In the NYTimes of Feb 11th, an article concerning an Arab petition to the UN to halt construction of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s new museum is headlined “Museum Creates New Jerusalem Divide;” it features a large photograph of the Mamilla Cemetery, an ancient burial site which Arabs claim will be wiped out if the museum is built. In the text of the article, Isabel Kershner reports that much of the cemetery has already been developed into a school, a road, a park and most pertinently, a municipal parking lot built in the 1960’s and used daily since then by thousands of city residents without protest from the Arab community. It is on the grounds of this parking lot that the museum will be built, a move previously challenged and then adjudicated by the Israeli Supreme Court in favor of the project going forward. Rather than showing a photograph of the parking lot, the Times selected a picture of the remaining cemetery which is not threatened by the projected new building and has literally nothing to do with the Wiesenthal Center’s plans or the headline of Kershner’s article.
Similar petitions were made to the UN by Israel after the Arab capture of the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem in 1948. After the Arab war of aggression against the UN approved state of Israel, Jordan occupied east Jerusalem and subsequently annexed both that area and the west bank in 1950. It authorized wholesale and purposeful destruction of Jewish holy sites including synagogues, cemeteries and the Western Wall. From biblical times until today, Jews have been buried on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, an area that fell within the boundaries of Jordan’s annexation. As a mark of defilement, Jordanians drilled holes into Jewish graves and urinated into them. Approximately 40,000 graves were destroyed under Jordanian rule; the headstones were used as paving blocks for roads,highways and army construction including latrines. Some were used to build the house of the Arab caretaker of the site. King Hussein authorized the building of the Inter-Continental Hotel on top of the cemetery. Despite the terms of the 1949 armistice agreement which agreed to give Jews access to the cemetery and other holy sites, Jordan defiantly refused to allow it and placed snipers on the walls of the Old City to shoot at Israeli Jews who tried to enter. The UN did nothing in response.
There is no mention in the Times of the history of Arab despoilment of Jewish cemeteries or holy places in Jerusalem, nor the lack of UN concern. There is a quote by Jamal Nusseibeh who cannot understand why anyone would want to wipe out part of the rich fabric of Jerusalem. He might have asked his father, Professor Sari Nusseibeh, the Arafat appointed President of Al Quds University whose website propounds: People have always needed mythic narratives to sustain them. But when a narrative subverts or attempts to erase real history to serve political ends, it verges on moral abuse….The key to clarifying the history of Jerusalem and Palestine lies in distinguishing between literary tradtion and recorded history, between imagined memory and material evidence.” For Nusseibeh, it is important to establish that Jews have no historical claim to Jerusalem (i.e. Israel); at best, they have a poetic yearning or imagined memory. Arabs, on the other hand, are entitled to the preservation of their historical markers as a way of legitimizing their claim to East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and eventually, if one listens to their stated intentions, to all of Israel subsumed into Palestine. That is the bigger picture behind the controversy over Israel’s right to build a new museum in Jerusalem, one which the Times article abets by its use of a photograph that is purposely misleading.
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