, that a similar case exists not far from Mammilla. Just as the large, famous, ancient Muslim cemetery in Mammilla is in the heart of Jewish-Israeli Jerusalem; the large, important, ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives is in the center of the Muslim-Palestinian city. The two cemeteries can be seen as mirror images of each other.[15]

In the 1960s, Israel destroyed part of the Mammilla cemetery and built a parking lot on it. During those same years, the Jordanians destroyed part of the Jewish cemetery to build a gas station. Over the past decade, workers have returned to both sites. On the Mount of Olives, a major project is underway to restore the part of the cemetery that was destroyed. At Mammilla, excavations have been undertaken to remove skeletons to make room for the Museum of Tolerance. Both moves are a mistake.[16]

As much as “The gravestones on the Mount of Olives are a fiction. They are a theater set off a cemetery because no one knows where the people are buried; fragments of their headstones lay in piles left by the Jordanian bulldozers. But removing the skeletons from the Mammilla cemetery is also a mistake.”[17] The other side in the fight over the cemetery is the Islamic Movement’s the Islamic Movement has been renewing and renovating the remaining grave sites. Since many tombstones have been moved over the years, and quite a few have been found lying around the place, the Movement is working to attach stones and inscriptions to the graves. This work continues though there is no way of knowing if the stones are assigned to the correct graves.

Despite the rushed excavations, work on the museum has yet to begin. It has been delayed by the departure of Frank Gehry, the project’s world-famous architect, and financial troubles caused by the global economic downturn.[18]

With all the debates and the historical facts and reality. Israel doesn’t seize to continue with its discussions and claiming another side of the story in mobilizing the Israeli public and the international towards another version.

Rabbi Marvin Hier is the Founder, and Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance describes the issue as follows:

“It is the epitome of chutzpah and a double standard for those who were prepared to exhume the remains of the entire Mammilla Cemetery in order to build a bank and factory, to tell the Simon Wiesenthal Center not to build a Museum of Tolerance on a parking lot that the Supreme Court of Israel unanimously concluded: “For almost 50 years the compound has not been a part of the cemetery, both in the normative sense and in the practical sense…. During all those years no one raised any claim, on even one occasion, that the planning procedures violated the sanctity of the site, or that they were contrary to the law as a result of the historical and religious uniqueness of the place….  For decades this area was not regarded as a cemetery by the general public or by the Muslim community….  No one denied this position. “In fact, the entire area of the Mammilla Cemetery had long been regarded by Muslim religious leaders as ‘Mundras’ (abandoned and without sanctity).[19]

And he would continue:

“…Hence, they spun fables – they would take media to the adjacent tombstones, pose for photographs, and pretend that that is where the Museum was being built.  Then they argued that the Muslim community knew all along that the nearby car park that we’re building on was a part of the Mammilla Cemetery.  For 50 years, Muslims, as well as people of all faiths parked cars there – you don’t park cars on cemeteries.  Next, when some bones were found, they said that under Islamic law, bones could not be re-interred.  Now we see that in 1945, the Supreme Muslim Council itself was prepared to exhume all the bones from the actual Mammilla Cemetery just to build a business center.[20]

The last calls went as far as claiming that dozens of new tombs are being added to the ancient cemetery, but no one is buried beneath them. Jewish observers and sources in the Jerusalem Municipality started claiming the graves as say “pretended-graves” that are simply a Muslim project for grabbing land.

In an investigation held by the Israeli channel 7. Interviews revealed to the Israeli public that trucks, tractors and other heavy machines come and go, dumping building materials, which workers then shape into Muslim-style tombstones with no one buried beneath them. Dozens of these faux-graves are being created on the eastern end of the park, in row after row, where only bare earth and grassy areas existed until now. Some of the fake tombs have been completed, and others are in the process of being built.[21]

Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem David Hadari heard about the matter from Arutz Sheva and was dumbstruck by the news. “I am in a state of total shock,” he said. “Arutz Sheva has discovered the naked truth, and I intend to immediately turn to the Municipality Director to make use of all of the municipal enforcement arms so that while honoring the Muslim’s deceased, we will not accept Muslim fictions that are just intended to capture more land in eastern Jerusalem.”    MK Nisim Ze’ev (Shas) said the matter was a far-reaching one. “The Jerusalem Municipality is allowing complete abandonment of territory and assets,” he said. “The Arabs are trying to conquer the Land of Israel in every possible way. If we do not wake up to their conniving ways, we will find ourselves before a gaping chasm. We need to plow the area and take down all of the fictitious tombs.”[22]

However, according to Haaretz, the antiquities authority oversaw a five-month excavation at the museum site that was carried out in record time as three teams did shifts around the clock amid great secrecy to excavate graves and rebury the remains nearby.

No Palestinians were employed, and all workers had to sign a confidentiality agreement. They were searched for any electronic devices, including phones, before entering the site, were not allowed to leave during their shift, and were watched at all times by security cameras.

The measures, the Haaretz report suggested, were designed to ensure that no word leaked out about a large number of graves found there or that promises to the courts about treating the graves with the utmost respect were being violated.[23]

“Peace is the best thought of not as a single or simple good, such as an absence of war or violent conflict, but instead as a complex and variable process. Longer lasting peace involves aspects of legitimacy, political participation, social integration and economic development. The Mamilla case is a mere reflection of how peace is still far away from being achieved. On the other hand, the Israeli government’s pretentious merge of society doesn’t fool observers. Hence it still affects mere spectacles and children, who might think there is some harmony or equality. But even if this was achieved, one cannot define peace as the achievement of economic justice or social harmony without losing an understanding of peace as something different from and, possibly, less demanding than those other worthwhile goals.

The fundamental connection between the levels of peace is the principle that conflict should be resolved, or managed, as close to its source as is feasible, whether on the factory floor or in the local community”. [24]

Censored history creates a distorted picture of reality. Recognition of the past is a necessary step on the way to sanity. The guardians of the Jewish conscience, Amos Oz, and others have objected to the destruction of ancient remains. No, not of the tomb at Mammilla. They ran a petition against the keepers of the Haram a-Sharif mosque compound for digging a ten-inch trench to lay a new pipe. It did not matter to them that in an op-ed in Haaretz, the leading Israeli archaeologist denied any relevance of the mosque-works to science. They still described it as ‘a barbaric act of Muslims aimed at the obliteration of the Jewish heritage of Jerusalem.’ [25]

Both conflict and change are a normal part of human life. Conflict is continuously present in human relationships, and the fabric of these relationships is constantly adapting and changing. Before discussing practical approaches to conflict transformation, it is important to understand the link between conflict and change.

After the great destruction undergone by the cemetery, it is imperative to preserve and cultivate what remains of it. Integrating the cemetery into Jerusalem’s urban fabric would give back something of the city’s Muslim past to its residents, thus strengthening all of them – regardless of religion or belief systems. The cemetery’s location creates a unique opportunity for the city’s Israeli residents to discover and learn something about Jerusalem’s great Muslim past, and to recognize this history as part of the regional heritage that belongs to us all. The continuity of burials in the cemetery teaches a great deal about the city’s evolution over the millennium. It is vital to conduct proper preservation here and put up signposts that will allow the presentation of one of Jerusalem’s intriguing burial grounds to the wider public

It is important to acknowledge the common patterns and impact of social conflict. And later recognize the need to identify what our values and intentions may be as we actively seek to respond, intervene, and create change. As long as we are still unable or identify with the different dimensions that affect conflicts.

The personal dimension referred to changes effected in and desired for the individual. This includes the cognitive, emotional, perceptual, and spiritual aspects of human experience over the course of the conflict. From a narrative perspective, transformation suggests that individuals are affected by clashes in both negative and positive ways.

The original dimension highlights the underlying causes of conflict and stresses the ways in which social structures, organizations, and institutions are built, sustained, and changed by conflict. It is about the ways people make and organize social, economic, and institutional relationships to meet basic human needs and provide access to resources and decision-making. At the descriptive level transformation refers to the analysis of social conditions that give rise to conflict and the way that conflict affects social structural change in existing social, political and economic

The cultural dimension refers to the ways that conflict changes the patterns of group life as well as the ways that culture affects the development of processes to handle and respond to conflict. At a detailed level, transformation seeks to understand how conflict affects and changes cultural patterns of a group, and how those accumulated and shared patterns modify the way people in a given context understand and respond to conflict. Prescriptively, transformation seeks to uncover the cultural patterns that contribute to violence in a given context and to identify and build on existing cultural resources and mechanisms for handling conflict.

We can easily find ourselves responding to a myriad of issues without a clear understanding of what our responses add up to. We can solve lots of problems without necessarily creating any significant constructive social change at a deeper level.

Until both sides are able or identify with such dimensions, and recognize the rights and the wrong doing . Until each side is able or genuinely accept the presence and the existence of the other. Until each side can forgive and face the past without censoring or denying this conflict will still be far away from the horizon of being resolved.


“The Vengeance of the Jews was Stronger than their Avarice.” Jewish Social Studies 4. the university of Indiana, ed.

What to do with the graves. Haaretz, 2010.

history of the Jews (Berlin: ARani), 1998.

Arutz Sheva (Channel. “Exclusive: Arabs Faking Graves to Grab Jerusalem Land.

A.Nagar. “Jerusalem Mamilla.” Hadashot Arkheologiyot, 2010.

Arieh, YosheaBen. The Ad Hoc Committee Against the Construction of the Tolerance Museum. http\\, 2009.

Bloomfield, David. Transformation, Social Change, and Conflict. Edited by Berghof Handbook Dialogue Series. Vol. 5. 2006.

Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas. Edited by Cambridge University.

Desecration, Jonathan CookMamilla Cemetery. ( 2010.

Halper, Jeff. Between Redemption and Revival. Westview Press, 1991.

Hasson, Nir. Museum of Tolerance Special Report. Haaretz, 2010.

Hier, Marvin. “Mamilla Cemetery Chutzpah and the Museum of Tolerance.” 2 2010.

Khalidi, Rashid. “tolerance of Whom?” The Daily Beast, April 2012.

Milman, Henry Hart. History of the Jews (Oxford University).

Oz, Amos. Here and There is the Land of Israel.

Smith, George Adam. Historical Geography of the Holy Land. Glasgow, 1896.

The report, Woodstock. An Ethic for Enemies: Forgiveness in Politics. Woodstock Theological Center, 1996.


[2] ( id=53)

[3] “The Vengeance of the Jews Was Stronger Than Their Avarice”: Modern Historians and the Persian Conquest of Jerusalem in 614 (published in Jewish Social Studies Volume 4, Number 2, Indiana University)

[4] Henry Hart Milman, History of the Jews, Oxford University

[5] ibid

[6] “The Vengeance of the Jews Was Stronger Than Their Avarice”: Modern Historians and the Persian Conquest of Jerusalem in 614 (published in Jewish Social Studies Volume 4, Number 2, Indiana University)

[7] Geschichte der Juden von den ältesten Zeiten bis Auf die Gegenwart: 11 vols. (History of the Jews; 11853–75), import. And ext. ed., Leipzig: Leiner, 1900, reprint of the edition of last hand (1900): Berlin: Errani, 1998,

[8] Rashid Khalidi: Tolerance of whom? The Daily Beast – 10 April 2012

[9] A. Nagar, “Jerusalem Mamilla,” Hadashot Arkheologiyot, 122, 2010

[10] Mamilla Cemetery Desecration – Round Two By Jonathan Cook in Jerusalem, – 13 June 2010

[11] ibid

[12] Nir Hasson, “Museum of Tolerance Special Report,” Haaretz, May 18, 2010

[13] Rashid Khalidi: Tolerance of whom? The Daily Beast – 10 April 2012

[14] ibid

[15] Nir Hasson: Mamilla Cemetery – What to do with the graves?

[16] ibid

[17] ibid

[18] Mamilla Cemetery Desecration – Round Two By Jonathan Cook in Jerusalem, – 13 June 2010

[19] RABBI MARVIN HIER, Mamilla Cemetery Chutzpah and the Museum of Tolerance, February 19, 2010 israel/article/mamilla_cemetery_chutzpah_and_the_museum_of_tolerance_20100219/

[20] ibid

[21] Exclusive: Arabs Faking Graves to Grab Jerusalem Land

Muslim land-grabbing creativity knows no bounds: in central Jerusalem, Arabs are building a fictitious cemetery where no one is buried. Arutz7

[22] ibid

[23] Mamilla Cemetery Desecration – Round Two By Jonathan Cook in Jerusalem, – 13 June 2010

[24] David Cortright, Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas Cambridge University –

[25] Haaretz, 28 April 2001

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