Photo credit: Emek Shaveh.
Throughout May, the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority has been hard at work confiscating Bab al-Rahmah Cemetery in East Jerusalem. Following years of unearthing graves, preventing burials, and installing wire fencing there, Israeli construction crews cordoned off the cemetery with a metal fence this month.
Bab al-Rahmah is an Islamic cemetery that sits outside of the eastern walls of the Old City, abutting al-Aqsa Mosque. It is over 1,000 years old. Palestinian residents of Silwan have long buried their dead there. Israeli authorities want to confiscate the graveyard by integrating it into the Jerusalem Walls (City of David) National Park.
The Wadi Hilweh Information Center reports that the Israeli workers installing the metal fence are barring Palestinians from approaching the construction site or documenting changes to the landscape. The Israeli police supervising the fencing project are also detaining concerned Palestinians. Most recently, on May 25, 2018, Israeli forces detained Khaled al-Zeer at the site, alleging that he is banned from Bab al-Rahmah.
Al-Zeer was also arrested in April when Palestinians from Silwan organized a sit-in in Bab al-Rahmah to protest the land confiscation and destruction of graves. Al-Zeer and a number of other protesters were issued temporary bans from the cemetery and al-Aqsa Mosque. On May 23, 2018, Israeli police sought to extend such bans for nine Palestinians for a period of 60 days, but the courts refused the request.
Bab al-Rahmah was included in the Jerusalem municipality’s 1974 Jerusalem Walls National Park plan. In 2009, a High Court ruling empowered Israeli authorities to regulate where locals can bury their dead in Bab al-Rahmah, arguing that because the cemetery had been declared an Israeli antiquities site and part of the Jerusalem Walls National Park, any digging or burial there would “damage antiquities.”
The Jerusalem municipality is well known for classifying Palestinian areas as national parks to wrest control over more territory. The parks, like Israeli settlements, stand in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions, such as 194, 181, 252, 476 and 478.
The area of Bab al-Rahmah is crucial to Israeli settlement plans, which aim to link four concentric circles of settlements, starting with the Old City, followed by the “Holy Basin” (Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah, a-Tur, Mount Zion, and the Kidron Valley), Jerusalem’s annexation border, and finally the West Bank.
Amalya Dubrovsky is the editor of aicnews.org.