Digging up Bones in Jaffa

Can you imagine the protests and outcries Jews would make if abandoned Jewish cemeteries in European countries like Poland were desecrated?

What is happening now on the streets of Jaffa are violent protests against the al-Isaaf Muslim cemetery, the only Muslim cemetery in the Tel Aviv municipality’s records.

The abandoned cemetery is more than 100 years old when Jaffa was populated mainly by Muslims.

The Tel Aviv mayor Huldai approved the destruction of the burial grounds and the one small house on it in order to build a three-story structure to house homeless Jews.

There are sufficient places for homeless shelters to be built anywhere in southern Tel Aviv. It is an inhuman and insensitive plan to dig up the bones of deceased Muslims from 100 years ago
One of the basic laws in Judaism is kvod ha- met… respect, dignity for the dead. We would take up arms if Muslims or Christians living in Israel were to attempt defiling a Jewish cemetery or holy place. There would be blood-shed and with good reason.

Prior to our independence in 1948, Jews were prohibited (forbidden under physical harm) by the Muslim clergy to visit in and to worship in the holy M’orat HaMachpela, the tomb of burial of our ancient patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and- Jacob and our matriarchs Sara, Rebecca and Leah.

Jews were not allowed to go beyond the seventh step of the many steps leading to the interior of the holy burial place. Jewish prayers were limited only to the first seven steps and not beyond under penalty of death by the Muslims who were in charge of the Cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs based upon their relationship with Abraham (Ibrahim) who is a spiritual father to them as to us.

Battles and bloody wars have been fought over Jewish rights to the tombs. Several years ago a Jewish doctor entered the Abrahamic shrine and shot and killed more than twenty Muslim men at prayer.

Riots occurred through all the streets and alley-ways of Hebron. It was as if the Arab pogrom in Hebron in 1929 was being re-enacted when Muslim neighbors joined Arab forces in the slaughter and massacre of more than eighty Jews. Arab neighbors slaughtering Jewish neighbors… people who lived side by side for hundreds of years.

One of the survivors of the 1929 Hebron massacre was a young man named Arie Lev Ravitz. In 1960 he was Rabbi Arie Lev Ravitz, President of the Supreme Religious Court in Tel Aviv. He was the rabbi who performed the marriage between my beloved wife and me on 24 January 1960.

He had shared with Rahel and me earlier some of his horrible experience in the Hebron massacre in which he saw the dead and mutilated bodies of Jewish men, women and children lying in the bloody streets.

I was shocked in unbelief when he recalled pregnant Jewish women who had their bellies slit open by Arab swords killing the mothers and the unborn children. I shudder and tremble when I remember his painful description of the 1929 pogrom.

Never had Jews destroyed or defiled non-Jewish holy places. We are commanded to have respect for the dead….for all the dead regardless of their religious faiths.

The proposed homeless shelter being built on holy Muslim land, land that has been unused for one hundred years, is still holy to the Muslims of Jaffa. Many of the bones dug up (30 skeletons of dead Muslims were found under the house to be demolished for the new homeless shelter) are remnants of family members who perished a century ago.

If we protest violation of neglected Jewish cemeteries in Poland and in the Ukraine we call it rabid anti-semitism. What shall we call the ruins of an ancient Muslim burial ground? Anti-Islamic?

It is to the credit of the haredi ultra-orthodox Jews who have raised their voices in protest against the defiling of a religious cemetery.

The commandment of kvod ha-met applies to all people of all religious faiths… dignity and honor is not limited to Jews but is God’s commandment to be compassionate and humane in respect for the dead.

This, in my opinion as an Israeli Jew, is a venomous attempt to cause pain to the Muslims of Jaffa.

Once again, the voice of the prophet is heard crying out “tzedek tzedek tirdof”.

Justice and righteousness shalt thou pursue.

Hopefully Mayor Huldai and the Tel Aviv city council will rescind plans for a homeless shelter in order that the ancient bones of ancient people may not be harmed in any way and their dignity preserved.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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