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CONTACT:

James Lafferty, 323.653.4510 Jen Nessel, 212.614.6449, jnessel@ccljustice.org David Lerner, Riptide Communications, 212.260.5000

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MEDIA ADVISORY***

Descendants to File Protest with United Nations over Israeli Plans to Build on 12th Century Muslim Cemetery
Simon Wiesenthal Center Intends "Museum of Tolerance" for Site Despite Desecration Press Conferences in Los Angeles, Jerusalem and Geneva
February 8,2010, Los Angeles, New York, Jerusalem, Geneva - This Wednesday, February 10, patties. involved with defending a 12thCentury Muslim cemetery from desecration by Israeli authorities and developers will bring their case to the United Nations and hold press conferences in Los Angeles, Geneva and Jerusalem. The filing will take place in Geneva; the cemetery, Maman Allah, is in Jerusalem; and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which has plans to build a Museum of Tolerance on the site, is based in Los Angeles. The Center for Constitutional Rights in New York is representing descendants, including 60 signatories from 15 of the oldest Jerusalem families with ancestors going back to the 12th century . . This will be the first known time Palestinian individuals have taken collective action against Israel to bring such an issue before a UN forum and comes after all remedies in Israel were exhausted. The families, NGO's and attorneys argue thedesecration of the cemetery violates international conventions protecting cultural heritage, the manifestation of religious beliefs, and the right to family. The plan to build a Museum of Tolerance over the remains of important Muslim figures and men, women and children buried there over the course of more than eight hundred years has faced widespread opposition from Muslim, Christian and Jewish personalities in Israel, Palestine and around the world. Frank Gehry, the original architect for the museum, has withdrawn his designs and his participation in the project. LOS ANGELES PRESS CONFERENCE DETAILS: WHEN: 10:30 AM., Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I WHERE: Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance, 9786 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90035 WHO: Attorney _laria LaHood, Jew York-based Center for Constitutional Rights; attomey Leonard Weinglass New York-based civil rights attorney; Los Angeles Rabbi Leonard Beerman;* Los Angeles Rabbi Steven Jacobs; Stanley Sheinbaum, long-time L.A. Jewish civic leaoer and former President of the L.A. Police Commission; Hussam Ayloush, Executive Director, Southem Califomia C.A.I.R..; Shakeel Syed, Executive Director, Southem Califomia Shura Council; Pasadenabased Rev. George Regas founder and President of the Regas Institute; and James Lafferty, Executive Director of the ational Lawyers Guild in Los Angeles and the host of this press conference. (The following persons, and others, will be appearing at either the press conference in Geneva or Jerusalem: Professor Georges Abi Saab Honorary Professor of International Law at the Graduate Institute ofInternational and Development Studies, Geneva, Switzerland. Mr. Patrice Mugny, Administrati e Counselor, Department of Culture, City of Geneva, Switzerland BADIL Resource Center, Ramallah, Palestine.

Ms. Rania Madi, Geneva Coordinator

Ms. Yael Lerner, Publisher, Al-Andalus Publishing House, Tel-Aviv, Israel.) For more information
212.2-60.5000.

on locations and times, contact David Lerner at Riptide Communications,

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to-advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attomeys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. V isit www .c{~rj stii.X~.Org. u

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CONTACT:

James Lafferty, 323.653.4510 Jen Nessel, 212.614.6449, jnessel@ccrjustice.org David Lerner, Riptide Communications, 212.260.5000

Descendants File Protest with United Nations over Israeli Plans to Build on 12th Century Muslim Cemetery
Simon Wiesentltal Center Intends "Museum of Tolerance" for Site Despite Desecration
February 10, 2010, Los Angeles, New York, Jerusalem, Geneva - Today, parties defending a 1ih Century Muslim cemetery and holy site from desecration by Israeli authorities and a U.S. developer brought their case to the United Nations and held press conferences in Geneva, Jerusalem and Los Angeles. The filing of the "Petition for Urgent Action on Human Rights Violations by Israel: Desecration of Ma'man Allab (Mamilla) Muslim Cemetery in the Holy City of Jerusalem," took place in Geneva; the cemetery, Maman Allah (also known as Mamilla), is in Jerusalem; and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which has plans to build a Museum of Tolerance on the site, is based in Los Angeles. The Center for Constitutional Rights in New York is representing descendants, including 60 signatories from 15 of the oldest Jerusalem families with ancestors going back to the 12th century. The Petition may be consulted at www.mamillacampaign.org. Said Stanley Sheinbaum, Jewish leader in Los Angeles and former President of the Los Angeles Police Commission, "In regard to the proposed construction of a new Simon Wiesenthal Center on the ; ancient Mamilla Cemetery, I would with great respect for both Palestinians and Israelis suggest that Israeli governmental authorities seek out an alternative building site upon which to build the Museum of Tolerance. It seems to me that to desecrate hundreds of human remains on this sacred burial site in order to build a center dedicated to tolerance is particularly ironic." "The callous disregard for the most basic values of tolerance involved in building this museum in the most ancient and revered Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem is not just an affront by the Simon Wiesenthal Center to the many Jerusalemites whose families, like my own, have had ancestors buried there for many centuries," said Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies Department of History at Columbia University in New York. "It is also a blatant violation of the ethical, moral and legal .responsibilities of the Israeli government, which itself repeatedly protested the desecration of ancient Jewish cemeteries in Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967."

The construction project has resulted in the disinterment and disposal of hundreds of graves and human remains, the whereabouts of which are currently unknown. Frank Gehry, the original architect for the museum, has withdrawn his designs and his participation in the project. This will be the first known time Palestinian individuals have taken collective action against Israel to bring such an issue before a UN forum and comes after all remedies in Israel were exhausted. The families, NGO's and attorneys argue the desecration of the cemetery violates international conventions protecting cultural heritage, the manifestation of religious beliefs, and the right to family. Said Maria LaHood, Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Attorney, "Left with no recourse in Israel, families of people buried in Mamilla cemetery have come together to petition the United Nations to safeguard their international human rights to be free from discrimination, to manifest religious beliefs, and to have their cultural heritage protected. We call on the international community to denounce this shameful desecration of a historic Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem." The plan to build a "Center for Human Dignity - Museum of Tolerance" on the remains of important Muslim figures and men, women and children buried there over the course of a thousand years has faced widespread opposition from Muslim, Christian and Jewish personalities in Israel, Palestine and around the world. Nonetheless, the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled in favor of construction of the Museum, and the Israeli government has refused to halt the disinterment of human remains and the destruction of the ancient cemetery. The Center for Constitutional Rights and others are petitioning the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Religion and Belief and on Contemporary Forms of Racism; the Independent Expert on Culture; the High Commissioner for Human Rights; and the Director General of UNESCO on behalf of Palestinian families whose ancestors are buried in the cemetery. The parties are asking these international bodies to act urgently to demand that the government of Israel halt further construction. of . the "Center for Human Dignity - Museum of Tolerance" on the Mamilla Cemetery site, investigate human rights violations, document and reveal to petitioners the whereabouts of all human remains and artifacts, recover and rebury all human remains where they were originally found in coordination with the proper Muslim authorities, and declare the Mamilla Cemetery an antiquity to be preserved and protected. The Mamilla Cemetery has been a Muslim burial ground and holy site since as early as the 7th century, when companions of the Prophet Muhammad were reputedly buried there. In addition, numerous Sufi ' saints and thousands of other officials, scholars, notables, and Jerusalemite families have been buried in the cemetery over the last 1000 years. The Muslim' Supreme Council declared the cemetery an historical site in 1927, and the British Mandate authorities pronounced it an antiquities site in 1944. It was an active burial ground until 1948, when the new State ofIsrael seized the western part of Jerusalem and the cemetery fell under Israeli control. The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. Visit www.ccrjustice.org. ###

Erasing the Past
The Destruction of an Ancient Cemetery
What is the Mamilla Cemetery?
The Mamilla Cemetery is an ancient Muslim burial ground and holy site believed to date back to the 7th century, when companions of the Prophet Muhammad were reputedly buried there. Numerous saints of the Sufi faith and thousands of other officials, scholars, notables and Jerusalemite families have been buried in the cemetery over the last 1000 years. The Muslim Supreme Council declared the cemetery an historical site in 1927, and the British Mandate authorities pronounced it an antiquities site in 1944. It was an active burial ground until 1948.

Muslim

International Human Rights

in Jerusalem
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and other groups have filed a petition on behalf of the Palestinian descendants of those buried in the cemetery. The petition, which was filed with several international bodies, urges Israel to: halt construction of the museum; investigate human rights violations; rebury human remains; and declare the Mamilla Cemetery a protected antiquities site.

Why is the Mamilla Cemetery Important?
The importance of the Mamilla cemetery to Muslims is well-known to Israel. In 1948, the year control of the cemetery was taken over by Israel, the Israeli Religious Affairs Ministry recognized Mamilla "to be one of the most prominent Muslim cemeteries, where seventy thou-. sand Muslim warriors of [Saladin's] armies are interred along with many Muslim scholars. Israel will always know to protect and respect this site."l, As recently as 1986, in response to an investigation by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) regarding Israel's development projects on Mamilla, the Israeli government stated that "no project exists for the deconsecration of the site and that on the contrary the site and its tombs are to be safeguarded."2 Despite these reassurances and the cemetery's inclusion in a Israeli Antiquities Authority list of "Special Antiquities Sites," Israel in fact destroyed a large section of the cemetery during the period in which the statement was made.

The ancient burial ground with the museum site in the far background. Photo Credit: Michael Ratner

After the new State of Israel seized the western part of Jerusalem in 1948, the cemetery fell under Israeli control, and like other Islamic endowment properties, or waqf, the Mamilla Cemetery was taken over by the Custodian for Absentee Property. Since then, Muslim authorities have not been allowed to maintain the cemetery.

The Destruction of the Cemetery
Despite officially recognizing its importance, Israel has steadily encroached on the Mamilla Cemetery with the erection of buildings, parks and even parking lots. The construction of the "Center for Human Dignity - Museum of Tolerance" is only the latest such development project. Israel and the SWC have attempted to justify this development by claiming that the cemetery is no longer sanctified, based on a 1964 proclamation by a Shari' a or Islamic law judge who lacked legitimacy in the Muslim community. The President of the Shcri'c Court of Appeals in Israel has since deemed this ruling to be void, and affirmed that the sanctity of cemeteries is eternal in Islam.

What is the IICenter for Human Dignity-Museum of Tolerance"?
The Israeli government and the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) are currently building the "Center for Human Dignity- Museum of Tolerance" on a portion of the Mamilla Cemetery. This construction project has resulted in the disinterment of hundreds of graves, and the whereabouts of the countless human remains that have been disposed of are unknown. Israel and the SWC plan to continue the erection of the museum atop thousands of more graves.

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All developments on the grounds of the Mamilla Cemetery have resulted in its desecration and the undignified disinterment of graves, human remains and other important artifacts. Palestinians have consistently opposed the destruction and desecration of the cemetery, through legal petitions to Israeli bodies and other actions, without success. According to Gideon Suleimani, Chief Israeli Archaeologist assigned by the Israeli Antiquities Authority to lead the excavation of the museum site, over 400 graves containing human remains were exhumed or exposed during his partial excavation of the site. Suleimani estimated that there are four layers of graves, many dating from the 12thcentury, with at least 2000 graves remaining under the Museum site. Several hundred more human remains were disinterred during other phases of preparation of the site.

What Legal Remedies Are Available?
Israel has an obligation to respect and protect the holy sites of its minority religious and ethnic populations, including Mamilla cemetery, under international law, United Nations resolutions and under its own domestic law. Despite Israel's legal obligations, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favor of construction of the museum and the government has refused to halt the disinterment of bodies and the destruction of the ancient cemetery. For this reason, the petitioners have decided to bring this issue to the international community with the aid of human rights organizations such as CCR. The petition has been filed with the UN. Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Religion and Belief and on Contemporary Forms of Racism; the Independent Expert on Culture; the High Commissioner for Human Rights; and the Director General of UNESCO. The petitioners are urging these bodies to demand that the Government of Israel: halt further construction of the "Center for Human Dignity-Museum ofTolerance" on the Mamilla Cemetery site; document and reveal to peti- . tioners the whereabouts of all human remains and artifacts; recover and rebury all human remains where they were originally found in coordination with the proper Muslim authorities; and declare the Mamilla Cemetery an antiquity to be preserved and protected.

Can International Laws Protect Mamilla Cemetery?
Israel is violating numerous international human rights laws by permitting the construction of the "Center for Human Dignity- Museum of Tolerance" on Mamilla Cemetery. The museum's construction constitutes violations of the human rights of all Palestinians and Muslims, whose forbears are buried in the cemetery, and the human rights of the innumerable Palestinians from Jerusalem whose direct ancestors are buried there. The desecration of this ancient and historically important cemetery also violates the rights of people of many faiths and cultures who believe that sites like Mamilla Cemetery belong to the international community's heritage and should be protected and preserved. The right to protect cultural heritage and property; to freedom from discrimination; to freedom of religion and belief; and the right to culture and family are all internationally protected human rights.

Notes 1 See Akivo Eldor,Israel Prize loureole opposes Museum 01 Tolerance, HA'ARETZ, Dec. 31, 2008, available 01 http://haaretz.cam/hasen/ spages/1 051 047.html.
2

UNESCO 125 EX/15, 17 July 1986, Addendum 1, at 7.

Rabbi Steven B. Jacobs
Founder, Progressive Faith Foundation

818.917.9691
rabbi steven bjacobs@gmail.com
Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Kol Tikvah 21234 Mulholland Dr.• Woodland Hills, California 91364

!-Iussam Ayloush, I-1.B.A
Executive Director hayloush@cair.com

Council on American-Islamic
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~~~ ~~~~ Islamic Shura Council