By Dina Rabie – Washington D.C.
A campaign against Israeli plans to build a museum on Al-Quds ancient Muslim cemetery is gaining grounds in the US, amid supports from Jewish and Christian.
"I felt that it was my duty to do something about the ongoing desecration of this important heritage site," Dr. Rashid Khalidi, Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, told IslamOnline.net.
The campaigners want to save the Mamilla historic cemetery which is threatened with demolition to build the Israeli Museum of Tolerance, sponsored by the Los Angeles-based Jewish organization Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Israel has already been razing large parts of the cemetery over the years in so-called development projects that included building a parking lot in the 1960s, a school, a road and a large park.
The centuries-old cemetery is reputed to contain the burial places of some Companions of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
It is historically attested to contain the graves of advisors and lieutenants of Salah al-Din dating back to the 12th century, as well as numerous Muslim saints and scholars.
"I have several ancestors interred in the Mamilla Cemetery, some of them going back to the 15th century," asserts Khalidi.
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York, which represents the campaign, has petitioned the UN on behalf of 60 individuals from well-established Palestinian families in Al-Quds and the US.
"After the efforts of others in Israeli courts had failed, some of us contacted the Center for Constitutional Rights, who agreed to help us, and the result was the petition we sent to several UN bodies," says Khalidi.
The petition wants the world body to help stop Israel and the Simon Wiesenthal Center from demolishing the cemetery.
"The petitioners also want to know where the bodies of their ancestors are now, and want to have them reburied where they were, in coordination with the proper Muslim authorities," added Maria Lahood, Senior Staff Attorney at the CCR.
The campaign is gaining the attention of many Americans and informing them of Mamilla’s fair cause.
"We are pleased that the petition has received attention in the United States," says Lahood, whose Center advocates the rights guaranteed by the US Constitution.
"Everyone that I’m aware of who has heard that the Simon Wiesenthal Center plans to build a ‘Museum of Tolerance’ on a historic Muslim Cemetery has been appropriately outraged and disgusted."
Dr. Khalidi agrees, saying the campaign has so far generated a certain amount of positive reactions within America.
"However, much more is needed, which requires people, both Muslims and
non-Muslims, to inform themselves about the facts and act through local mosques, churches and synagogues to prevent this desecration."
Non-Muslims are also joining the campaign to save Mamilla from desecration.
Among the supporters of the campaign are Rev. Dr. George Regas, of the All Saints Church in Pasadena, California; Rabbi Leonard Beerman, the founding rabbi of the Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles; and Rabbi Steven Jacobs, of the Kol Tikvah Temple in California.
"Many in the Jewish and interfaith community are concerned," Rabbi Jacobs told IOL.
"We do care very much. The Palestinians should know they have partnership here in the US."
Rabbi Jacobs affirms that razing Muslim graves is very offensive not only to Muslims, but to religious Jews and Christians too.
"It is just like when a number of years ago Israel built on a Jewish cemetery.
"What is supposed to be a museum of tolerance turned to a symbol of intolerance."