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Bedouin village petitions Israel court against construction on Muslim cemetery

August 23, 2019 at 11:05 am

Palestinian Bedouin women walk in the village of Khan al-Ahmar in the Israeli occupied West Bank on 16 September, 2018 [Wisam Hashlamoun/Apaimages]

The residents of a Bedouin Palestinian village in southern Israel have petitioned the Supreme Court in a bid to prevent construction on the community’s Muslim cemetery, reported Haaretz.

The construction in question is a planned large water storage tank to be built by the Mekorot national water company.

Residents of Hashem Zana – one of dozens of so-called “unrecognised” villages – rejected a proposal to move the graves, and now hope the courts can prevent Mekorot from pressing on regardless.

Mekorot announced the plan in 2017, targeting land belonging to the local Al-Ethman family. According to Haaretz, “the project was halted shortly after its inception when a concrete structure identified as a grave was discovered at the site, alongside several piles of stones”.

Locals said the cemetery was in use prior to the Nakba in 1948 up until the early 1990s, when residents “began burying their relatives in an alternative graveyard”.

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After Mekorot announced its plan, the area was fenced off, and the company “posted signs offering to help residents in moving the graves”. So far, no actual work has begun.

As reported by Haaretz, residents were informed in June that construction work was imminent. “A policeman told us that Mekorot planned to begin the demolition [of the cemetery] and that we have to be ready,” said one of the residents.

Thus, at the beginning of August, residents filed a petition against the move at the Israeli Supreme Court (sitting as the High Court of Justice).

Salam Al-Ethman, whose grandfather is buried in the cemetery, said the residents do not object to building a water tank, but seek to build it on another nearby hill, “which professionals say is just as suitable as the designated site”.

“We will be willing to cooperate in any way, just leave the graves alone,” he said.