Erasing Palestinian Identity with a ‘Museum of Tolerance’

[ Ed. note – Back in late February/early March I posted a couple of articles on the Mamilla Cemetery in Jerusalem. The cemetery dates back some 1,400 years, and many Palestinians who are alive today have ancestors that are buried there. But the cemetery has been slated to become the site of a “Museum of Tolerance” that is being built by the Simon Wiesenthal Center with the support and approval of the Israeli government.

The article below by Aya Hijazi provides an update on where things currently stand with that project as well as some information on how the “museum of tolerance,” as it were, is being viewed, ironically, as an attack upon Palestinian culture and identity. Hijazi describes it as “spacio-cide,” a term which encompasses “urbicide” (violence or destruction upon a city) as well as “memoricide” (erasing memories of the past), and which, Hijazi argues, “provides a holistic description of Israeli colonial practices.”

Hijazi writes from a Muslim perspective, and if the article has a shortcoming it is that she fails to mention that Christians are buried in Mamilla as well. However, for those interested in the cemetery’s Christian past, I recommend you read my March 3 article, “A Massacre of Christians By Jews: 614 A.D.–An Untold Chapter of History.” The post includes an article by Israel Shamir who refers to the year 614 as “the most dreadful year in the history of Palestine until the Twentieth Century,” and who relates how Jews joined forces with an invading army of Persians that year to slaughter large numbers of Christians living in Jerusalem. As I commented:

Christians should ponder the manner in which historical narratives are often manipulated, and should ask themselves why this chapter of history is not more widely known. They should ask themselves something else as well: how insulting, offensive, and provocative is it for a Jewish organization like the Simon Weisenthal Center to propose building a “museum of tolerance” on top of a graveyard containing the bodies of thousands of Christians who were slaughtered by Jews?

The sign shown in the photo above, which has the museum opening in 2017, is slightly off in its projected date. As you will read below, the project has been beset with numerous delays brought on by a variety of factors including the resignation of architects. According to the author, the museum now “is scheduled to be finished in spring of 2018, to coincide with the seventieth anniversary celebration of Israel’s Independence Day.”

Hijazi’s article was originally published in the Autumn 2016 edition of the Jerusalem Quarterly, published by the Institute for Palestine Studies, and is reprinted here with permission. ]

Toward Spacio-cide:

Building the Museum of Tolerance Over
The Mamilla Cemetery in Jerusalem

By Aya Hijazi

The Zionist project has worked for decades to Judaize the land of Palestine through various means of destruction, expansion of colonial settlements, control over territory, archeological excavations to find biblical roots, and the massive displacement of non-Jewish populations. The city of Jerusalem is a crucial component of this Zionist agenda. As a result of the growing idea of Jewish Jerusalem, existing Palestinian landscape, holy sites, and cultural heritage came to be seen as a barrier to the settlement of Israeli Jews in the city. Practices to Judaize Jerusalem not only change the surface terrain and remove the visible layer of the Palestinian Arab presence in the city, but also expand to the invisible subterranean layer.

The Israeli municipality of Jerusalem has declared its dedication to the preservation of the whole city. In 2014, for example, deputy mayor and chairman of the Regional Planning and Building Committee Kobi Kahlon told Ha’Aretz, “the plan that the municipality has worked on is proof that conservation is not the opposite of development, and that the design values of the past can strengthen the public sphere and make it a center of interest on a national and international scale.” 1 The vocal commitment to preserve Jerusalem contradicts the inherently disruptive archeological excavations and development projects to Judaize the city. A recent example of these disruptive practices was the 2004 decision taken by the Israeli government in conjunction with the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles to establish a “Museum of Tolerance” in Jerusalem. This project, modeled after similar ventures in Los Angeles and New York, includes the construction of two buildings–one called the Center for Human Dignity and the other a Museum of Tolerance–on a site in West Jerusalem that is of holy significance to Palestinians: the Mamilla (Ma’man Allah in Arabic) cemetery.

This ancient cemetery held thousands of human remains of prominent Muslim leaders and influential Palestinian figures. 2 After several battles to halt the excavations and stop the construction of the museum, the Israeli High Court ruled in 2008 that the construction of the museum was lawful. The center for Constitutional Rights in New York filed a petition with the United Nations on behalf of Palestinian Jerusalemite families who have ancestors buried in Mamilla, requesting that the cemetery be preserved and declared a protected heritage site. 3 This has not stopped the Israeli government and the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) from bulldozing more graves, causing an uproar and disputes, including physical clashes between the Israeli police and officials from al-Aqsa Association for Endowment and Heritage, who tried to preserve what was left of the cemetery. 4 Today, between the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem and other projects intended for other parts of the cemetery–including apartment complexes, a commercial mall, a hotel, nightclubs, and pubs–the cemetery and its gravestones have almost vanished. 5 Meanwhile, the museum is scheduled to be finished in spring of 2018, to coincide with the seventieth anniversary celebration of Israel’s Independence Day. 6

This type of discrimination against Palestinian cultural heritage, which transforms the Palestinian landscape, represents not only an attack on physical well-being and living places, but an attack on Palestinian space and memory. This essay uses the Mamilla case to demonstrate that the battle over urban space in Jerusalem goes beyond the virtual division of the city between “East” and “West.” 7 It emphasizes the importance of Palestinian symbolic sites in preserving their cultural and historical ethos, inscribing their national and historical identity, and perpetuating their sensory experience of the city. This ethos and these identities are targets of deliberate destruction as part of a larger Israeli colonial task of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. The example of the Museum of Tolerance illustrates how the Israeli occupation, as a modern colonial project, is implemented not only by state politicians and military forces, but by archeologists, urban planners, and architects, too.

Toward Spacio-cide

A number of studies have described Israel’s exclusionary demographic, geographic, and political strategies toward East Jerusalem, including the physical destruction of East Jerusalem and the militarization of the city’s borders. 8 This has been crucial to document and explain the immediate threat to the lives of Palestinians in the city, as well as the ongoing suppression of Palestinian society as a whole under a strict Israeli military regime. Presenting the crisis of Arab Jerusalem as a problem of territoriality and Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, however, is counterproductive to appreciating the symbolic significance of the whole city and its value to its Palestinian inhabitants, a value that transcends the places in which they now live, as crucial as these places are.

Israel’s invention of its own history does not only rest on colonial military, political, and economic domination alone, but on cultural practices as well. As Derek Gregory explains, the land was taken from Palestinians in multiple ways, from “poetry to politics.” 9 Moreover, Gregory argues that Israeli domination plays out in “the intimate mini-topographies of homes, field, and cemeteries.” 10 The battle over Jerusalem thus involves not only soldiers and bulldozers, but also urban planners, architects, and engineers–all put to work not only to destroy the spaces inhabited by Palestinians, but also to erase Palestinian collective memory in places that Palestinians can no longer inhabit, such as West Jerusalem. In the case of the Mamilla cemetery, the site is being physically destroyed with bulldozers, in a process that can be referred to as “urbicide,” a term coined by Marshall Berman and other architects from Bosnia and defined as “the deliberate wrecking or killing the city.” 11 The attack on the cemetery as a site of remembrance can also be referred to as a case of “memoricide,” defined as “the erasure of the history of one people in order to write that of another people’s over it.” 12 However, the attack does not stop there: with the construction of the Museum of Tolerance, the attack on the site becomes multilayered and can be referred to as “spacio-cide,” a term that provides a holistic description of Israeli colonial practices.

Sari Hanafi coined the term spacio-cide to explain how Israeli colonialism, through strategic planning, targets Palestinian society as a whole. 13 Hanafi states: “spacio-cide is mainly land confiscation in order to construct Jewish settlement, house demolition, and population transfer.” 14 However, Hanafi explains space only as public, lived places; here, though, there is a need to add another element to this spatial ideology. Space should also encompass memory, ideas, and historical narratives that nurture the human experience of their surroundings. This is not only found in places of everyday usage, and in houses where we live, but also in human sites of remembrance. Drawing and expanding on the term spacio-cide is a perfect opportunity to emphasize the value of memory and historical narrative–intangible but crucial spatial notions–found in other places that produce meaning, and to emphasize the Israeli abuse of these elements to diminish any hope for a Palestinian identity, sovereignty, and self-determination.

Here it is worth clarifying that the terms “place” and “space” are frequently used interchangeably; however, for cultural geographers they are distinct, in that:

Space is the more abstract. Space suggests dimensionality (depth, volume, area), infinitude, and emptiness, as in “outer space”…space is far from devoid of entanglement in social relations. Indeed, space is socially produced. Place is the less abstract of the two notions, invoking familiarity, finitude, and immediateness. Place is space infused with meaning. In its most simple expressions, place is often equated with locality, as in “you are here.” 15

This definition of space allows an analysis of not only Judaization as a project of territorial expansion, but also the shaping of public culture and the politics behind it. For Hanafi, “the Israeli target is the place,” 16 in that it targets land to transfer Palestinians away from it, mainly by attacking the places in which they live and systematically destroying their public places, including political institutions and anything else that represents their national belonging. Hanafi elaborates that, in contrast to urbicide, “the weapons are not so much tanks, but bulldozers that have destroyed streets, houses, cars, and…olive groves. 17 The multidimensional nature of space is still shaped in materialistic forms, where he talks about the vandalism and control of water aquifers, bridges, and tunnels. Additionally, by suggesting that the Israeli colonial project is spacio-cidal and not only genocidal, Hanafi explains that the Israeli occupation is about land grabbing, territory, exodus, and house demolitions and not only the number of those that are concerned with Jewish settlements in the occupied territories, including the city of Jerusalem (East and West) through Israeli municipal master plans. These urban planners also produce modern disciplinary and exclusionary form of domination through the urban development and aesthetics.

Hanafi sees ethnic cleansing as a component of spacio-cide, suggesting that ethnic purification of land happens through the transfer of people. 18 Following Ilan Pappe, however, this essay suggests that ethnic cleansing is not a component of spacio-cide, but the other way around: urbicide, spacio-cide, memoricide, genocide, and so on, are all conceptually linked by ethnic cleansing. 19 The destruction of the Mamilla cenetery, which represents not only Palestinian but Muslim history, has become part of that ethnic cleansing. Between the cemetery and the museum, this case study exposes a clash of historical nationalisms and the battle for belonging.

The Story of the Cemetery

In Jerusalem, the graves are assorted like lines [on a page] of the city’s history, and its soil is the book. 20

Belief systems, rituals, and traditions around death and memorialization vary considerably in communities around the world. Cemeteries become sites that expose the relations between places and histories, between spaces and memories, where imprints of the dead become physical markers that produce narratives, facts, and sources. Cemeteries become symbolic sites that give meaning to individual and collective identity, sites not only to honor and respect the dead but also to support the living in their pursuit of existence on a specific land: “historic and present-day cemeteries, as liminal places, bridge notions of self and other, time and space…past and present homeland. Such landscapes encode, reproduce, and initiate constructions of memory.” 21 Cemeteries and memorial rituals thus serve to construct identity, ethnicity, and memory. 22

When communities remember victims of atrocities, or convey atrocity to the living, graves can become “the material expression of rights and obligations between generations.” 23 The mass graves of Rwanda, products of the 1994 genocide, are powerful places for grieving and honoring the victims of this dark event. In some places, such as the memorial in the Ntamara church, where around five thousand people were massacred, bodies of the dead are not buried underground, but left as they were. Visitors are not permitted inside the church, but visitors outside are directed to walk on wooden pews, which stand on top of a floor covered with the bones and human remains of the people massacred. 24 The dead become a representational collective for the living.

Cemeteries found on locations subject to war, population change, and/or other disruptions can also become sites of conflict. Memory on those sites becomes contested, malleable, and subjected to discovery and rediscovery. Some burial sites convey competing social and political ideas and interests. Green Point, a site in colonial Cape Town that contained a number of graveyards in the 1820s, witnessed continuous conflict. In the 1960s and 1970s, black residents living there were forcibly removed from the area. Later, in the early 2000s, the site experienced gentrification. Bones surfaced during construction and authorities issued a permit to exhume the human remains. 25 The response was angry. In public statements, people argued against the exhumation on the basis of rights and morality. In one public meeting, a man shouted, “why are white people…scratching in our bones? This is sacrilege.” 26 The exhumations prompted the reexamination of slave histories, colored identities, and regional politics in opposition to African national heritage. 27 In Poland, Jewish communities emphasize the importance of this sacrilege to them by residing in some areas just to commemorate the dead; “instead of people, their gravestones,” Young explains. Additionally, preservation and reparation of gravesites in Warsaw and Auschwitz serve to continuously remember the Holocaust among Jewish communities. 29

The significance of the Mamilla cemetery reflects religious, national, and historical Muslim and Palestinian roots in Jerusalem. The angry outcry of families and human rights organizations in response to the excavations of the site refer to all three of these aspects. The sanctity of the dead is a religious concern and the preservation of Palestinian memory on the polarized lost landscape of West Jerusalem is a national and historical one. Muslims take the sanctity of the dead seriously. Muslims take care to assure that no one should walk over any individual grave, and the sacredness of cemeteries for Muslims is eternal. 30 Palestinian families view the excavation of the cemetery as a human rights violation. It also triggers their awareness of the fragility of their rights as citizens in Jerusalem.

In several petitions filed with the United Nations and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the petitioners and the Islamic waqf (endowment) authority, the legal custodian of the site, requested an urgent investigation to Israel’s degradation and damage of non-Jewish sacred sites. 31 They demanded Israel stop further construction of the museum; document and indicate the locations all the remains, including those exhumed; recover and rebury the remains; and, finally, declare the cemetery a site of historic antiquity. 32 Saleh Hijazi, a Middle East and North Africa researcher for Amnesty International and one of the petitioners, explains, “the petition speaks the language of human rights…for the protection of Palestinians in Jerusalem,” adding:

the land and the human remains are two inseparable issues when it comes to a case like Mamilla. The case has much to do with cultural and religious rights as it does with land ownership…it is an issue of colonialism and the rights of indigenous populations.

According to a recent article in Ha’Aretz, thousands of graves have been exhumed. 34 Ahmad Amara, the lawyer in charge of defending the Mamilla cemetery from 2004 until 2007, received permission to enter the fenced site when the excavation began. He witnessed the bones being desecrated at the site, as they were “thrown” in cartons and put to the side. 35 Nir Hasson, an Israeli journalist, described the archeological excavation as violating ethical practices: human remains were put in boxes and labeled “scattered items,” while other bones and skeletons were damaged or entirely smashed. 36 Gideon Suleimani, a senior IAA archeologist assigned to excavate the Mamilla site, withheld approval of construction in order to first evaluate its archeological value and the quantity of human remains there. The IAA pressed ahead, however, pressured by both politicians and entrepreneurs to finish the job as fast as they could. Suleimani described it as an “archeological crime.” 37

The IAA defended its actions by avowing that they had moved the unearthed bones to a nearby Muslim cemetery, while the Wiesenthal Center claimed that “the remains were handled in keeping with the highest standards and the High Court’s guidelines.” 38 However, as disputes over the site continued, a spokesman for the Israeli municipality of Jerusalem referred to the tombstones as “fictitious.” 39 The Wiesenthal Center continued to suggest that the part of the Mamilla site chosen for the museum was a former parking lot used by all residents of the city and claimed that the cemetery has been inactive for decades. 40 This seemed to contradict earlier statements by representatives of the Wiesenthal Center, which admitted to the existence of graves on the site. The Israeli Religious Affairs Ministry had acknowledged the existence and importance of the Mamilla cemetery in 1948, stating: “Israel will always know to protect and respect this site.” 41 In 1986, responding to UNESCO’s protestations of the destruction of other parts of the Mamilla cemetery, Israel claimed that: “no project exists for the de-consecration of the site and that on the contrary the site and its tombs are to be safeguarded.” 42

Claims that the excavation was carried out according to the highest moral, professional, and legal standards were further undermined by the secrecy with which it proceeded. The site was fenced with barbed wires for several years after the excavation commenced, and workers were subject to intense security and as quickly as possible. One worker explained:

We were like a small army…and an area managers above them, and the archeologists above them…from 40-70 workers per shift. You have to arrive 15 minutes before your shift and wait by the gate, you have to show your ID at the entrance. They take your phone. 43

The Wiesenthal Center claimed that these efforts were taken to protect the site and workers from an attack of “Muslim extremists seeking a foothold in Jerusalem.” 44 Previously, the Wiesenthal Center stated that those who signed a petition to cease further excavations and to preserve the cemetery were part of an Islamic movement attached to terrorist organizations. 45 These petitioners that they refer to are regular Palestinian citizens in the city of Jerusalem, local and international human rights organizations, and the al-Aqsa Association made up of Muslim citizens in Israel. One Palestinian man who has family buried in the cemetery stated: “I am not a fanatic Muslim…if they leave our forefathers lay in peace in their graves, that would be the best example for tolerance.” 46

The excavation of the dead, which interrupts the fabric of the past, is a traumatic experience for Palestinian families in Jerusalem. Diana Dajani, whose family ancestors are buried in the site, said in a press release: “the importance does not only come from the fact that it is a cemetery that we have our ancestors buried in, but the importance is that we have been in this city for many, many centuries.” 47 Palestinian pride in the cemetery reflects how it has marked the memory of their heroes in public space for centuries. Some two thousand graves lie in four layers under the chose museum site. 48 These layers date back to the seventh century CE and hold the remains of companions of Prophet Muhammad and soldiers of Sal al-Din al-Ayyubi (Saladin). 49 Saladin is a hero for Arab Muslims because he recaptured Jerusalem and freed it from the Crusaders in 1187. He is an icon that represents sovereignty and freedom but also the stature of Jerusalem as a holy city for Arabs. 50 The burial of his soldiers in Mamilla allows Palestinians to celebrate the glory of Arab victory in Jerusalem’s history.

The historical power granted to Palestinians through sites like the Mamilla cemetery–and indeed, Palestinian memory itself–threatens Zionist thought. The cemetery, as a visible site, and the dead, as the invisible proof, intrude on Zionist history-making on the land. Discrimination against the Palestinian “other,” exemplified by the destruction of Mamilla cemetery, emerges from the inconvenience of their presence for the construction of a biblical Jewish homeland; this presence thus needs to be erased. This is not the first Israeli act to prevent or disrupt forms of commemorative memory construction for Palestinians. Despite the significance of the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948, when thousands of Palestinians were killed and hundreds of thousands exiled, it wasn’t until 1983 that the first Palestinian memorial monument was seen in public to commemorate the dead. Made by a young artist, the monument was built in the Arab town of ‘Ilabun in the Galilee and recalled the execution and expulsion of a significant number of Arabs by the IDF on 30 October 1948. 51 Israeli authorities restricted Palestinian memorials to commemorate atrocities, such as the 1956 Kafr Qasim massacre. In other cases, Israeli authorities vandalize and destroy memorials, such as the post 1967 war memorial in East Jerusalem. 52

Cultural knowledge production can be as powerful an instrument of domination as a bulldozer. The museum plays a critical role in the imagining of a nation-state, and its mission, language, and form all echo the Israeli modern colonial project. Thus, the Wiesenthal Center actives a rhetorical discourse that produces Muslims and Palestinians as a criminal “other” to justify its construction atop the Mamilla cemetery of a museum that promotes “an exceptional experience that fosters tolerance, acceptance of ‘the other,’ and the fight against expressions of hate and racism.” 53

The Story of the Museum

None of us are outside geography. That struggle is complex and interesting because it is not only about soldiers and cannons but also abut ideas, forms, about images and imaginings. 54

Rabbi Marvin Hier, one of the most influential rabbis in the United States, was inspired by the Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem to establish the Wiesenthal Center in 1993. In response to criticism and lawsuits, the Wiesenthal Center split into two sections: one deals with issues of prejudice and racisms for blacks, Hispanics, and Asians in the United States, and the other covering the Holocaust. 55 A controversial figure, Hier managed to include a passage in California state law making a visit to the museum compulsory for public school students and security forces. 56

Designed by an Israeli architect, the Wiesenthal Center is one of three Jewish memorials currently built in Los Angeles, alongside the Jewish Martyrs Memorial and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust in Pan Pacific Park 57 These are three of a large number of memorials around the United States, including the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Memorials in the United States are themselves part of a larger series of commemorative sites for the Holocaust around the world, including in Germany, France, and Holland, and the memorial camps of Majdanek and Auschwitz. 58.

Andreas Huyssen argues that Western societies have become “obsessive” with memorial representations around the Holocaust. 59 The Holocaust has become, in Huyssen’s words, a “universal trope for historical trauma.” 60 Promoters for these memorials feel it is logical for symbolic sites to be built even in places where Jews were not murdered. 61 However, the overabundance of Holocaust commemorations results in its commodification. Museums and memorials bring together memory, entertainment, and trauma, and in doing so end up silencing or marginalizing local histories. 62 In Berlin, for example, the memorial built in 2005 to commemorate European Jews has met serious objections from Sinti and Roma communities in Germany who felt that the “hierarchical” memorial prioritized some victims over others. 63

Several Holocaust memorial sites have been built in Israel, including the Beit Hatsfout museum in Tel Aviv; the Chamber of the Holocaust, which contains ashes of Jews incinerated during the Holocaust, located outside the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem and Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust museum, also located in Jerusalem. Beyond these sites, James E. Young describes Israel’s entire landscape as a memorial one, where streets and buildings are dedicated to Holocaust victims. 64 Even though memorials worldwide might serve different political, religious, aesthetics, or even commercial purposes, memorials in Israel (where the Holocaust did not occur), serve a very specific national ideology:

Israel’s overarching national ideology and religion, perhaps its greatest “natural resource” may be memory itself: memory preserved, restored, codified. In cultivating a ritually unified remembrance of the past, the state creates a common relationship to it. 65

If memory is draped over the entire landscape, then the landscape has the power to represent and reproduce beliefs and experiences that manifest toward an imagined historical national Israeli identity.

Given the proliferation of sites to memorialize and commemorate the Holocaust, globally and in Israel itself, then what will the museum of tolerance, itself a copy of to “museums of tolerance,” add to Jerusalem? What will this museum cover that two preexisting Holocaust museums in Israel do not already?” 66 The Wiesenthal Center itself describes the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem as a multimedia museum for children and adults, as well as a theatre and an educational center. It announced it a project of the twenty-first century that will deal with “contemporary issues crucial to Israel’s future–intolerance, anti-Semitism, terrorism, Jewish unity and mutual respect, and human dignity for all.” 67 Hijaze suggests that: “the museum is a public relations initiative, which can work to help the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians while giving a righteous image of Israel.” 68 The museum makes the cemetery invisible and substitutes it with a visible work of art, thus both distracting from and justifying Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

Conceptual drawing of the Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance by architect Frank Gehry

A marketing tool even more attractive than the Wiesenthal Center’s promotional language is the involvement of international celebrities. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hollywood star and then governor of California, attended the Museum of Tolerance  Jerusalem’s groundbreaking ceremony in 2004, where he made the analogy that “building museums of tolerance would promote tolerance just as building fitness clubs promote health.” 69 When the project first started, the Wiesenthal Center invited Frank Gehry, a world famous architect, to design the museum and make it the largest, most expensive museum in the world. 70 Gehry eventually pulled out of the project, and the Israel-based Chyutin Architects won the project in a closed competition. Chyutin also walked away, and now the contract for the museum is with the Los Angeles office of Aedas and its Jerusalem-based project affiliate, Yigal Levi Architects. (None of the aforementioned parties have commented on the project, with Gehry’s partner merely mentioning that the project was politically sensitive.)

Although Yigal Levi Architects who have offered a comparably demure “low-rise elongated structure,” 72 Gehry’s initial design was striking. One observer described it as a “supernatural edifice resembling nothing so much as a crab in the process of hatching a sapphire spider with huge, glassy eyes. It is neither beautiful nor ugly; it is striking and odd.” 73 If many found Gehry’s design “foreign,” the Israeli High Court found it “architecturally and artistically unique,” especially suited for developing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. 74 The museum appropriated Israeli urbanism within an overall project of commodification. 75 Here the museum is used to promote the Israeli tourist industry and assert control over the space of the city. 76 Its language of combating anti-Semitism and terrorism works to celebrate Israeli heroes by demonizing the Palestinian enemy, and in effect allows the museum to be implanted as a “foreign” object in Jerusalem’s historical landscape, built in the name of modernity, civilization, and development. The Wiesenthal Center stated in the “important facts” section on its website: “if cities were not allowed to be built on the relics of previous civilizations, there would be no modern-day Rome, Jerusalem, or Cairo.” 77

This discriminatory architectures excludes Palestinians from Jerusalem’s urban space. The fundamental task of building is to control the environment: “architecture is said to establish place by the construction of boundaries, not in the space of geometry or physics but in commonsense space.” 78 In iuts act to establish place,” the Museum of Tolerance engages in spacio-cide: it starts by removing the dead from the cemetery, regulating Palestinian memory by deeming it invisible, and completes the operation by asserting a giant “cultural” building to dominate that space through form, language, and image. This elemental force of controlling public space is modern colonialism.


Techniques of modern colonization have haunted Palestinian society from a very early stage. As a result, commemorative and spatial production has been and still is one way for Palestinians to organize their lives and ascribe meaning to them, amid their struggle against the continuous and endless losses they are bombarded with, and while they adapt to the physical barriers that hold them hostage. This spatial production, however, is also being attacked. Palestinians not only face geographical losses at the expense of Israeli territorial expansion, but also the erosion of their spatial status quo. Dominance is achieved not only through destruction, but simultaneously through modern design. Through the exploitation of culture and erasure of memory, Israel attacks both “place” and “space” to displace Palestinian bodies, Palestinian identity, and the Palestinian ethos throughout historic Palestine.

Jerusalem is a uniquely valuable city to Palestinians, viewed as the capital of Palestine which should, in theory, serve as Palestinians’ center of socioeconomic, political, and cultural affairs, while remaining the holy city that embraces the sanctity of all three Abrahamic religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Zionist ideology, however, has worked for years to establish Jerusalem as a purely ethnic Jewish city and the capital of Israel, not only by excluding Palestinian civilians from its urban development, but also rendering the targets of spacio-cide. In the case of the Mamilla cemetery and the Museum of Tolerance, it is possible to expand Sari Hanafi’s understanding of spacio-cide to understand how the attack on space also involves an attack on culture, memory, and symbolic spaces for Palestinians. The destruction of the Mamilla cemetery and the desecration of the human remains in it, and building over it the “Center for Human Dignity” and “Museum of Tolerance,” also illuminates the key institutional role played by archeologists, architects, and urban planners who are able to destroy Palestinian public representations and construct over them Israeli public re-representations in the name of modernity.

Finally, although analysis of Israeli spacio-cide and spacio-cidal practices reveal the cruelty of the occupation, especially forms of cruelty often left unnoticed, this does not mean that such a strategy can truly succeed in cleansing Palestinian existence from the land of Palestine. Among various forms of resistance in which Palestinians have become proficient over many decades, future research should pay attention to techniques of resistance that refuse, undermine, and defy spacio-cide.

Aya Hijazi is an international consultant currently working on stabilization programs for Syria, based in Turkey. She completed a BA in Anthropology and Sociology with a focus on Rhetoric at Drake University in the United States and an MSc in Urbanization and Development at the London School Economics in the UK.

“Toward Spacio-cide: Building the Museum of Tolerance Over the Mamilla Cemetery in Jerusalem” was originally published in the Jerusalem Quarterly and is reprinted here with permission.


  1. Moti Bassok, “Jeruusalem Committee Approves Master Plan to Preserve Historic Neighborhoods,” Ha;Aretz, 2 June 2014, online at http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/business/.premium-1.596550(accessed 10 October 2016).
  2. Nir Hasson, “Museum of Tolerance Special Report, Part I: Holes, Holiness and Hollywood,” Ha’Aretz,  18 May 2010, online at http://www.haretz.com/museum-of-tolerance-special-report-introduction-tolerance-takes-its-toll-1.290946 (accessed 17 August 2016) See also: Asem Khalidi, “The Mamilla Cemetery; A Buried History,” Jerusalem Quarterly37 (Spring 2009): 104-9.
  3. Isabel Kershner, “Museum Creates New Jerusalem Divide,” New York Times, 11 February 2010, online at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/11/world/middleeeast/11jerusalem.html(accessed 17 August 2016).
  4. Maan News Agency, “Isra’il tujarrifu ‘ashirat al-qubur fi maqbarat Ma’man Allah bi-l-Quds” [Israel Bulldozes Dozens of Graves in Mamilla Cemetery in Jerusalem], MaanNews.net, 6 August 2010, online at http://www.maannews.net/Content.aspx?id=305813 (accessed 16 August 2016).
  5. Pablo Castellani and Chiara Cruciati, “Israel’s Destruction of Mamilla Cemetery Part of Effort to Remove Palestine from Jerusalem,” Mondoweiss, 27 August 2015, online at mondoweiss.net/2015/08/destruction-palestine-jerusalem/ (accessed 24 August 2016).
  6. Esther Hecht,  “Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem Moves Forward,” Architectural Record, 22 July 2016, online at http://www.architecturalrecord.com/articles/11815-museum-of-tolerance-jerusalem-moves-forward (accessed 13 October 2016).
  7. There is no divider between “East” and “West” Jerusalem; hence, for the  purposes of this paper, this division becomes insignificant with regard to defending the historical sanctity and protection of the city as a whole.
  8. See, for example: Martin Coward, Urbicide: The Politics of Urban Destruction (New York: Routledge, 2009; Stephen Graham, “Lessons in Urbicide,” New Left Review, 19 (2003): 63-77; Derek Gregory, The Colonial Present: Afghanistan, Palestine, and Iraq (Maidan, MA: Blackwell, 2004); Yosef Rafeq Jabareen, “The Politics of State Planning in Achieving Geopolitical Ends: The Case of the Rcent Master Plan for Jerusalem,” International Development Planning Review 32, no. 1 (January 2010): 27-43; Philipp Misselwitz and Tim Rieniets, eds., City of Collision: Jerusalem and the Principles of Conflict Urbanism (Basel: Birkhäuser, 2006; Eyal Weizman, Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation (London: Verso, 2007); Wendy Pullan, “Contested Mobilities and the Spatial Topography of Jerusalem,” in Contested Spaces: Sites, Representations, and Histories of Conflict, ed. Louise Prussic, Jim Aulich, and Graham Dawson (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
  9. Gregory, Colonial Present, 88
  10. Gregory, Colonial Present, 88
  11. Graham, “Lessons in Urbicide,” 63. See also: Coward, Urbicide.
  12. Haifa Rashed, Damien Short, and John Docker, “Nakba Memoricide: Genocide Studies and the Zionist/Israeli Genocide of Palestine,” Holy Land Studies 13, no. 1 (2014): 1-34. See also: Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (Oxford: Oneworld, 2006).
  13. Sari Hanafi, “Spaciocide,” in City of Collision, ed. Misselwitz and Reiniets, 93-101
  14. Sari Hanafi, “Explaining Spacio-cide in the Palestinian Territory: Colonization, Separation, and State of Exception,” Current Sociology 61, no. 2 (Mar. 2013): 190-205
  15. “Introduction to Part Five,” in The Cultural Geography Reader, ed. Timothy S. Oakes and Patricia L. Price (New York: Routledge, 2008), 254
  16. Hanafi, “Spaciocide,” 93.
  17. Hanafi, “Spaciocide,” 93.
  18. Hanafi notes: “[Israeli] sovereignty reduces the subjective trajectories of individuals to the subjective trajectories of individuals to bodies. These, indistinct, displaced, localized, and colonized bodies come to be classified and defined as refugees, stateless people.” Hanafi, “Spaciocide,” 96.
  19. Pappe, Ethnic Cleansing.
  20. Tamim al-Barghouti, “Fi al-Quds” [In Jerusalem], available online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZTSLDVeH5M (performance) and http://www.adab.com/modules.php?name=Sh3er&doWhat=shqas&qid=76853 (text) (accessed 18 September 2016).
  21. Doris Francis, Leonie Kellaher, and Georgina Neophytou, “The Cemetery: A Site for the Construction of Memory, Identity, and Ethnicity,” in Social Memory and History: Anthropolotical Perspectives, ed. Jacob J. Climo and Maria G. Cattell (Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press, 2002), 95.
  22. Francis, Kellaher and  Neophytou mention how in the seventeenth century, immigrant Jews bought land for burial as their first property. The annual remembrance rituals in these cemeteries combine memorial prayers in Hebrew and the Israeli national anthem with the singing of “God Save the Queen” Francis, Kellaher, and Neophytou, “The Cemetery,” 100, 107.
  23. Francis, Kellaher, and Neophytou, “The Cemetery,” 97.
  24. Sean Field, “‘No One Has Allowed Me to Cry’: Trauma, Memorialization, and Children in Post Genocide Rwanda,” in Contested Spaces, ed. Prussic, Aulich, and Dawson, 211-232.
  25. Nick Shepherd and Christian Ernsten, “The World Below: Post-Apartheid Urban Imaginaries and the Bones of the Prestwich Streed Dead,” in Desire Lines: Space, Memory, and Identity in the Post-Apartheid City, ed. Noëleen Murray, Nick Shepherd, and Martil Hall (New York: Routledge, 2007), 215-232
  26. Shepherd and Ernsten, “World Below,” 217.
  27. Shepherd and Ernsten, “World Below,” 222.
  28. James E. Young, The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 207.
  29. Young, Texture of Memory, 207.
  30. Francis, Kellaher, and Neophytou, “The Cemetery.”
  31. In a report by the UN General Assembly, the Palestinian delegation objected to the excavations and expressed their deep concern at: “the excavation of ancient tombs and the removal of hundreds of human remains from part of the historic Ma’man Allah (Mamilla) Cemetery in the holy city of Jerusalem in order to construct the ‘Museum of Tolerance’ and calls upon the Government of Israel to immediately desist from such illegal activities therein.” See: “13/…The Grave Human Rights Violations by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Including Jerusalem,” UN Human Rights Council, 19 March 2010, Agenda item 7, 2-3, online at documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/LTD/G10/124/03/PDF/G1012403.pdf (accessed 13 October 2016).
  32. “Petition  for Urgent Action on Human Rights Violations by Israel: Desecration of Ma’man Allah (Mamilla) Muslim Cemetyery in the Holy City of Jerusalem,” 10 February 2010, online at http://www.mamillacampaign.org/photos/pdfs/All_Petition.pdf (accessed 5 August 2010).
  33. Personal communication, 19 July 2010.
  34. Castellani and Cruciati, “Israel’s Destruction.”
  35. Personal communication, 22 April 2010.
  36. To view images of the bones, see the photographic evidence provided in Hasson, “Museum of Tolerance Special Repport, Part I.”
  37. Petition for Urgent Action,” 14.
  38. Nir Hasson, “Museum of Tolerance Special Report: In Response to the Revelations,” Ha’Aretz, 18 May 2010, online at http://www.haaretz.com/magazine/2.278/museum-of-tolerance-special-report-in-response-to-the-revelations-1.290925 (accessed 19 May 2010).
  39. Ethan Bronner, “Gravestone Removals Add Fuel to Jerusalem Museum Dispute,” New York Times, 13 August 2010, online at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/14/world/middleeast/14israel.html(accessed 19 May 2010).
  40. See Simon Wiesenthal Center, “Important Facts on the Israeli Sureme Court Ruling in Favor of the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem,” online at http://www.wiesenthal.com/site/pp.asp?c=lsKWLbPJLnF&b=5794545(accessed 13 October 2016).
  41. “Petition for Urgent Action,” 19.
  42. “Petition for Urgent Action,” 19.
  43. Nir Hasson, “Museum of Tolerance Special Report Part II: Secrets from the Grave,” Ha’Aretz, 18 May 2010, online at http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/museum-of-tolerance-special-report-part-ii-secrets-from-the-grave-1.290941 (accessed 13 October 2016).
  44. Bronner, “Gravestone Removals.”
  45. Hasson, “Museum of Tolerance Special Report: In Response to the Revelations.”
  46. Len Ly, “Museum Digs Up Controversy in Jerusalem,” Neon Tommy, 26 April 2010, video online at http://www.mamillaacampaign.org/template.php?id=78 (accessed 13 October 2016).
  47. “The Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem,” News from Within podcast, 5 March 2010 online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34s8oCuKP21 (accessed 13 October 2016).
  48. “Petition for Urgent Action.”
  49. Hasson, “Museum of Tolerance Special Report, Part I.”
  50. In outlining his peace program to the Knesset in 1977 during his visit to Jerusalem, Anwar Sadat, president of Egypt at the time stated: “Jerusalem should be a free city open to all believers…we should revive the spirit of Omar al-Khattab and Saladin, in other words, the spirits of tolerance and respect of law.” Henry Cattan, Jerusalem (London: Croom Helm, 1981), 26.
  51. Tamir Sorek, “Cautious Commemoration: Localism, Communalism , and Nationalism in Palestinian Memorial Monuments in Israel,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 50, no. 2 (2008): 337-368.
  52. Sorek, “Cautious Commemoration,” 346.
  53. Hasson, “Museum of Tolerance Special Report: In Response to the Revelations.”
  54. Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (London: Vintage 1993), 6.
  55. Young, Texture of Memory, 207
  56. Young, Texture of Memory, 306; Hasson, Museum of Tolerance Special Report, Part I.”
  57. Young, Texture of Memory.
  58. Young, Texture of Memory.
  59. Andreas Huyssen, “Present Pasts: Media, Politics, Amnesia,” Public Culture12, no. 1 (2000): 21-38, quote at 26.
  60. Huyssen, “Present Pasts.”
  61. Knischewski and Spittler, “Competing Pasts,” 168
  62. Huyssen, Present Pasts.”
  63. Knischewski and Spittler, “Competing Pasts,” 168.
  64. Young, Texture of Memory, 247.
  65. Young Texture of Memory, 250.
  66. Hasson, “Museum of Tolerance Special Report, Part I”; Amara, personal communication, 22 April 2010.
  67. Simon Wiesenthal Center, “Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem,” undated [2010] online at http://www.wiesenthal.com/arf/cf%7B54d385e6-flb9-4e9f-8e94-890c3e6dd277%7D/MOTJ%20PACKET.PDF (accessed 13 October 2016).
  68. Personal communication, 19 July 2010.
  69. Hasson, “Museum of Tolerance Special Report, Part I.”
  70. Esther Zandberg, “Surroundings No Tolerance for Jerusalem’s Uniqueness,” Ha’Aretz, 5 November 2008, online at http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/culture/leisure/surroundings-no-tolerance-for-jerusalem-s-uniqueness-1.256638 (Accessed 24 April 2010).
  71. Michael Z. Wise, “Unbuilt: Architect Frank Gehy Withdraws from Plan to Build Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem,” Tablet, 14 January 2010, online at http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/23575/unbuilt(accessed 12 October 2016). An image of Gehry’s design can be found in Zandberg, “Surroundings No Tolerance,” and Wise, “Unbuilt.”
  72. Hecht, “Museum of Tolerance.”
  73. Noga Tarnopolsky, “Death in Jerusalem,” Guilt & Pleasure
  74. Zandberg, “Surroundings No Tolerance”; Wise, “Unbuilt.”
  75. Huyssen, “Present Pasts.”
  76. Ivan Karp writes: “the discussion of the poetics and politics of the museum display illustrated how the selection of knowledge and the presentation of ideas and images are enacted with the power system.” Ivan Karp, “Introduction,” in Museums and Communities: The Politics of Public Culture, ed. Ivan Karp, Christine Mullen Kreamer, and Steven D. Lavine (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press 1992), 1.
  77. This language, no longer present on the Wiesenthal Center’s Website, can still be found, for example, in a 15 November 2011 post by the Jerusalem, Capital of Israel Facebook group titled “Construction of the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem,” online at http://www.facebook.com/notes/jerusalem-capital-of-israel/construction-of-the-museum-of-tolerance-in-jerusalem/276971902345613/ (accessed 12 October 2016). The Wiesenthal Center, meanwhile, continues to quote approvingly from the Israeli Supreme Court: “Almost every place you dig in Jerusalem you’re going to come into contact with ancient civilizations. Is it better to let this site remain a parking lot, or build a center for human dignity there, which would teach young people mutual respect and social responsibility?” See: Simon Wiesenthal Center, “Important Facts on the Israeli Supreme Court Ruling.” (emphasis in original).
  78. Karsten Harries, The Ethical Functiion of Architecture (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997), 141.