An Israeli municipality on Monday started demolishing an 18th century Muslim cemetery in Jaffa that was discovered after plans had been made to build a new homeless shelter for Jewish citizens and a commercial space on the site.
According to Haaretz website, about 20 protesters came to the construction site Monday and tried to halt the work but large police forces was already there to provide protection for the bulldozing activities.
Protesting Arab residents displayed a large sign with a reference to mayor Ron Huldai that read: “Huldai is desecrating Muslim graves.”
The chairman of the Jaffa Muslim Council, Tarek Ashqar, told Haaretz that the protests would escalate. “Huldai is as stubborn as a mule. He had an opportunity to make peace with the Muslims and the Arab community, but he’s a bully.”
In January, after two years of talks held by city officials with residents of Jaffa and the local Muslim council, the Tel Aviv district court rejected legal challenges to the plan and cleared the way for the project.
“The court ruling is robbery. It’s not legal,” Ashqar said. “If these were Jewish graves, this wouldn’t have happened, because Jewish bones are something else,” he said. “In Arab countries, there are also dozens of [Jewish] cemeteries that are protected because they’re graves, not because they’re Jewish. Respect for the dead has no nationality, but the Tel Aviv municipality wants to eliminate any trace of the Muslims and Arabs of Jaffa, and everything is being covered up by the police.”
For his part, city councilman Amir Badran, said “The Muslim community in Jaffa in general and all of the city’s residents have no problem with the homeless project, and it’s appropriate to find a physical location for it, but not over a Muslim cemetery.”
“Even if there was a court ruling, the reality requires additional rethinking regarding the building of the project,” Badran added.
“Tel Aviv was founded as a Jewish city just north of historically Arab Jaffa in the early 20th century. The two cities were officially merged in 1950, after the great majority of Jaffa’s residents became refugees in 1948,” Haaretz said.
Following several hours of protests, the demonstration moved to the Jaffa Clock Tower. “The clock was standing here before the police and the state and the Zionist gangs came here,” Haaretz quoted one of the protesters as saying.
“Even the graves that you are desecrating were here before the state, and we, their dynasty, will also be here after the state. You are inflicting an injustice on the dead. If these had been Jewish graves, you would have changed the plans,” the protester added.