JERUSALEM (Ma’an) -- Employees of Israel's Nature and Parks Authority escorted by Israeli forces raided the Palestinian Bal al-Rahma cemetery in occupied East Jerusalem on Sunday and installed a sign forbidding burial in parts of the cemetery which have been claimed to become a national park.
The head of the committee for the preservation of Islamic cemeteries in Jerusalem, Mustafa Abu Zahra, told Ma'an that the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority crew installed around 10 signs in different areas in the cemetery in both Arabic and Hebrew reading “National Park around Jerusalem wall,” “open public area,” and “no burials allowed.”
Abu Zahra added that the area targeted on Sunday included plots belonging to the al-Husseini and al-Ansari families in the eastern area of the cemetery, and amounted to three to four dunams (0.75 to one acre) of confiscated lands.
Abu Zahra said that some graves in the al-Husseini area had been erected during the Ottoman Empire era, and that old Egyptian graves were located in the al-Ansari part of the cemetery, adding that the cemetery was Islamic property and that Israel had no right to infringe upon it.
A spokesperson for the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority did not respond to a request for comment from Ma’an on Monday.
Israel has been confiscating land in the more than 1,000-years-old Muslim cemetery of Bal al-Rahma since September 2015
to make a park, although Palestinian officials have said that Israeli authorities have chipped away at Bab al-Rahma for years.
Israeli authorities have also demolished graves
and prevented burials
in Bab al-Rahma, which runs along the eastern wall of Jerusalem's Old City, in the past several months.
Mahmoud al-Habbash, a Palestinian Authority (PA) adviser on religious and Islamic affairs, called the demolitions of graves in November a sign of “Israeli political confusion” following a UNESCO resolution denouncing Israeli violations at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound which caused a political and media uproar in Israel, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claiming that the UN agency had “denied the over 3,000 year old connection between the Jewish people and its holiest site in Jerusalem.”
Al-Habbash added that the demolitions were “a crime that Israel must be punished for, in accordance with international law.”
The fate of Jerusalem has been a focal point of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, with numerous tensions arising over Israeli threats regarding the status of non-Jewish religious sites in the city, and the "Judaization" of East Jerusalem through settlement construction and mass demolitions of Palestinian homes.