Israel demolishes Jordanian graves to build biblical park

The Israeli-run Jerusalem Municipality team along with Israeli soldiers and bulldozers demolish part of the Al-Yusufiyah Cemetery in Jerusalem. (Mostafa Alkharouf - Anadolu Agency)

Mustafa Abu Sneineh

Middle East Eye  /  October 11, 2021

Razing of graves exposes human bones buried in graveyard where Jordanian soldiers killed during 1967 war were laid to rest.

Israeli authorities razed and demolished part of a Palestinian cemetery in occupied East Jerusalem over the weekend, exposing human bones buried in a section where Jordanian soldiers killed during the 1967 war were laid to rest.

The move, part of Israeli plans to build a biblical-themed park over Al-Yusufiyah Cemetery, has provoked Palestinians and led to a confrontation with Israeli military police and staff from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

On Sunday, Israeli forces dispersed a Palestinian sit-in protest near the cemetery, firing stun grenades and skunk water cannons, using batons and shoving the protestors.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said it had treated two stun grenade wounds at the site.

Despite the police clampdown, Palestinians returned to perform afternoon and evening prayer in the area on Sunday, demonstrating against the Israeli action.

Palestinian protestors set fire to a container belonging to Israel Nature and Parks Authority staff, who demolished the graves in the area.

“[The Israeli] occupation forces bulldozed a grave from the martyrs’ [section of the cemetery], where the bones of one of the dead were exposed,” Mustafa Abu Zahra, the head of the Islamic Cemetery Care Committee, said.

Abu Zahra said that a group of Palestinians removed the bulldozer from the area, restored the grave, and returned the remains.

The Palestinian Authority’s Jerusalem mayor described the partial demolition of Al-Yusufiyah as “an ugly crime”.

Dozens of Jordanian soldiers who fought to defend the Old City of Jerusalem against the Israeli occupation in the 1967 Middle East war were hurriedly buried in Al-Yusufiyah Cemetery by Palestinian residents following the ensuing ceasefire.

Jordan lost some 587 soldiers and officers in various cities and towns in the West Bank, which it governed until June 1967.

Al-Yusufiyah, which is located close to Jerusalem’s ancient northeastern wall, has been a Palestinian burial site for centuries.

Last December, Israeli authorities demolished an ancient staircase and part of Al-Yusufiyah’s northern wall to turn the area into a national park.

In 2014, Israel banned Palestinians from burying their relatives in the northern area and flattened 20 graves belonging to Jordanian soldiers in a section of the cemetery known as the graveyard of the unknown soldier and martyrs.

Israel plans to create a “Bible Trail”, a string of national parks to the south of the Old City of Jerusalem, which may lead to the forcible expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in the neighbourhoods of Silwan, Al-Bustan, Wadi al-Hilweh and Batn al-Hawa.

Last year, authorities approved a plan to connect the western and eastern parts of the city with a cable car running over Palestinian houses, which critics warn will change the ancient panorama of Jerusalem and encourage Jewish settlers to go to the occupied city.

‘Unnoticeable’ prayer

On Saturday, Israeli forces broke into the house of Ekrima Sabri, the 82-year-old iman of Al-Aqsa mosque. He was summoned for six hours, then released, and isn’t allowed to enter the Al-Aqsa compound for a week.

Sabri vehemently objected to an Israeli court decision last week to allow Jewish settlers to perform “silent prayers” at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which was condemned by Palestinian factions, Jordan and Turkey.

Turkey’s foreign ministry said that the Israeli court ruling will “further encourage fanatic circles”.

It called on the international community to “strongly oppose the [Israeli court’s] wrong, illegal and dangerous decision” and prevent “all provocations” against Al-Aqsa.

Jerusalem’s district court then accepted an appeal from the Israeli police, warning of the “endangering [of] public peace”. The court said that Jewish prayers at Al-Aqsa should be “unnoticeable.”

Sabri said that the court decision “is rejected by us, and we have announced repeatedly that Al-Aqsa [Mosque] is for Muslims.”

Israeli settlers break into the Al-Aqsa complex daily – in the morning and the afternoon – to increase the Jewish presence around the eastern part of the complex.

Settlers have called for the conversion of the Al-Rahmeh Gate area into an exclusive Jewish site, to be accessed from the eastern wall of the Old City, where the Palestinian Muslim cemeteries of Al-Rahmeh and Al-Yusufiyah currently stand.

Mustafa Abu Sneineh – journalist, poet and staff writer at Middle East Eye