Notes on the Mamilla Cemetery – Part 1: Initial Impressions

A crusader tomb in the Mamilla Cemetery

The first time I passed by the Mamilla Cemetery, it didn’t leave any particular impression on me. As far as I remember, I passed by it (and through the corner cutting through to the Mamilla mall) without even considering the tomb stones. Later, during my Zionist apologetic period, I was faced with it in a number of discussions (battles) for and against Israel, where I – to be honest – had very little knowledge, and no awareness at all, so all I responded with was Zionist apologetic talking points, which I repeated from wherever I found them online. This was not a typical response from me, I have to said, but when you’re an apologist and you’re backed up in a corner, you usually run with what you got.

The entrance to the tomb of ‘Alaa al-Din Aydughdi al-Kubaki, who was governor of Safed.

The above is not said to make an attack on Zionists, not even the apologists among them, but rather to emphasize how little knowledge and understanding I had of the place, when I first dealt with Israel/Palestine, and particularly Jerusalem, and this lasted for some time even after I moved here, and I had passed the place a number of times.

A crusader tomb in the Mamilla Cemetery

When I began to be more aware of the place, it was still only as it being a place, where there were tomb stones, without any further understanding of the place. I didn’t even entertain the notion that this might be an Islamic cemetery, nor the historiocity of the place. Even when I was enjoying some rest in the Gan HaAtzmaut, the Independence Park, which was made in parts of the cemetery, did I understand the connection.

I did get to the point, where I kind of internalized the existence of a cemetery on the corner of Gershon Agron street and Hillel street, opposite the entrance of the Mamilla avenue (the shopping “street” leading up to the Jaffa Gate), but I never connected it to anything of particular importance. As far as I knew, this was an old Jewish cemetery, which probably had some interesting figures resting there, but nothing more.

The true understanding of the cemetery and the extent of it, only came recently within the last year, when my interest in documenting Jerusalem’s Old City became more prominent in my mind. While I only can base the following on my own example, and therefore won’t make any definitive statement, I don’t believe that I am so different from the majority of people, even of those living in Jerusalem. That is, the awareness of the cemetery, the identity of it, and its history, is not something which is central to very many people living in Jerusalem. A case in point. In my last visit to do a shoot on the cemetery, I found several tents of a anti-lockdown protest being erected around the caves where countless bodies are said to have been buried. The caves were littered with garbage and even a broken tent. Obviously this can be a total lack of care and respect for the dead, but would the protesters have erected the tents where they did, if they had known about the history of these caves, or would they have erected the tents another place? I’m inclined to think the latter.

This lack of awareness might be the reason for the general neglectance of the cemetery. Had it been more central to the consciousness of the city population as a whole, maybe more interest in maintaining the place, at least as a historical site connected to the city’s history, would have been more prominent. Again, while there certainly might be nefarious motives causing the neglect of the cemetery, I believe that it’s more caused by the general lack of awareness.

I hope that I can help create more awareness about this historical site. Whether one is following either the Jewish, Christian, or Muslims faith, or one is tied to one of the two sides of the political conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, it should be possible to acknowledge that the Mamilla Cemetery is a crucial part of Jerusalem’s history. And if one cares for Jerusalem, one would also care for her history.

If you would like to know a little more about the Mamilla Cemetery, I can strongly recommend you to download Emek Shaveh’s guide to the Mamilla Cemetery from their website:
Hidden Heritage: A Guide to the Mamilla Cemetery, Jerusalem

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September 21, 2020