No peace, even in death

Wednesday, 25th March 2009 at 13:46 UTC Leave a comment

I’ve had this on my list of news stories to pass comment on for about 4 months now, and every time I’ve had a clear out I’ve said I still want to write about it, and then not gotten round to it. Planners in Jerusalem have allowed a centre for religious tolerance to be built on top of a Muslim cemetery that is hundreds of years old.

It appears that almost no one has been buried there since the arrival of the modern Israeli population, so its not like the political figures interred at this cemetery are modern freedom fighters. But then there’s Saladin, who fought back a crusade to reclaim Jerusalem for its native Muslim, Jewish and Christian inhabitants.

But when does a planning issue around a cemetery, of which this must be about the most explosive example possible, become an issue of manipulation of the past to serve the present, rather than a cry for respect for those who have already died.

I should point out that the claim that they will only use the part marked as a car park is little comfort: when Sheffield (UK) got its trams back in last decade, roads which had been lain over cemeteries around the cathedral with no interference to the bodies beneath had to be re-dug and several hundred skeletons removed. How much more will need to be moved for the building on top, given its design is so vast.

And yet the court does make a very good point about Jerusalem: it has been built upon cemeteries for centuries. But this is a different Jerusalem we are talking about, the post-48, other side of the green line, Jerusalem of division, in which everything, even those who never knew the troubles it now faces, are politicised.

But then comes the classic debate over honouring the dead. One side will claim the other is co-opting dead people for their cause, using manipulative tactics. And its true, the dead are often a far more powerful cause to fight than the living, because they cannot fail our expectations. But the counter to this is that the other side is being disrespectful.

As such, because the ‘people’ (and we should not deny that these are the remains of very real people) are not able to make a decision, the whole thing becomes unresolvable. The trouble is, in Jerusalem, that just means it can’t be resolved with violence. And my worry is that it will make too easy a bombing target, and that the messaging on the Israeli side will be incredibly simple: religious extremists bomb centre for tolerance.

And who loses out? Presumably those at the very bottom of the decision, and yes, that means those already dead and buried. They might rest in peace, but it seems the nature of human politics means they are being dragged into this no matter what. It just leaves an impossible situation.

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Entry filed under: Development, Middle East, Peace, Politics, Religion.

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