The opening of a cafe in Jerusalem built over a revered Islamic cemetery has sparked condemnation and anger from the Muslim community.
The Aqsa Foundation for Endowment and Heritage said on Tuesday that the construction of the site was part of an Israeli plan that aims to demolish “everything related to Arabic Islamic history on this land”.
Landwer Cafe’s Independence Garden branch opened on Sunday on part of an area of land located between occupied East Jerusalem, which is predominantly Arab, and West Jerusalem. The area was being transformed into a park.
All these projects are being constructed over the skulls of Muslims buried in the cemetery
For centuries, the land housed the Maaman Allah cemetery, the oldest and largest Muslim graveyard in the country, and is believed to contain the remains of some of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad.
The owner of the restaurant told Al Jazeera that he did not know there was a grave under the cafe, but refused to make further comments.
“It’s not just the loss of the cemetery that angers the Palestinians. The cafe’s selling of alcohol [forbidden in Islam] is seen as a grave violation of the sanctity of the Islamic site,” Al Jazeera’s Elias Karram, reporting from Jerusalem, said.
The cafe is just one part of a plan that includes the construction on the site of 192 housing units, a 480-room hotel, commercial spaces, parking and other elements, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported.
A Museum of Tolerance is also being built in the area.
The construction began in 2011, but after skeletal remains were found, the Islamic Movement, which aims to advocate Islam among Israeli Arabs, along with other entities, filed a petition to the High Court of Justice.
The work was interrupted but soon resumed after the court eventually granted permission.
“All these projects are being constructed over the skulls of Muslims buried in the cemetery … cemeteries are supposed to be protected in all religious beliefs and international conventions,” Amir Khatib, the head of the Umm al-Fahm-based Aqsa Foundation for Endowment and Heritage, said.
Maaman Allah cemetery has a historic and religious significance because it includes the remains of a number of revered Islamic figures who participated in the conquest of Jerusalem in the seventh century.