Netanyahu's 'easy Ramadan'
While Netanyahu greeted Muslims around the world, bulldozers in Jerusalem were busy desecrating historic Muslim graves, writes Khaled Amayreh in the West Bank
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Israeli soldiers arrest a peace activist during a demonstration against the closure of three shops in the West Bank city of Hebron
As is customary, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a formal statement last week wishing Muslims of the world -- and Israel's Muslim population in particular -- a blessed Ramadan.
The Palestinian Muslim community in Israel makes up more than 20 per cent of Israel's overall population but is subjected to systemic discrimination by Jewish authorities.
"We mark this important month [Ramadan] amid attempts to achieve peace talks with the Palestinians and to advance peace treaties with our Arab neighbours," Netanyahu said. He added: "I know you are partners in this goal and I ask for your support, both in prayers and in any other joint effort to really create a peaceful and harmonious coexistence."
Netanyahu's congratulatory words to Muslims were tinged with significant hypocrisy and chutzpah. Indeed, as he uttered his words, Israeli bulldozers were unearthing and crushing Muslim graves at the ancient Mamanullah Cemetery, located in West Jerusalem, not far from the former armistice line between the eastern and western parts of the city. There, thousands -- some say tens of thousands -- of Muslims are buried.
According to waqf officials in Jerusalem, some of the people buried in the cemetery are companions of the Prophet Mohamed who came from the Arabian Peninsula with the Muslim army that conquered Jerusalem from the Byzantines during the rule of second Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab. Thousands of soldiers from the armies of the General Salaheddin Al-Ayoubi (Saladin), who ousted the Crusades from Jerusalem in the 12th century, are also believed buried there.
The sacrilegious act of crushing Muslim graves has generated a lot of anger and bitterness among the Muslim community here. However, there is very little the Muslim community can do, apart from verbal protests. Ahmed Dajani, an East Jerusalem citizen, described the Israeli behaviour as "amounting to ethnic cleansing against history, against the dead". "They want to eradicate and uproot our history. Even the Nazis didn't do that against the Jews."
Israel denies that it is committing sacrilege against Muslims. Israeli officials, including judicial officials, have argued that Islamic law, or Sharia, allows the unearthing of graveyards after the passage of 40 years. The claim is vehemently denied by Mohamed Hussein, chief religious cleric at Al-Aqsa Mosque.
"It is not true that graves can be desecrated after the passage of a number of years. Sanctity belongs to both the living as well as to the dead, and the Israeli authorities are just trying to clutch to some strange theological interpretations in order to justify their crimes," Hussein said. He called the Israeli justifications "pure lies".
In many instances, bones and skulls of dead Muslims were seen unearthed by Israeli bulldozers. As such scenes provoked and infuriated Muslims, the Israeli police barred Muslims from arriving at the site. The Israeli government plans to build a "museum of tolerance" on top of the cemetery, seen as a great oxymoron by Muslims and others opposed to the plan.
"How would you feel if someone asks you to unearth your father's or grandfather's grave so that he can build a museum of tolerance on the site?" asked Najeh Bkeirat, head of the Manuscripts Department at Al-Aqsa Mosque. He described the Israeli mentality as "a genocidal mentality".
"There is no other description befitting what Israel has been doing to Muslim graves. What else can we say about the desecration and unearthing of the graves of more than 70,000 Muslims? If we keep silent in the face of this monumental crime, the next step Israel will take will be the demolition of Al-Aqsa Mosque," Bkeirat said.
The waqf official pointed out that the Mamanullah, or heavenly custody, was an exclusive Muslim property with a land deed obtained on 22 March 1938.
One Arab member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, called the destruction of hundreds of graves at the cemetery "a declaration of war against living and dead Palestinians". Massoud Ghanayem said the bulldozers were Israel's way of "imposing its agenda and trying to erase Palestinian identity and obliterate the real identity of the land".
Such action, Ghanayem added "proves that Israel is still acting with brutality against the icons of Palestinian identity in an effort to usurp Arab and Muslim rights in the city of Jerusalem".
Palestinian commentators have castigated what they called Israel's scandalous Israeli duplicity in dealing with Jewish and Muslim graves. One commentator wrote: "Just imagine how Israel and Jewish authorities would react if a Jewish graveyard were unearthed and crushed? This is the very country that doesn't stop claiming to be democratic and civilised."