A museum of WHAT?

I’ve been working so hard on my Africa book that I had missed all the reports that the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center has started building a Museum of “Tolerance” on the site of a Muslim cemetery in West Jerusalem.
The Independent’s Donald Macintyre reported Friday that

    Skeletons are being removed from the site of an ancient Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem to make way for a $150m (£86m) “museum of tolerance” being built for the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre.
    Palestinians have launched a legal battle to stop the work at what was the city’s main Muslim cemetery. The work is to prepare for the construction of a museum which seeks the promotion of “unity and respect among Jews and between people of all faiths”.

This Reuters report in HaAretz says:

    A petition to halt construction of the museum had been presented to the Supreme Court….
    The discovery of human remains during construction in Israel is highly sensitive, particularly to Jews and Muslims who have strict rules for burial of the dead.
    A spokesman for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights group behind the Museum of Tolerance, said… “The land wasn’t a cemetery when we got it from city hall and the government and we are waiting to know the (court’s) decision.”
    Muslim leaders say the parking lot on which the museum is planned is above remnants of a Muslim cemetery on land owned by the Muslim Waqf, a religious trust, and confiscated by Israel.
    California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled a cornerstone of the museum in 2004. The $150 million facility will promote “the vital need for tolerance in Israel and around the globe,” the Wiesenthal Center said on its Web site.

Gershon Baskin, the admirable Israeli who is co-director of the Israeli-Palestinian Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) issued a statement today that said:

    the issue is not a legal one. It is an issue of tolerance, sensibilities, morality, and mutual respect.
    Imagine the outrage if the Palestinians were building a Museum of Tolerance (or anything else) on what was once a Jewish Cemetery. Would it matter to anyone if the cemetery was not active and in use since 1948 or that it was being done “legally”?
    This project has no right to exist if it creates the outrage of the millions of Muslims in this shared land and of the hundreds of thousands of them in the Holy City. The issue is now before the High Court in Israel, but it is not a legal issue. A Jewish moral voice must be sounded loud that will resonate throughout the Land against this outrageous blindness. The Chief Rabbis of Israel must speak out against the desecration of this Muslim Cemetery. All of the citizens of Jerusalem should raise their voice against this project. Jews, Muslims and Christians alike should respect each others’ sacred spaces – without this there can never be peace in this Holy City or in this Holy Land.
    We call on the Government of Israel to stop this madness – who could ever imagine a Museum of Tolerance built on such bad foundations?!

Well said!
In addition to appealing to the Israeli government, I believe those of us here in the US should make our voices on this issue heard by the Wiesenthal Center itself– contact details here.
I must admit, as I come to the end of my work on the Africa book, I am looking at the issue of public memorial spaces and museums– how and when they help to build a greater sense of shared humanity, and how and when they are used (as they quite frequently are) for quite contrary purposes. Reading these news accounts sent a shiver down my spine.
To have construction workers lifting Muslim bodies out of an ancient Jerusalem cemetery, quite without any permission from the Muslim Waqf (religious trust) authorities concerned– and to do so in the name of “tolerance”?? This almost beggars belief.

85 thoughts on “A museum of WHAT?

  1. WarrenW

    A museum of tolerance on a gravesite. If you invented it for a movie or a joke, they’d say it was unrealistic.

  2. edq

    I guess the message here is Palestianians don’t count. So what else is new? The larger irony is that so-called Jewish civil rights groups have dedicated their organizations to defaming and squashing Arabs or Muslims.

  3. Henry James

    Off-topic, I do declare!
    Mea culpa. When I think about museums, it is about culture meaning art, historical and ethnographical institutions, not “tolerance” places. What about love, friendship or politeness musems? 😉

  4. WmPeele

    “What about love, friendship or politeness museums?”
    come to think of it, many Mideast nations, not just Israel, could do worse than establish a LOVE for sectarian minorities living in their midst museum, a FRIENDSHIP for Danes and other foreigners with a well deserved reputation for tolerance (and a track record of funding the Palestine Authority) museum, a POLITENESS toward the values (like freedom of expression, the sanctity of human life, womens rights) of other cultures even when their specific application by a misguided individual may on occasion give offense museum.

  5. Henry James

    come to think of it, many Mideast nations, not just Israel, could do worse than establish a LOVE for sectarian minorities living in their midst museum, a FRIENDSHIP for Danes and other foreigners with a well deserved reputation for tolerance (and a track record of funding the Palestine Authority) museum, a POLITENESS toward the values (like freedom of expression, the sanctity of human life, womens rights) of other cultures even when their specific application by a misguided individual may on occasion give offense museum.
    Can you forget about I/P just for a moment? My point is, the very idea of “freedom”, “tolerance”, “love”, “friendship”, “politeness”, achivements of the lefthanded museums is absurd. The nomenclature of reasonable museum themes is well known and there is absolutely no need to invent new ones.

  6. Henry James

    In fact, Communists used to have ideological museums: history of revolution, Lenin’s, Mao’s, etc. This museum of “tolerance” is exactly the same thing – regardless of the Arabs.

  7. Shirin

    This is, of course, particularly interesting in light of the decades of Israeli/Zionist harping on the post-1948 alleged desecration by the Jordanians of a Jewish cemetery in the territory the Israelis failed to grab. It seems not only is Jewish blood far more valuable than that of Palestinians, so are Jewish gravestones – not to mention corpses.

  8. Shirin

    This is, of course, particularly interesting in light of the decades of Israeli/Zionist harping on the post-1948 alleged desecration by the Jordanians of a Jewish cemetery in the territory the Israelis failed to grab. It seems not only is Jewish blood far more valuable than that of Palestinians, so are Jewish gravestones – not to mention corpses.

  9. JES

    This is, of course, particularly interesting in light of the decades of Israeli/Zionist harping on the post-1948 alleged desecration by the Jordanians of a Jewish cemetery in the territory the Israelis failed to grab.
    Completely different. The Mount of Olives cemetary was still being used as a cemetary when the Jordanians “grabbed” it in 1948 and desecrated the graves there. The cemetary in question in this case had not been used as a cemetery for centuries and, according to the article in Haaretz, it appears that its location wasn’t even known until the excavations for the building began. Further, the remains found there are being treated exactly as are those – including Jewish remains – found at other construction sites. They are handed over to religious authorities for reburial.

  10. Helena

    JES, tell me how you know it hadn’t been used as a cemetery “for centuries”? If it was waqf land in 1948– which I believe it was–then it should never have been developed, period.
    The site of the proposed US Embassy in Jerusalem– that bought-and-paid-for members of the US Congress keep harping on about– is also waqf land.
    Btw, I am really looking forward to reading Michael Fischbach’s forthcoming book on the properties claimed by Palestinian refugees and Palestinian institutions inside Israel. Palestinian cemeteries and places of worship are, of course, part of this claim. But their particularly sacred nature gives them an entire additional level of complication. They cannot be settled merely as property claims. And indeed, there are Muslim and Christian institutions inside Israel that can be considered heirs to these sacred properties (as well as other, more commercial waqf properties.)

  11. JES

    JES, tell me how you know it hadn’t been used as a cemetery “for centuries”? If it was waqf land in 1948– which I believe it was–then it should never have been developed, period.
    Because that’s what was said in the original story (from AP) published in Haaretz last week. Although that story is apparently no longer available online, the relevant portions are reproduced in the blog posting that Vadim referenced, where the PA-appointed head of the Muslim Waqf stated that:
    “There should be a complete cessation of work on the cemetery because it is sacred for the Muslims,” Sabri told The Associated Press. The Waqf, the Muslim council in Jerusalem that Sabri oversees, was not consulted on the dig, he said. The cemetery was in use for 15 decades and friends of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad are buried there, Sabri said.
    You do the maths, and if you have evidence to the contrary, please do let us know.
    Irrespective of this fact, I was responding to Shirin’s comparison with the destruction visted by the Jordanians on the Jewish cemetary on the Mount of Olives. The implication is that the Wiesenthal Center and the municipality intentionally violated a cemetary, which does not appear to be the case.
    Just by way of comparison, Muslim and Christian cemetaries have been scrupulously preserved within Western Jerusalem for decades, even in the city center on what would otherwise be prime commercial property. (And Helena, this comes from someone who knows how to get from Shuq Mahaneh Yehuda to Emek Refaim!)

  12. Jonathan Edelstein

    The implication is that the Wiesenthal Center and the municipality intentionally violated a cemetary, which does not appear to be the case.
    I agree that the violation was unintentional. Now that the site is known to be a cemetery, however, it’s time to find another place to put the museum, regardless of original intentions. At the very least, construction should stop until the courts can rule on the issue.
    (James Davila raises the issue of unused Egyptian cemeteries being cleared to build the ring road around Cairo. Somehow, though, I don’t think the Jerusalem waqf will be as willing to give a favorable ruling as al-Azhar was to accommodate the Egyptian government.)

  13. Helena

    here is another case, I think, where “intentionality”, an attribute of actions that is focused on obsessively by many in the west, is of less importance than something like “due regard for the opinions and feelings of others.” Let us assume that the Wiesenthal Center people didn’t know it was a cemetery. Did they know it was one of those properties that Israeli law– and only Israeli law, no-one else’s– considers to be “absentee property” and therefore free for the development by institutions duly registered in Israel? Did they know it was waqf land? Their property people must surely have done a little research on the status of the property in question…
    Well, regardless, they went ahead. When their workers discovered the first human remains (or tombstones, or whatever other indicative artefacts), what did they do? You can imagine that if they had suspected for a moment that these were Jewish remains, they’d have brought the rabbis and the members of the haredi memorial societies in in an instant, and that further construction work would have stopped at that point.
    Apparently that did not happen– meaning they must have had reason to believe the remains were not jewish– therefore– ha’yallah, carry on digging, chaps, or something of that sort?
    All very disturbing indeed.
    Also a little disturbing but very notable, the utterances of those people in this discussion who do nothing to express their own disgust of these events or compassion with the feelings of those whose sentiments have been violated by them, or to call on the relevant authorities to halt the digging/construction forthwith– but who have hurried instead to try to excuse or minimize the impact of what has occurred, or to raise tu-quoque red herrings.
    The reaction of such individuals– and we can all see plainly who you are– makes the principled stance of people like Gershon Baskin even more admirable.

  14. Jonathan Edelstein

    Also a little disturbing but very notable, the utterances of those people in this discussion who do nothing to express their own disgust of these events or compassion with the feelings of those whose sentiments have been violated by them, or to call on the relevant authorities to halt the digging/construction forthwith– but who have hurried instead to try to excuse or minimize the impact of what has occurred, or to raise tu-quoque red herrings.
    Like I said, Helena, the proper thing to do was to move the museum as soon as the site was found to be a cemetery. On the other hand, when certain commenters start talking about “so-called Jewish civil rights groups” being dedicated to “defaming and squashing Arabs or Muslims” or about the relative value placed on Jewish gravestones by “Israeli/Zionist harping,” then a reasonable person might say that they’ve opened the freakin’ door. Once blanket condemnations like that start coming into the discussion, then defensive responses aren’t exactly unreasonable.
    Let there be no mistake about it: I think this construction is a disgrace. The SWC should have stopped building as soon as graves were discovered, and in the absence of such decency, I’m hoping for a court injunction sooner rather than later. At the same time, it’s also disgraceful – not to mention disrespectful to the dead – to use this incident to make unfounded generalizations about “Jewish civil rights organizations” as such.
    And I don’t think this is a case where such generalizations are warranted. Keep in mind that we’re talking about a country where an official panel just recommended moving a prison because an ancient church was found on the grounds. Not a synagogue, mind you, a church. So maybe an appeal to the decency and good sense of the government, or the courts, might work better in this case than flights of verbal fancy about how all those Jewish organizations want to stick it to the Muslims.
    Let’s leave out the tu quoque all around and concentrate on the main point: how to preserve this cemetery.

  15. Joshua

    Personally, I agree with Jonathan. The museum should be built somewhere else.
    Still, Helena’s sense of outrage always seems to hit one or two specific targets, doesn’t it?
    All very disturbing indeed.

  16. Jonathan Edelstein

    BTW, those interested in writing to the appropriate authorities can contact the Jerusalem Municipality, the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Interior Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office. I would advise politeness.
    I wonder if the Waqf might consider getting together with Orthodox Jewish groups on this issue. There have apparently been protests when unused Jewish cemeteries were similarly cleared to make room for construction, which tends to suggest that this is an issue of general administrative insensitivity rather than a specifically anti-Arab or anti-Muslim policy.

  17. Dominic

    Good old Jonathan. Always willing to see the best in the situation.
    Yes Arnold Schwarzenegger is guilty of administrative insensitivity all right.

  18. Helena

    Jonathan, thanks for those links. Great. And yes, definitelky folks should be polite in their contacts.
    (Which brings me to your escalatory and silly charge against me there, Joshua. Where did I express any ‘outrage’ about this? Maybe your emotional vocabulary isn’t sufficiently attuned to distinctions between different feelings. But for you to claim I expressed outrage is just plain wrong. Cool it a bit. Exit from the defensive crouch you seem to have been locked in for a while now. Do something constructive like contacting some of those folks Jonathan mentioned, and then go enjoy the fine weather a bit. But please don’t come back here with more silly provocations and pugnacity. Life is far too valuable to spend time doing that.)

  19. JES

    here is another case, I think, where “intentionality”, an attribute of actions that is focused on obsessively by many in the west, is of less importance than something like “due regard for the opinions and feelings of others.” Let us assume that the Wiesenthal Center people didn’t know it was a cemetery. Did they know it was one of those properties that Israeli law– and only Israeli law, no-one else’s– considers to be “absentee property” and therefore free for the development by institutions duly registered in Israel? Did they know it was waqf land? Their property people must surely have done a little research on the status of the property in question…
    I’m sorry, but this is just an attempt to sidestep the issue (which was Shirin’s uncalled for comparison with the Mount of Olives). Intentions are what we’re talking about here, mostly among people with Western modes of logic, and in a predominantly Western forum, despite the proclivity to try and explain things away through some sort of advanced cultural relativism.
    Helena, you make a lot of assumptions about what the Wiesenthal Center did or did not know. Are you certain that this was even known to be waqf property prior to the excavations? There is certainly no indication that it was in any of the articles cited. (Hamas, of course, claims that all of Palestine is waqf!) Further, it is not even clear where exactly the construction is taking place.
    You can imagine that if they had suspected for a moment that these were Jewish remains, they’d have brought the rabbis and the members of the haredi memorial societies in in an instant, and that further construction work would have stopped at that point.
    Here, I’m sorry again, but you are just plain wrong. Over the past decades, there have been literally dozens of cases where construction projects in the Jerusalem area have unearthed human remains. The bones have generally been removed by Department of Antiquities archeologists, and then handed over to the relevant religious authorities for reburial – whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish. There has generally been no prior consultation with rabbis, and, in general construction has not been voluntarily stopped, except for the work of the archeologists. (BTW, I think that this is what happens in most modern countries when human remains are uncovered during construction.) As pointed out in the Haaretz article that you linked, this has resulted on occasion in riots by haredim on more than one occasion.
    Apparently that did not happen– meaning they must have had reason to believe the remains were not jewish– therefore– ha’yallah, carry on digging, chaps, or something of that sort?
    I think that the author of the above statement should do some serious thinking about “due regard for the opinions and feelings of others.” I find it extremely insulting.
    In the meantime, everyone is doing what the law requires at this point. The articles don’t really indicate what the status of the grave removals is, or whether the construction has continued at this point. The mufti has taken the suit to the Supreme Court, which is what people do in a modern, civilized society. And the developers have said that they will abide by the court’s decision on the matter.
    Also a little disturbing but very notable, the utterances of those people in this discussion who do nothing to express their own disgust of these events or compassion with the feelings of those whose sentiments have been violated by them, or to call on the relevant authorities to halt the digging/construction forthwith– but who have hurried instead to try to excuse or minimize the impact of what has occurred, or to raise tu-quoque red herrings.
    And as for this final slur… Well I have expressed no disgust precisely because the matter is neither clear nor settled, so I’m not sure who or what I should be disgusted with at this time (which I think is a hell of a lot more appropriate reaction than hysterically assuming this or that before a few more facts are known). Further, I have shown as much compassion as some people here – and we all know who they are – showed for the feelings of the settlers from Gush Katif a few short months ago when they removed their own parents, spouses and children’s remains. And, finally, the original “red herring” dragged out here was the baldly false comparison with the Mount of Olives Jewish cemetery, which is what I responded to in the first place.

  20. Jonathan Edelstein

    Always willing to see the best in the situation.
    I don’t think there is a “best” in this situation, but if old Jewish cemeteries are being treated the same way (and they apparently are), then it’s a bureaucracy problem rather than a discrimination problem.

  21. JES

    Jonathan,
    I don’t think that you fully realize the sheer density of the archeology of Jerusalem. There tombs literally scattered in every neighborhood of the city dating back thousands of years.
    In cases where graves can be preserved, in situ, all efforts are made to do so. This is true whether they are Christian, Muslim, Jewish or Canaanite.
    In other cases, they are moved, because to leave them in place would mean to stop all development in the city.
    Finally, I will add one note here. To a large extent, much of the haredi demonstrations and rioting have apparently had little to do with “compassion” for the long dead. Reinterment is fully acceptible in Judaism as it is, I believe, in Islam, and the Dept. of Antiquities authorities have, as far as I can see, been very accomodating. It is quite clear that the haredi demonstrations and riots are organized and carried out, in large measure, for purposes of political power.

  22. Joshua

    Henry, what’s wrong with the museum in theory? It is essentially a historical project, with the name “Museum of Tolerance” because that is what the SWC has worked so hard to foster. The center’s museum in Los Angeles is very highly regarded. It as important an educational or cultural institution as any other museum.
    Helena, I think “outrage” is an accurate description of your message’s tone. From the histrionic title (with the cardinal internet sin of all caps), to the one sided presentation – not taking into account the museum’s position, to your follow up in the comments of how “disturbed” you were when people tried to “excuse” “minimize” what you had already concluded was improper conduct (rather than recognizing that they may have information which you did not).

  23. edq

    Jonathan,
    What is the record of American Jewish civil rights groups towards the Palestinians? For example, when confronted with the abuses which happened during the first intifada how did they respond? A principled response would be to support human rights regardless of who are the victims. Instead groups like the ADL have labeled people who criticize Israel’s human rights record as “anti-semites”. That disqualifies them as civil rights groups as far as I am concerned.
    Secondly, there is a double standard in the U.S. as far as how Israelis and Palestinians are viewed. Israeli deaths, for example, lie inside the boundaries of discussion while Palestinian deaths are outside. Since I do not consider these boundaries reasonable I will not adhere to them. This includes topics such as Israel’s apartheid policies or the very unprincipled behavior of major Jewish “civil rights” groups.
    Concerning the specific topic of this museum I think what has happened is very bad when considered against the background of this conflict. In 1948 about 400 Palestinian villages were eradicated by the zionists and their inhabitants expelled. Not just individual lives but an entire society was liquidated. Since then Israel has done its best to suppress the Palestinian identity. For example, it used to be illegal for Palestinians to possess a map of pre-1948 Palestine. To me excaveting these graves feels like another example of Israeli contempt for the Palestinian identity. I am glad you have sent an email objecting to the museum.

  24. Helena

    Henry, my view on public museums, for what it’s worth, is that they ALL, without exception, have a didactic content/intent. Even, let’s say, a dadaist art museum (though the content/intent there might be harder to read.) Take an edifice like the British Museum, or the National Museum of American History, or any other museum-like institution you might care to name… They all have missions.
    Some of these missions are more, some less benign. But I’m puzzled what it is about a “Museum of Tolerance”, in particular, that attracts your ire?
    Of course, there is a whole critique of the theory of “tolerance”, as advocated by many institutions here in the US, on the grounds that it is often insufferably patronizing, noblesse-obligey, and distancing… For example, might it not be better to call such an institution a ‘Museum/center for the celebration of cultural diversity!’ rather than a museum that (somewhat sniffily) urges the visitors to “tolerate” other people?
    Anyway, do clarify: is it the ‘museum of X’ part of the project that you object to, or the ‘tolerance’ part of it?
    And meantime, what more can we do to halt the desecration of this particular gravesite?

  25. Henry James

    Henry, what’s wrong with the museum in theory? It is essentially a historical project, with the name “Museum of Tolerance” because that is what the SWC has worked so hard to foster.
    What I take for history is basically political, economical and cultural history. Religious history is something completely different.
    Anyway, there is simply no place for museum of tolerance in this scheme, that’s pure ideology! IMO, it belongs to exactly the same realm as Kim’s, Mao’s and Lenin’s mausoleums.

  26. Henry James

    And meantime, what more can we do to halt the desecration of this particular gravesite?
    I agree completely that cemeteries need to be left alone, this is an axiom! IMO, only Muslims can decide to demolish the old Muslim cemetery if they want to. Same with other religions.
    Henry, my view on public museums, for what it’s worth, is that they ALL, without exception, have a didactic content/intent. Even, let’s say, a dadaist art museum (though the content/intent there might be harder to read.) Take an edifice like the British Museum, or the National Museum of American History, or any other museum-like institution you might care to name… They all have missions.
    IMO, all these museums are perfectly OK, they promote real culture.
    But I’m puzzled what it is about a “Museum of Tolerance”, in particular, that attracts your ire?
    IMO, intercultural tolerance and intolerance are part of history. In fact, the very notion of tolerance changes with time. For example, in the 18c, “educated” slavery should be considered as perfectly tolerant! Another example is that modern Catholic Church does not condemn the Inquisition.
    Anyway, a small section of general historical museum can take care of this.
    Of course, there is a whole critique of the theory of “tolerance”, as advocated by many institutions here in the US, on the grounds that it is often insufferably patronizing, noblesse-obligey, and distancing…
    IMO, once we forget that belief systems depend on time and place, the resulting approach is completely ideological. Was Shakespeare “tolerant”? Not in modern terms! Another classical example is Melville’s “Benito Cereno”.
    For example, might it not be better to call such an institution a ‘Museum/center for the celebration of cultural diversity!’ rather than a museum that (somewhat sniffily) urges the visitors to “tolerate” other people?
    I really don’t think this will change much.

  27. Joshua

    “What is the record of American Jewish civil rights groups towards the Palestinians?”
    I suppose they vary. The ADL has issued dozens of condemnations of racist statements and actions by Israeli officials or public figures.
    “For example, when confronted with the abuses which happened during the first intifada how did they respond?” A principled response would be to support human rights regardless of who are the victims.”
    Your formula begs the question. The fact that they did not reach the conclusion that you have does not mean that they are not without principals.
    “Instead groups like the ADL have labeled people who criticize Israel’s human rights record as “anti-semites”.”
    As noted above, the ADL itself has criticized Israeli figures on numerous occasions.
    “That disqualifies them as civil rights groups as far as I am concerned.”
    Somehow, I don’t think they are waiting for your seal of approval.
    “Secondly, there is a double standard in the U.S. as far as how Israelis and Palestinians are viewed. Israeli deaths, for example, lie inside the boundaries of discussion while Palestinian deaths are outside.”
    Not really, I live in the U.S. and regularly read reports of Palestinian deaths.
    “Since I do not consider these boundaries reasonable I will not adhere to them.”
    Good. I don’t know anyone else who does.
    “This includes topics such as Israel’s apartheid policies or the very unprincipled behavior of major Jewish “civil rights” groups.”
    What these topice have to do with the “double standard” between Israeli and Palestinian deaths isn’t apparent, but you don’t seem to be up for making a coherent comment, so that’s ok. In any event, Israel does not practice “apartheid policies,” and your racist generalization of “major Jewish civil rights groups” has been proven false.
    Finally, as to the graves. The Muslims that were buried there were apparently done so for centuries before there was anything resembling a “Palestinian identity.” The rest of your comment is the typical revisionist propaganda that need not be debunked tonight.

  28. edq

    “Your formula begs the question. The fact that they did not reach the conclusion that you have does not mean that they are not without principals. ”
    Perhaps, Joshua, you do not agree that Israel has violated the human rights of Palestinians. If one does assume this then attempts by the ADL to thwart protests against abuses shows that it places ethnic solidarity above human rights.
    “What these topice have to do with the “double standard” between Israeli and Palestinian deaths isn’t apparent”
    I was referring to a general double standard with the attention given to deaths as an example. In general the rights of Palestinians are a non-issue in the U.S. while Israeli rights are a big deal. I see the U.S. ambivalence toward Israel’s apartheid policies as part of this pattern.
    “you don’t seem to be up for making a coherent comment”
    It is true I have not documented my claims, if that is what you mean. On the other hand, how many of your claims have you documented?
    “The Muslims that were buried there were apparently done so for centuries before there was anything resembling a “Palestinian identity.”
    I am not sure what you mean here by “centuries before there was anything resembling a “Palestinian identity.””
    Palestine has been continuously inhabited for thousands of years. The land may have been incorporated into other states at various times but either way the people there value their history and do not want their cemetaries desecrated.

  29. Dominic

    Jonathan, you are trying to say that there is nothing in this more than an innocuous value-neutral bureaucratic snafu. You repeated it twice.
    Let me also repeat, I don’t accept what you are saying. This affair stinks to high heaven.

  30. Jonathan Edelstein

    Jonathan, you are trying to say that there is nothing in this more than an innocuous value-neutral bureaucratic snafu.
    For what it’s worth, my initial assumption was that this was a discriminatory act by the Israeli government. It smelled like one, and I fully expected to confirm that through additional research. Then I read further into the the news account and learned that the same thing had happened to ancient Jewish cemeteries, and that caused me to question the assumption.
    Do you have evidence that (1) the disinterment of Jewish cemeteries to make room for construction didn’t in fact happen, or (2) the government responded differently to the protests in those cases than in this one? If you do, I’m more than willing to hear it – I don’t pretend to be the last word on the matter. If not, then maybe you should also question your assumptions, at least in this particular instance. Not every interaction between the Israeli government and Arabs is an act of discrimination – sometimes things go wrong for more mundane reasons, and sometimes they even go right.
    I’d consider this good news if it’s so – it would make the odds of saving the cemetery quite a bit better.

  31. d

    “Jonathan, you are trying to say that there is nothing in this more than an innocuous value-neutral bureaucratic snafu.”
    Having worked for several reconciliation organizations in Jerusalem, I can tell for a fact that the issue of the MamanAllah Cemetery, which presently lies under Independence Park has been raised to Jerusalem Municipal authorities several times. Always to deaf ears.
    You can still see some of the graves and larger cenotaphs. If you walk west from Jaffa Gate towards the Prima Kings Hotel, look to your right as your passing the US Consulate. You’ll notice several monuments, buried under weeds and surrounded by empty beer bottles and other litter.
    This cemetery is one of the most important in the Muslim world and all of humanity. Most of Salaheddin’s army is buried in it as are other notable Islamic scholares and personages. This is not just a few bodies that someone happened upon.

  32. d

    To clarify, the MamanAllah cemetery, currently under Independence Park, is also the site of the new Tolerance Museum.

  33. Jonathan Edelstein

    Having worked for several reconciliation organizations in Jerusalem, I can tell for a fact that the issue of the MamanAllah Cemetery, which presently lies under Independence Park has been raised to Jerusalem Municipal authorities several times. Always to deaf ears.
    In that case something definitely needs to be done. Maybe it’s a good thing that the MOT construction is going to court; in the meantime, keep the pressure on.
    BTW, maybe you would know if Jim Davila is right in saying that a 1964 waqf ruling permitted construction of the park. I also understand that the cemetery began to be built over during the 19th century and that nobody’s quite sure where it ends – is this true?

  34. Alastair

    By the way, you’ve all been commenting on Jim Davila’s blog PalaeoJudaica, as a reasonable source of information. On ancient jewish history (not an archaeologist) he may be OK – I don’t know – but on other matters he is just an American neocon who just happens to have a job in the UK, and no more worth citing than any other neocon.
    Of course in Islamic law, which Davila doesn’t know about, you can’t deconsecrate a waqf. It exists in perpetuity. Many waqfs have disappeared, but only informally. It would not have been legal to abolish them.

  35. Alastair

    I’ve checked the legal position of Waqf in The Encyclopedia of Islam. There are some very small exceptions where the property has been destroyed, and the waqf can be annulled. More under Maliki law, but that only applies in North Africa.
    In fact, Davila’s blog only reports an article which reports that the Wiesenthal Center claims anonymous Muslim scholars declared that abandoned cemeteries could be reused after decay of the remains.
    The legal position is that a waqf (a perpetual immobilisation of a property for charitable purposes, and a legal status which not all cemeteries have) exists or it doesn’t. And the Wiesenthal center has the obligation to verify the legal status of the land where they are intending to build this “museum”.
    If the waqf exists, or existed, a simple fatwa from a Muslim scholar is insufficient to annul it.
    It is obvious that no effort was made by the Wiesenthal center to comply with the law.
    Astounding that for a so-called Museum of Tolerance, no effort was made to sort out the legal status of the land.

  36. JES

    BTW, maybe you would know if Jim Davila is right in saying that a 1964 waqf ruling permitted construction of the park. I also understand that the cemetery began to be built over during the 19th century and that nobody’s quite sure where it ends – is this true?
    I suggest that you take another look at the Davila exchange, particularly the piece cited from the Chicago Herald Tribune. I believe that the 1964 ruling was used by the High Court of Justice in support of establishing the park on part of the cemetery. I further believe that that is what the court is supposed to do: decide matters under its jurisdiction according to the civil law, while taking into account the sensibilities and sensitivities under both halakha and shari’a law.
    But what is of greater interest, in my opinion, is this:
    In the late 1920s, the Palestinian leader and mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, sanctioned the relocation of bones found during construction of a hotel built by the Supreme Muslim Council on former cemetery grounds.
    Further, it appears that, in contrast to what “d” states, the museum site is not in the area where the extant tombs are preserved and clearly visible, but rather it is the parking lot which is, I believe, across from Beit Agron, which is a good five minute walk north of those graves. This is stated both in the Tribune piece, as well as by Al-Jezeera here .
    (BTW, I was in Jerusalem a few months ago, and the Muslim graves were quite intact.)
    I have been trying to find out what is the historical extent of the Maman Allah Cemetery, and have found some interesting things.
    The Islamic Human Rights Commission has on their site a notice of protest, complete with a sample letter addressed to UNESCO. Their opening statement is as follows:
    The Israeli Government and the Jerusalem Principality [sic] are digging up Muslim graves, including those of the companions of the Prophet (pbuh), in Maman Allah cemetery, the oldest graveyard in Palestine in order to build a museum of tolerance.
    In other words the various graveyards from the second Temple period simply do not exist for the IHRC!
    Additionally, they claim that the cemetery “has been in use for an estimated 15 centuries,” which is interesting because that places it as not only more than a century before the first Muslim set foot in Jerusalem (let alone died there), but decades before Muhammad’s birth!
    So who, in fact, is buried in the cemetery, and particularly in the graves apparently unearthed under that parking lot? As David Stacey says on the Davila site “The park [area] also includes several second-temple Jewish cave-tombs, generally in poor condition…”
    I don’t think that this is a simple issue. Neither was the construction several years ago of a major roadway in Jerusalem during which apparently Jewish graves were unearthed, or the many other similar instances over the years. I also think that this issue has rapidly become as much a political issue as one of religious sensitivity. But I think that the courts should be given a fair chance to hear the case before we all start to cast blame and aspersions.

  37. vadim

    Alastair, how exactly do you know of Davila’s political views? And how are they relevant at all?
    And Ahlul Bayt disagrees with you on the “perpetuity” of a waqf.
    http://www.al-islam.org/laws/waqf.html
    If the Waqfed property is ruined, its position as Waqf is not affected, except when the Waqf is of a special nature, and that special feature ceases to exist. For example, if a person endows a garden and the garden is ruined, the Waqf becomes void and the garden reverts to the heirs of the person.

  38. JES

    It is obvious that no effort was made by the Wiesenthal center to comply with the law.
    I suggest that you consider exactly how this land became waqf in the 7th centure c.e.
    Land tenure is governed in Israel today by civil law – not by halacha or by shari’a law. The mufti went to the High Court of Justice, because he understands that they have jurisdiction.
    BTW, Davila appears to provide a number of references as input to the readers about the facts on the ground, rather than issuing his own opinion, and it is those that I think are relevant.

  39. JES

    Re. the term “tolerance” and “insufferable patronizing” language, I would suggest taking a look at the meanings of dhimma on page 312 of the Wehr dictionary.

  40. Jonathan Edelstein

    Waqf land is inalienable but it may however be leased. According to this article (I can’t vouch for the accuracy of its sources, but they seem easily checkable), Haj Amin al-Husseini leased waqf land for building purposes during the Mandate, and some of the leased land was located on grave sites. Evidently there was litigation in the 1920s, and again in the 1960s, over whether a qadi was authorized to permit the moving of graves from waqf land. The next time I’m at the Columbia international law library, I’ll check the Palestine Mandate law reports and see if this is true.
    As I said above, I think the bottom line here is that the construction of the MOT should have stopped as soon as grave sites were uncovered, and better care must be taken to preserve this historic cemetery in the future. At the same time, it seems that the land tenure issues here are far from clear-cut, and I haven’t seen any indication that the SWC acted in bad faith in choosing the site.

  41. JES

    Waqf land is inalienable but it may however be leased.
    That places it pretty much on a par with JNF land!
    Jonathan,
    Quite frankly I am surprised about your shock here. To the best of my knowledge, what is happening at that site is precisely what happens in most Western countries when human remains are unearthed during construction.
    When I was an undergraduate, I took a course, as part of my anthropolgy training, in human osteology. For our final project, we were given a “population” to study. That population was a collection of a couple of dozen boxes, each containing a human skeleton that had been taken from a Rincon Indian burial site unearthed during excavation for a road near Santa Barbara, California.
    When I was in graduate school in Massachusetts, many of my archeologist friends in the Anthropology Department made a living working on “salvage” digs. Under state and Federal regulations, every major construction site had to pass an environmental impact study, which included the possibilty of human burial sites being unearthed.
    Let me assure you that, in these cases, the remains aren’t simply tossed into a dumpster. If possible, they are given over to the appropriate religious or cultural representatives for re-burial.

  42. Kassandra

    “Both monasteries — the Greek and Armenian complexes — were discovered when the Israelis were building a dual carriageway. . . In the space of a few months, two of the biggest monasteries ever discovered in the Middle East have been erased from the face of the earth. All they preserved was one of our burial chambers. It’s under the manhole here. . . They’ve still got our mosaic and the bones from the burial chamber. . .
    “Bishop Hagop pointed to a sign in the newly planted garden. “Road Number one Archaeological Garden: Fragments of the Third Wall”. . .To keep (a portion of the third wall), when a whole monastic complex has been obliterated before our eyes, right next door to it — that’s just national bigotry. Nothing is erected to commemorate our ruins. There is no mention of them. . . Then they find ten feet of walling . . . and they build a special archaeological garden to preserve it. Do you still call me paranoid?
    Excerpt from William Dalrymple’s “From the Holy Mountain”. Pub. 1997
    There are many, many more exaples that Dalrymple quotes. The further examples described certainly disprove the point about “Muslim and Christian cemeteries being scrupulously preserved.” As Amos Elon wrote in the New York Review of Books, “The task of archaeology was to prove a point about Jews in the Holy Land . . .”

  43. edq

    “To have construction workers lifting Muslim bodies out of an ancient Jerusalem cemetery, quite without any permission from the Muslim Waqf (religious trust) authorities concerned– and to do so in the name of “tolerance”?? This almost beggars belief.”
    I wonder if this “tolerance museum” could be a cynical ploy to raise money to erase the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem. The Jewish National Fund has in the past undertaken fund-raising caimpaigns which are described in the U.S. as efforts to develop mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhoods to promote co-existance. In fact the money was used to try to buy out Arab homes in Arab neighborhoods for Jewish settlers. I wonder if this museum could be a similar sort of project.

  44. JES

    I wonder if this “tolerance museum” could be a cynical ploy to raise money to erase the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem. The Jewish National Fund has in the past undertaken fund-raising caimpaigns which are described in the U.S. as efforts to develop mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhoods to promote co-existance. In fact the money was used to try to buy out Arab homes in Arab neighborhoods for Jewish settlers. I wonder if this museum could be a similar sort of project.
    edq,
    Could you please back this assertion up with evidence?

  45. edq

    JES,
    I don’t know if this is in fact the case. I am just raising this possiblity based on what has happened in the past.

  46. JES

    edq,
    I am not referring to your speculation. I am referring to the second part of your statement, which was stated as “fact”.
    The Jewish National Fund has in the past undertaken fund-raising caimpaigns which are described in the U.S. as efforts to develop mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhoods to promote co-existance. In fact the money was used to try to buy out Arab homes in Arab neighborhoods for Jewish settlers. I wonder if this museum could be a similar sort of project.

  47. Joshua

    Who said the following?
    “I would urge everyone in Palestine/Israel– as elsewhere in the world– to give a lot more weight to the land and other resource needs of present and future generations rather than those of passed-away elders.”
    Is this an appropriate remark in this context?

  48. Jonathan Edelstein

    Jonathan, Quite frankly I am surprised about your shock here. To the best of my knowledge, what is happening at that site is precisely what happens in most Western countries when human remains are unearthed during construction.
    Most Western countries have historical preservation and landmark programs, though. This cemetery is apparently a historic site as well as a burial ground. Ideally, efforts are undertaken to preserve such sites when they are discovered, as when an undocumented African-American cemetery was discovered in downtown Manhattan. And practices change over time; I’m not sure exactly when that Rincon Indian skeleton you saw was unearthed, but the discovery and preservation of Native American burial sites has become a very sensitive legal issue.
    Israel has a landmark program, and despite Kassandra’s conflation of 1950s preservation policy with today, it has done a creditable job during the past twenty years of preserving non-Jewish archeological heritage. It would seem that the Mamilla cemetery is part of that heritage. A major site like that ought to have some protection (and the fact that the Mufti showed little respect for it isn’t really an excuse). So should the Jewish tombs on the same site.
    Also, I agree with your statement that protests over the excavation of burial sites have a large political component. They certainly do in the United States. But isn’t this political factor one more reason why an an Israeli museum – particularly a museum of tolerance – should avoid disturbing a major Muslim burial ground? Jewish-Muslim relations in Jerusalem are bad enough as things are; why stir things up gratuitously when it’s possible to find another building sites?
    Here is a link to an article which discusses “Archaeology and Politics in Palestine”
    Interesting article. Israeli preservation policies actually don’t come off too badly.
    BTW, note to EDQ and Kassandra: Israeli archeology and historical preservation in the 1950s was a completely different animal from what it is now. I’m not making any apologies for what happened in the early state period, but the current approach is exemplified by the Antiquities Authority’s recommendation that the entire Megiddo Prison be moved because a third-century church was found on the grounds.

  49. Kassandra

    Dalrymple’s book does not deal with the 1950’s. His research and travels took place in the mid-1990’s.
    Israeli archaeology has some pretty strange stories to its credit, and it is not necessary to go back to the 1950’s.
    The following from Archaeology magazine Vol. 50 No. 6;
    “Skeletons found at Masada by Yigael Yadin between 1963 and 1965 and later given a sate burial by the Israeli government were not those of Jewish patriots but Roman soldiers, says Joseph Zias of Jerusalem’s Rockefeller Museum.
    The claim that the skeletons were those of the Jewish fighters who defended Masada against the Romans in AD 70 has long been questioned. . . Yadin confirmed in 1982 that pig bones were found with the human ones. . .
    Zias says that Yadin had doubts about the identification of the skeletons, but that pressure from Israeli political leaders to connect the bones with the Masada legend led him to acquiesce to the state funeral.”
    At least someone’s bones got the honor of a state funeral, be they pig bones or Roman bones!

  50. Jonathan Edelstein

    Dalrymple’s book does not deal with the 1950’s. His research and travels took place in the mid-1990’s.
    The episode he describes didn’t take place during the 1990s.
    When I said “the 1950s,” I probably should have said the early state period in general, up to 1967 or maybe the mid-70s. It has been in the last generation or so that Israeli archaeology and preservation policy has become less politicized.

  51. JES

    But isn’t this political factor one more reason why an an Israeli museum – particularly a museum of tolerance – should avoid disturbing a major Muslim burial ground?
    Yes. A perfectly good politically motivated solution.
    All I’m saying is, why don’t we first see what the court decides. Who knows, perhaps it will set a precedent in favor of preserving such sites so that issues of graves won’t have to become political issues in the future.

  52. Helena

    Joshua, your: “I would urge everyone in Palestine/Israel– as elsewhere in the world– to give a lot more weight to the land and other resource needs of present and future generations rather than those of passed-away elders.” Is this an appropriate remark in this context?
    I quite agree. But I don’t believe I was advocating giving zero attention to the needs of the dead. Also, this is self-evidently an issue linked to the needs of present and future generations for sustainable and egalitarian coexistence.
    It is still not clear to me why you and others in this discussion are have been so much on the defensive in this discussion. But I recognize that you, unlike notably Vadim and JES, at least had the grace/common humanity (same thing?) to write this: Personally, I agree with Jonathan. The museum should be built somewhere else. So thanks for that.

  53. Kassandra

    Edelstein, how do you know that the episode did not take place in the early 1990*s?
    Nothing of substance has changed in Israeli archaeology. Archaeology is still done with the prime intent of fitting historical evidence into the biblical context. Witness the recently proclaimed finding of the “palace of King David”.
    All that can be proven is that there was a Big House that dates to around the 9th century BCE. But the archaeologist in charge of the site is telling the world that David’s palace has been found. Never mind that David lived in the same kingdom as King Arthur.
    This so-called Jerusalem syndrome in archaeology has led to an entire string of fakes, the most famous being the ivory pomegranate. This nifty little item was sold to the Israel Museum for 550 000 USD and exhibited for years as proof of the existence of the Second Temple. It has recently been proven to be a forgery.
    Further, Israel has refused to sign up to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the means of Prohibiting and Preserving the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, the principal world-wide international instrument designd to combat the illicit trade in cultural objects. This has simplified its operations in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem.

  54. vadim

    unlike notably Vadim and JES
    !!
    Sorry Helena, I didn’t realize you cared about anything I said. For what it’s worth I agree completely with this core point.

  55. Jonathan Edelstein

    Edelstein, how do you know that the episode did not take place in the early 1990*s?
    Mainly because I have considerable doubt as to whether it happened at all. The full passage you’re quoting from is here, and the monastery Bishop Hagop Sarkissian was talking about was the Byzantine monastery of St. Stephen. That monastery still exists and is the site of a major Notre Dame University research project. I’m guessing that Notre Dame isn’t conducting reconstruction in a manhole.
    I also haven’t seen any references to this supposed destruction besides Dalrymple’s, even in other interviews with Bishop Sarkissian. The casual destruction of the biggest monastery complex in Jerusalem is something that would have attracted widespread protest, or at least made the news.
    Look, I don’t doubt that some Israeli archaeology has been politicized and that Israel has a spotty preservation track record. The AMEU article linked by EDQ, which you should read, shows that this is true of countries throughout the region, and Israel is no exception. There’s room for improvement and it’s only right to keep the pressure on. All these blanket statements that people like to make, though, often turn out to be more polemic than fact.

  56. JES

    grace/common humanity (same thing?)
    I would hope that we could have a discussion here without ivective disguised as morality!
    For the record, I have nowhere advocated the desecration of graves or cemeteries. I merely advocate (1)avoiding the use of these issues as political tools, and (2)allowing the issue of tenure in these cases to the legal system that has jurisdiction.
    As for “grace”, well I may be an expert, but I believe that there are some people here who should probably not claim to be arbiters of the quality.

  57. Kassandra

    Edelstein, The St. Stephen’s that Bishop Harkop talks about is NOT the same St. Stephen’s you’re referring to. You are referring to the modern French Dominican priory of St. Stephen’s, under which some Byzantine-era tombs were discovered and where the University of Notre Dame is conducting a summer school. There is no mention whatsoever of a Byzantine monastic complex.
    Bishop Harkop is discussing an Armenian Byzantine era complex. French Dominicans and Armenians are two quite separate entities.
    I don’t believe Dalrymple is writing fiction. His reputation is too good for that. There is no need for you to dissemble. I suggest you read the entire book.
    I have read the article you referred to. It makes a very interesting point: “Archaeologists do generally differ among themselves regarding methodology, with differences especially pronounced between American and British archaeologists and their Israeli counterparts. British and American are very careful to dig under strict controls. . .
    “Such methodology, while painfully meticulous and slow, creates genuine scholarly interchange and independent analysis of results.
    “Israeli archaeologists, while not ignoring stratigraphy and ceramic typology, are much more oriented towards structures. They prefer to excavate large sites with monumental architecture.”
    Pretty damningly said. In other words, Israeli archaeologists are still looking for the fallen walls of Jerico. Israeli archaeology is oriented to proving their exclusive claim to history. Nothing of substance has changed.

  58. Kassandra

    Oh, and the reason you haven’t heard Bishop Hagop speak out about the monastery complex under the manhole anywhere else might be because, to quote from Dalrymple:
    “They’ve still got our mosaic and the bones from the Armenian burial chamber. They’re in the storerooms at the back of the Israel Museum. If we don’t shout too loud, and behave ourselves, we might get them back. Otherwise, we can probably forget it.”

  59. JES

    Kassandra,
    I think that you are confusing a few things in your comparison of archaeologists.
    The old school of classical archaeology was, indeed, concerned more with large structures. This “classical” school was not in any way an Israeli phenomenon. It was pretty much worldwide, and the way things were done up until around the 1960s.
    What was, at one time, called the “new” archeology was very much influenced by the social sciences (particularly American cultural anthropology), rather than the classics, and focused more on social structure. As a result, they are more meticulous in recording everything recovered so that it could, theoretically, be reconstructed in situ for ongoing analysis.
    A generation ago, Israelis were very much in the classical “archaeology” school. This was perfectly acceptable at the time and very widespread (particularly outside the US). However, just like their colleagues elsewhere, they lean more toward the “new archeology” today, and have for some time.
    I think that it is wrong – and unfair – to infer from the differences you summarized above that “Israeli archaeology is oriented to proving their exclusive claim to history.” This is simply not the case.
    On the otherhand, one doesn’t have to think too hard to figure out what the waqf has been doing on the Temple Mount/Haram ash-Sharif for the past several years (as described in the links I posted above) with excavation under the al-Aksa Mosque and the wholesale removal, by bulldozer and truck, of earth that apparently contains large amounts of unsorted and undocumented artifacts from pre-Muslim periods.

  60. Jonathan Edelstein

    The French Dominican priory of St. Stephen’s is the Byzantine monastery, which has since changed ownership. In the Notre Dame description:

    The basilica of St. Stephen (modern reconstruction pictured to the right) was constructed by the Empress Eudocia between 431 and 438, during an era of expansion in ecclesiastical construction. Built to house the relics of the Protomartyr Stephen, the walled monastic compound was the largest of all church structures in or around Jerusalem for over a century, larger even than the precincts of the Golgotha complex. Evagrius described the site as “a vast temenos [sacred enclosure], remarkable for its proportions and for its beauty.” Cyril of Scythopolis referred to the compound as a “diocese” due to its size, and wrote that the grounds were large enough to house the 10,000 who gathered for a monastic revolt in 516 to protest the Emperor’s opposition to the Council of Chalcedon.


    That sounds like the same one. It’s also in the same location that the bishop was talking about.
    And you can’t have it both ways – if the bishop was keeping quiet in order to get the mosaic and bones back, then why did he tell Dalrymple, who was writing a book? And why wouldn’t the destruction of a monastery or theft of bones have inspired a lawsuit, or complaints by other people in the church? And I don’t think Dalrymple was attempting to write fiction, but it all sounds like a story told to a willing listener, as similar stories have been told to every historian since Herodotus.
    And just out of curiosity, why the formality? Not that I mind being called “Edelstein” – it’s one of my names – but I thought we were all first names here.

  61. Jonathan Edelstein

    Israeli archaeologists, while not ignoring stratigraphy and ceramic typology, are much more oriented towards structures. They prefer to excavate large sites with monumental architecture
    Could that be, in part, because there are so many large structures in the area, unlike some other archaeological sites? Form does follow function to an extent. And the monumental structures in question have included quite a few ancient churches and Islamic-era construction, as the linked article points out.
    Also, as JES says, the linked article was written in 1987, when methods were in the process of changing.

  62. kassandra

    Jonathan Edelstein, Empress Eudocia’s St. Stephen’s IS NOT the Armenian St. Stephens. Empress Eudocia was from Byzantium. She was not an Armenian. Jerusalem was a Christian city for several hundred years, and much building took place. The Armenians built their own churches and at one time had around 70 in and around Jerusalem.
    Apparently, the Armenian complex under the manhole was in the Musrara Quarter, close to the walls of the old city. The monastery complex, the tombs and an especially notable mosaic were uncovered there in 1991. This is mentioned on the present Archbishop’s internet site.
    Empress Eudocia’s St. Stephens that you refer to was further out. The modern church that was built on the site was apparently constructed in the 1800’s, if not later.
    But more about Eudocia’s St. Stephens. In 1992 the archaeological dig there was interrupted by Orthodox Jews, contending that the archaologists were defiling Jewish graves. When it was revealed that the site was Christian, instead of Jewish, members of the Orthodox community forced entry into St. Stephen’s at night, threw paint on a rare mosaic, and filled the grave area with rocks.
    The Rutherford Institutes Handbook of Religious Liberty mentions that several Christian places of worship have been buried under newly constructed highways. (This is where the Armenian church under discussion comes in.) It then says that later in the same month,(sometime in 1992) bulldozers flattened an ancient Muslim cemetery to prepare for construction.
    In late 1993, Arabs in the city of Jaffa attempted to prevent the construction of housing units over a Muslim cemetery. The High Court turned down an appeal by Jaffa’s supreme Islamic committee which had argued that the land in question had been illegally acquired. So much for taking cases to court, as was suggested.
    The National Council of Churches petitioned Sharon for return of Armenian church property in 2002.
    “A sacred Armenian Chruch property near Bethlehem, seized by the Israeli government and facing demolition, must be protected and returned to its rightful owners. Baron Der, in the northern outskirts of Bethlehem, has belonged to the Armenian Church since 1641. The site’s olive trees, some of them 500 years old, by custom had supplied the oil used in lamps at the traditional tomb of Christ at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and also at the Church of the Nativity.” There is no indication that the property was returned.
    The World Archaeological Congress issued a press release on 7 Jan 2004 expressing concern at the destruction of archaeological and heritage sites in the Occupied Territories, mentioning Nablus, Bethlehem and Hebron. The Art Newspaper of 9 Sept 2005 condemned in strong terms the deliberate destruction of parts of the historic cities of Nablus, Bethlehem and Hebron, describing it as amounting to “a symbolic attack on the Palestinian presence in the territory.”
    Unfortunately, archaeology has not changed much in Israel. According to reports in Haaretz, David’s palaces and Goliath’s homes are constantly being found. The group of scholars known as the Copenhagen School who have tried to bring in new archaeology are marginalised and their work very often is tagged with the all-purpose epithet as being “anti-Semitic”.

  63. Jonathan Edelstein

    Empress Eudocia was from Byzantium. She was not an Armenian.
    As quoted by Dalrymple (see my link above to his Times of Pakistan article) the bishop said that “over by that new filling station, were the monastic buildings of St Stephen’s, the largest Byzantine monastery in Jerusalem.” It was not exclusively Armenian and, according to the quote you posted above, contained both Greek and Armenian complexes. It would seem to be the direct ancestor of the current French Dominican priory. Maybe one part of the complex was preserved and the other was abandoned or sold?
    The monastery complex, the tombs and an especially notable mosaic were uncovered there in 1991. This is mentioned on the present Archbishop’s internet site.
    I assume you mean this article from the Armenian patriarchate site. There’s also a discussion of the mosaic here on the Hebrew University’s Armenian-studies program site. The same site mentions an Armenian pilgrim hostel discovered outside the Jaffa gate in 1996-97 and currently being explored – was this the one Dalrymple was talking about? None of these sites, including the patriarchate, say anything about what happened to the mosaic.
    When it was revealed that the site was Christian, instead of Jewish, members of the Orthodox community forced entry into St. Stephen’s at night, threw paint on a rare mosaic, and filled the grave area with rocks.
    That was wrong of course, but it wasn’t an official action.
    The High Court turned down an appeal by Jaffa’s supreme Islamic committee which had argued that the land in question had been illegally acquired.
    Maybe in that case the acquisition of the land was legal; I’ll have to find the report of the decision. The HCJ doesn’t always rule against the government (just like it doesn’t always rule for the government).
    Unfortunately, archaeology has not changed much in Israel.
    Dalrymple quoting a Catholic archaeologist: “Whatever the situation in the early years of the state, he replied, current Israeli archaeological methods were thoroughly professional: in his opinion the historical sites of Israel were excavated impartially without regard to religion.” The archaeologist (Father Michele Piccirillo) does say that the Israeli record of conserving Christian ruins is “less good” than its record toward Jewish ruins, but apparently has no quarrel with the bulk of the modern methods.

  64. JES

    Apparently, the Armenian complex under the manhole was in the Musrara Quarter, close to the walls of the old city. The monastery complex, the tombs and an especially notable mosaic were uncovered there in 1991.
    Did anybody think to ask who built the Musrara neighborhood over a sacred Armenian monestary complex, with its notable mosaic, in the first place?

  65. Shirin

    Jonathan, despite your attempts to appear even-handed, you are, as you often do, coming off as a typical left-wing Zionist apologist.
    Which brings to mind some remarks I saw recently from Shlomo Ben Ami who in the end as usual showed his true colours – and ultimately managed to demolish his good points – by trying to justify everything Israel has done based on the “neighborhood it lives in”.

  66. vadim

    you are, as you often do, coming off as a typical left-wing Zionist apologist.
    Cheap undisguised ad hominem.
    Jonathan your equanimity is to be greatly admired. Thanks for a series of excellent & informative posts.

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