Palestinians lose legal battle to save Jaffa’s 200-year-old Muslim cemetery

Palestinians had protested for weeks against the construction of a homeless shelter over the 18th-century Muslim burial ground (AFP)

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye   /  July 7, 2020

Tel Aviv court rejects an appeal by Jaffa’s Islamic Council to halt construction of a homeless shelter on grounds of Al-Isaaf Muslim cemetery.

A Tel Aviv court has rejected an appeal by Jaffa’s Islamic Council to stop the city from building a homeless shelter on the site of an 18th-century Muslim cemetery.

Judge Limor Bibi from the Tel Aviv district court revoked a restraining order on Tuesday that had stopped the city from building the shelter and ordered the Islamic Council to pay $2,200 in legal fees.

The Jaffa Islamic Council had filed a legal case claiming that the Tel Aviv municipality – which has jurisdiction over Jaffa – did not have a valid permit to build over the 200-year-old Al-Isaaf cemetery.

Last month an Israeli court ruled that the construction of the homeless shelter would be halted until a hearing on 22 July after weeks of protests during which Israeli forces beat Palestinian citizens who accused the municipality of erasing its heritage.

But the hearing was moved up to Sunday after the Tel Aviv municipality claimed a delay caused by the Islamic Council’s appeal had negatively impacted the municipality’s finances.

Tarek Ashkar, director of the Islamic Council, dismissed the Tel Aviv court’s ruling and said it was “legal acrobatics” and an example of how it was discriminatory towards Palestinians.

“They could have said the permit was valid, but they didn’t say that,” Askar told Haaretz, who added that the city provided no further documentation for its claims.

“The system is tipping the scales for the benefit of Tel Aviv’s municipality.”

Tel Aviv’s Mayor Ron Huldai welcomed the decision and said the “court decision proves that the city has worked and continues to work with sensitivity and according to the law”.

Al-Isaaf cemetery, which lies just north of the walls of Old Jaffa near the Hassan Bek Mosque, was built almost 200 years ago. Despite not being in active use for nearly 90 years, the cemetery holds hundreds of Palestinian tombs.

Jaffa was once an epicentre of the Palestinian economy, with some 120,000 people living in and around the flourishing city on the Mediterranean Sea in 1948.

Almost 95 percent of the Palestinian population of Jaffa and its surrounding villages were expelled by Zionist militias during the Nakba, or the catastrophe, that year.

Over the decades, Jaffa’s historic neighbourhoods were progressively demolished and the city shrank into a small town that was then absorbed by the municipality of Tel Aviv.