By Patrick O. Strickland
On Monday, student activists examined the remains of a Palestinian cemetery that had been uprooted and mostly destroyed to make space for a shopping center and new student dorms for Tel Aviv University (TAU).
A large part of TAU is built on land that used to be a Palestinian village, al-Sheikh Muwanniz, before the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. According Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi, the village’s 1948 population exceeded 2,000.
Despite an nonaggression agreement between the villagers and Haganah, the Jewish militia that later became the foundation for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), Irgun, another Jewish militia, enacted a campaign of abductions that led to the disappearance of five village leaders in the tense months leading up to the war. Several nearby villages were razed, and eventually the majority of al-Sheikh Muwanniz fled. Most became refugees in the West Bank villages of Tulkarem and Qalqiya.
The construction of the dorms and shopping center began over eight months ago. The crew has blocked off two graves with plastic netting, one of which holds the remains of the village mukhtar, or leader. Cigarette butts have been tossed in the graves.
The activists took photos of the two semi-preserved graves and the bones which were uprooted. Several other bones, including a shattered fragment of a skull, were scattered across the construction site.
“There were definitely more than two graves here,” said Jabr, one of the students, as he carefully sifted through mounds of dirt and uncovered more bone shards, photographing each of them.
As the students left, two women were denied entrance to the site. “Both of our grandparents are buried here,” one said. “Our families are from al-Sheikh Muwanniz.”
They said they had not been notified that their relatives’ graves were being dug up, and that they only found out through Facebook two days ago, after the Al-Aqsa Foundation for Waqf and Heritage posted a notification.
“Well, they are building the new Museum of Tolerance on top of a Palestinian Muslim graveyard in Jerusalem,” Gaby, another TAU student, told Bikyamasr.com.
Activists told Bikyamasr.com that the destruction of al-Sheikh Muwanniz’s cemetery is consistent with the longstanding tradition of erasing Palestinian history. Tel Aviv University is often identified as a leftist bastion within Israeli society; the destruction of al-Sheikh Muwanniz’s cemetery, the activists charge, demonstrate that even mainstream Israeli liberalism depends on the suppression of the Palestinian historical narrative.
– Patrick O. Strickland is a freelance writer living and traveling on both sides of the Green Line in Israel and the Palestinian territories. He is a weekly Israel-Palestine correspondent for Bikya Masr and writes regular dispatches on his blog, www.patrickostrickland.com. He is a graduate student of Middle Eastern Studies. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. (This article was first published in bikyamasr.com.)