The Israeli government, with fanatical support from radical Zionist nationalists, is so obsessed with proving its connection to Jerusalem that it has recently resorted to an ugly and unique act. Israeli bulldozers are plowing various plots of land around the walls of Jerusalem to create phony cemeteries filled with fake graves.
Many of these cemeteries border the Palestinian town of Silwan and, when completed, they will block access for Jerusalemites to the old city and other neighborhoods.
The idea of creating fake graves appears to have come about because of an Israeli law that bans the destruction of cemeteries. So, by placing Jewish “graves” in strategic locations in Jerusalem, radical Israeli zealots aim to create the appearance of a Jewish city even in locations that have been predominantly built and inhabited by Palestinians.
Such Judaization efforts in Jerusalem are not new. They began shortly after Israel occupied the eastern sector of the city during the June 1967 war. Within weeks, Israeli authorities illegally expanded what they considered a unified Jerusalem and annexed all of the newly occupied parts of the city, including areas that extended as far as Ramallah in the north and Bethlehem in the south.
This Judaization effort also included the demolition of an entire Palestinian neighborhood, the Moghrabi Quarter, and the expulsion of its population, literally overnight. In some cases homes were demolished on top of their residents.
Jewish settlement expansion in East Jerusalem has been a top priority of every Israeli government since 1967, and has resulted in the creation of dozens of large, populated settlements housing more than 200,000 Israelis. A light railroad system was created to help transport this large settler population to the center of business life in West Jerusalem.
The Israeli efforts also included the abolition of East Jerusalem’s municipal council, with the newly and forcibly annexed population falling under the governance of the so-called united Jerusalem Municipality.
The key to the future of Jerusalem lies in the need to respect the faithful, protect their holy places and preserve the centuries-old status quo that has survived multiple occupations.
Because Israeli law was extended to apply to East Jerusalem, Palestinians living in the occupied areas were given permanent Israeli residency (but not citizenship) and afforded the right to vote for the city council, an offer that Palestinian Jerusalemites rejected en masse, choosing not to vote for an Israeli municipality under forced regulations.
Vast amounts of money were made available to radical Jewish groups to try to replace Palestinians, especially in the old city. But attempts to force out residents using carrot-and-stick tactics have largely failed. Israelis living in the occupied old city are still in a small minority despite millions spent in the efforts to replace the Arab population with a Jewish one.
The Israelis also targeted education, again without much success. Efforts in the fall of 1967 to force Palestinians to follow the Israeli curriculum failed as families opted instead to send their children to private schools or schools outside the city. Israeli authorities ultimately backed down and allowed the use of the Jordanian, later the Palestinian, tawjihi matriculation test that marks the end of the 12-year basic and secondary education process.
In recent months, however, Israel has tried once again to force the introduction of a hybrid curriculum by changing parts of Palestinian textbooks to remove all references to Palestine and Palestinian history and culture.
Such Israeli actions in occupied areas are a violation of international laws that apply to situations involving prolonged periods of occupation. The Fourth Geneva Convention stipulates that an occupying power is not allowed to change legal systems or the way of life in occupied areas. The population of an occupying country is not allowed to move into occupied areas. Geneva Conventions also prohibit the upending of the status quo and guarantee the rights of people under occupation to practice their faith and way of life.
The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has passed dozens of resolutions declaring the walls of the old city in Jerusalem, and all areas around it, to be a protected World Heritage site. Israel has barred UNESCO inspectors from entering the country or monitoring what Israeli authorities are doing there, especially in and around holy places such as Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The fake graves being created in Silwan and other locations cannot bury the truth or the reality facing Arab Muslims and Christians in the holy city of Jerusalem. The key to the future of the city lies in the need to respect the faithful, protect their holy places and preserve the centuries-old status quo that has survived multiple occupations.