The Ma'man Allah (Mamilla) Cemetery was the oldest Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem with graves dating back to the seventh century, comprised of 33 acres and tens of thousands of graves. After 1948 the Israeli ministry that maintained the site reassured world leaders that this important religious site would be cared for in perpetuity.
Less than fifteen years later, in the 1960s a park was built in part of the cemetery and a parking lot covered another part. These were followed by a school, football field, underground parking garage, and road. Electrical wires were laid in other sections.
The final few acres were dug up just before the beginning of Ramadan, in the middle of the night (as can be seen on the CNN video) so that Israel can build the Museum of Tolerance in conjunction with the Simon Wiesenthal Center in the United States.
An enormous amount of knowledge was lost with the destruction of the Mamilla Cemetery, according to St. Paul based archaeologist, John E. Landgraf, Ph.D., because the era since the end of the Byzantine period and the beginning of the Islamic conquest (around 638 CE) up to the present day is the least known period of history in the Middle East generally. There is much to be learned by examining skeletal remains, headstones, and tombs. However, the Israeli Department of Antiquities, which has recently been taken over by the Orthodox Rabbinate, does not allow any human skeletal remains to be examined; Jewish remains must be re-interred as quickly as possible out of respect, whereas non-Jewish remains at the Mamilla Cemetery were disposed of along with tombstones and other debris in construction dumpsters.
Dr. Landgraf, who participated in a number of archaeological digs in Israel and the West Bank between 1965 and 1980, said that the Israeli Department of Antiquities was seldom interested in the preservation of remains or artifacts from the Islamic period. In the late 1960s the discovery of Muslim graves at Tell Gezer did not interest the American head archaeologist at the time, and so bulldozers were used to push remains, artifacts, and debris back into the graves.
Archaeological excavations are a way of learning about the past in an orderly fashion. One exposes history a layer at a time, and by careful examination knowledge can be gained of the various eras and cultures. When Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967 Israeli archaeologists used bulldozers to excavate the Western (Wailing) Wall area down to the late Roman period, destroying the homes of Palestinians living there at the time, and along with them the 1500-year history of the people who had lived there since the Byzantine period. "Thus there is a loss of continuity in our understanding of the past," said Dr. Landgraf.
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