Skip to main content

Bone Considerations: Archaeology, Heritage, and Ethics at Mamilla, Jerusalem

  • Gideon Sulimani (a1) and Raz Kletter (a2)

Mamilla cemetery was one of the largest and most important Muslim cemeteries in Jerusalem. The plans to build a “Museum of Tolerance” in it led to heated protests and a prolonged legal procedure in Israel’s Supreme Court of Justice. In 2008, the court approved the plans and many hundreds of graves were exhumed. Through the available sources, including the court’s archival files, we discuss political, legal, and archaeological aspects of this case, focusing on ethics about cemeteries and descendant communities. The discussion shows that the Israel Antiquities Authority breached the court orders and that the treatment of the archaeological remains was biased. “Their” graves were destroyed, and the bones reburied in secret, while “our” remains in the same areas were carefully excavated and preserved. Tolerance to “our” heritage at the expense of “theirs” is intolerance.

Hide All
Abu el-Haj, Nadia. 2001. Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society. Chicago: University of Chicago.
Amit, David. 2009. “Water Supply to the Upper City of Jerusalem during the First and Second Temple Periods in Light of the Mamilla Excavations.” In New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem, vol. 3, edited by Amit, David, Stiebel, Guy, and Peleg-Barkat, Orit, 94108. Jerusalem: The Hebrew University and the Israel Antiquities Authority (in Hebrew).
Amit, David, and Gibson, Shimon. 2014. “Water to Jerusalem: The Route and Date of the Upper and Lower Level Aqueducts.” In Cura Aquarum in Israel II, edited by Ohlig, Christoph and Tsuk, Tsvika, 133. Siegburg: Papierfliegerverlag.
Aronsson, Kjell-Åke. 2013. “Reburial Ethics: The Neiden and Rounala Cases.” Norwegian Archaeological Review 46, no. 2: 223–25.
Babbit, Thomaira E. 2011. Silent History: Reclaiming Palestinian Cultural Patrimony and History and Using NAGPRA as a Paradigm. PhD dissertation, University of Central Oklahoma, Edmond.
Ben-Arieh, Yehoshua. 1989. Jerusalem in the 19th Century: Emergence of the New City. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Blakey, Michael L. 2010. “African Burial Ground Project: A Paradigm for Cooperation?” Museum 62: 6168.
Brown, Wendy. 2006. Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire. Princeton: Princeton University Press
Cohen-Almagor, Raphael. 2007. “The Scope of Tolerance: Response to Nehushtan.” Israel Law Review 40: 277–96.
Colomer, Laia. 2010. “Approaching Montjuïc as Part of the Historic Legacy of Barcelona.” Museum 62: 8185.
Colomer, Laia. 2013. “The Archaeology of Ancient Jewish Burial Grounds: Between the Demand for and the Res Publica.” In Archaeological Intervention on Historical Necropolises: Jewish Cemeteries, edited by Colomer, Laia, 335–45. Barcelona: Ajutament de Barcelona.
Colomer, Laia. 2014. “The Politics of Human Remains in Managing Archaeological Medieval Jewish Burial Grounds in Europe.” Nordic Journal of Cultural Policy 2: 168–86.
Corbett, Elena D. 2015. Competitive Archaeology in Jordan: Narrating Identity from the Ottomans to the Hashemites. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Da‘ādli, Tawfiq. 2011. “Mamlūk Epitaphs from Māmillā Cemetery.” Levant 43, no. 1: 7897.
Dodd, L.S. 2007. “Heritage Formulation in Overtly Politicized Environments: A Commentary.” Archaeologies 3: 415.
Dorfman, Shuka. 2015. Under the Surface. Or Yehuda: Kinneret, Zmora-Bitan, Dvir (in Hebrew).
Dumper, M. 1998. “Muslim Institutional Development in Jerusalem: The Role of waqfs.” Journal of Islamic Studies 2, no. 1: 2138.
Ferguson, Thomas J. 2010. “Improving the Quality of Archaeology in the United States through Consultation and Collaboration with Native American and Descendant Communities.” In Archaeology and Cultural Resource Management: Visions for the Future, edited by Sebastian, Lynne and Lipe, William D., 169–93. Santa Fe: SAR Press.
Gerstenkorn, Jacques. 2017. “To Whom Do the Dead Belong? The Jewish Cemetery at the Hôtel-Dieu in Lyon, France.” Human Remains and Violence 3: 2236.
Goldberg, David T. 2004. “The Power of Tolerance.” In Philosemitism, Antisemitism, and “the Jews”: Perspectives from the Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century, edited by Kushner, Tony and Valman, Nadia, 3148. London: Basil Blackwell.
Gori, Maja. 2013. “The Stones of Contention: The Role of Archaeological Heritage in Israeli–Palestinian Conflict.” Archaeologies 9, no. 1: 213–29.
Greenberg, Rafi. 2008. “‘The Rock of Our Existence’: A Parable of Archaeology-State Relations in Israel.” In Archaeology and Nationalism in Eretz-Israel, edited by Feige, Michael and Shiloni, Zvi, 105–20. Beer Sheba: Ben-Gurion University (in Hebrew).
Greenberg, Rafi. 2009. “Towards an Inclusive Archaeology in Jerusalem: The Case of Silwan/The City of David.” Public Archaeology 8, no. 1: 3550.
Greenberg, Rafi. 2014. “A Privatized Heritage: How the Israel Antiquities Authority Relinquished Jerusalem’s Past.” Jerusalem: Emek Shaveh.
Halperin, Eran, Canetti-Nisim, Daphna, and Hirsch-Hoefler, Sivan. 2009. “The Central Role of Group-Based Hatred as an Emotional Antecedent of Political Intolerance: Evidence from Israel.” Political Psychology 30: 93123.
Heyd, David, ed. 1996. Toleration: An Elusive Virtue. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Israeli, Raphael, Berkovits, Shmuel, Neriah, Jacques, and Hier, Marvin. 2010. “The Architecture of Erasure: Fantasy or Reality?” Critical Inquiry 36: 563–94.
Kadare, Ismail. 1963. The General of the Dead Army, translated by Coltman, Derek. Rev. ed. London: Harvill Press.
Karlsson, Hakan. 2013. “A New Ethical Path for Archaeology?” Norwegian Archaeological Review 46, no. 2: 227–30.
Kersel, Morag. 2015. “Fractured Oversight: The ABCs of Cultural Heritage in Palestine after the Oslo Accords.” Journal of Social Archaeology 15: 2444.
Kim, Jieun, and Steadman, Dawnie W.. 2014. “A Review of Codes of Ethics in the United States and Ethical Dilemmas Surrounding the Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).” Korean Journal of Physical Anthropology 27, no. 2: 4763.
Kletter, Raz. 2006. Just Past? The Making of Israeli Archaeology. London: Equinox.
Kletter, Raz. 2014. “Archaeological Voices from Jerusalem.” In Exploring the Narrative: Jerusalem and Jordan in the Bronze and Iron Ages, edited by Steen, Eveline Van der, Boertien, Jeannette, and Muldr-Hymans, Noor, 394427. London: Bloomsbury.
Kletter, Raz, and Sulimani, Gideon. 2016. “The Destruction That Can Be Studied.” In Historicity, Archaeology and the Bible Forty Years after “Historicity,” Changing Perspectives Series 6, edited by Hjelm, Ingrid and Thompson, Thomas L., 174204. London: Routledge.
Kloner, Amos. 2001. Archaeological Survey of Israel: Survey of Jerusalem: The Northeastern Sector (Map 102). Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority.
Kuprecht, Karolina. 2012. “The Concept of ‘Cultural Affiliation’ in NAGPRA: Its Potential and Limits in the Global Protection of Indigenous Cultural Property Rights.” International Journal of Cultural Property 19, no. 1: 3363.
Lackey, Douglas P. 2006. “Ethics and Native American Reburials: a Philosopher’s View of Two Decades of NAGPRA.” In The Ethics of Archaeology: Philosophical Perspectives on Archaeological Practice, edited by Scarre, Chris and Scarre, Geoffrey, 146–62. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Leshem, Noam. 2015. “‘Over Our Dead Bodies’: Placing Necropolitical Activism.” Political Geography 45: 3444.
Lilley, David J. M., Stroud, Gillian, Brotherwell, Don R., and Williamson, Mark H., eds. 1994. The Jewish Burial Ground at Jewbury, vol. 12: The Medieval Cemeteries. London: Council for British Archaeology.
Lynnott, Mark J., and Wylie, Alison. 2000. Ethics in American Archaeology: Challenges for the 1990s. Washington, DC: Society for American Archaeology.
Makdisi, Saree. 2010. “The Architecture of Erasure.” Critical Inquiry 36: 519–59.
Mason, Randall. 2004. “Fixing Historic Preservation: A Constructive Critique of ‘Significance.’” Places 16, no. 1: 6471.
Mack, Mark E., and Blakey, Michael L.. 2004. “The New York African Burial Ground Project: Past Biases, Current Dilemmas, and Future Research Opportunities.” Historical Archaeology 38, no. 1: 1017.
Mahmoud, Ahmadand, and Veeder, Anna. 2016. Hidden Heritage: A Guide to the Mamilla Cemetery, Jerusalem. Jerusalem: Emek Shaveh Organization.
Meskell, Lynn, ed. 1998. Archaeology under Fire: Nationalism, Politics and Heritage in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. London: Routledge.
Meskell, Lynn, and Van Demme, Lynette S.. 2007. “Heritage Ethics and Descendent Communities.” In Collaboration in Archaeological Practice: Engaging Descendant Communities, edited by Colwell-Chanthaphonh, Chip and Ferguson, Thomas J., 131–50. Walnut Creek: Altamira.
Nagar, Yosi. 2002. “Bone Reburial in Israel: Legal Restrictions and Methodological Implications.” In The Dead and Their Possessions: Repatriation in Principle, Policy and Practice, edited by Cressida, Fforde, Hubert, Jane, and Turnbull, Paul, 8790. London: Routledge.
Nash, Stephen E., and Colwell-Chanthaphonh, Chip. 2010. “NAGPRA after Two Decades.” Museum Anthropology 33, no. 2: 99104.
Nilsson-Stutz, Liiv. 2009. “Archaeology, Identity, and the Right to Culture: Anthropological Perspectives on Repatriation. Current Swedish Archaeology 15–16: 157–72.
Nilsson-Stutz, Liiv. 2012. “The Case of the Mamilla Cemetery and the Museum of Tolerance and Human Dignity.” Heritage and Society 5, no. 2: 221–48.
Nilsson-Stutz, Liiv. 2013. “Claims to the Past: A Critical View of the Arguments Driving Repatriation of Cultural Heritage and Their Role in Contemporary Identity Politics.” Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding 7, no. 2: 170–95.
Parker-Pearson, Mike, Pitts, Mike, and Sayer, Duncan. 2013. “Changes in Policy for Excavating Human Remains in England and Wales.” In Curating Human Remains: Caring for the Dead in the United Kingdom, edited by Giesen, Myra, 147–58. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer.
Polonovski, Max. 2013. “Jewish Cemeteries and Archaeology: New Scientific and Legal Challenges.” In Archaeological Intervention on Historical Necropolises: The Jewish Cemeteries, edited by Laia Colomer, , 107–14. Barcelona: Ajutament de Barcelona.
Reiter, Yitzhak. 2011. Allah’s Safe Haven? The Controversy Surrounding the Mamilla Cemetery and the Museum of Tolerance. Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies (in Hebrew).
Sayer, D. 2010. Ethics and Burial Archaeology. London: Duckworth.
Scarre, G. 2013. “Sapient Trouble-Tombs?: Archaeologists’ Moral Obligations to the Dead.” In The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of Death and Burial, edited by Nilsson-Stutz, Liiv and Tarlow, S., 665–76. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Shay, Talia. 1992. “The Living and the Dead: The Dilemma of Excavating Graves in Israel.” In The Limitations of Archaeological Knowledge, edited by Shay, Talia and Clottes, J., 6773. Liège: University of Liège.
Shelbourn, C. 2013. “Burial Archaeology: Reflections on the Law, Policy and Ethics of Research on Human Remains and ‘Digging the Dead’.” Art Antiquity and Law 18, no. 1: 5975.
Silberman, Neil A. 2001. “If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem: Archaeology, Religious Commemoration and Nationalism in a Disputed City, 1801–2001.” Nations and Nationalism 7: 487–95.
Silberman, Neil A. 2005. “Jewish and Muslim Heritage in Europe: The Role of Archaeology in Defining Cultural Diversity.” Museum 57, no. 3: 95100.
Silberman, Neil A. 2013. “Who Should Take Care of the Dead? Scientific Method, Human Rights, Heritage and Community Beliefs.” In Archaeological Intervention on Historical Necropolises: The Jewish Cemeteries, edited by Laia Colomer, , 3341. Barcelona: Ajutament de Barcelona.
Sion, Ofer. 2011. “Response to David Amit.” Qadmoniyot 142: 108–09 (in Hebrew).
Sivan, Rene. 2013. “Historic Continuity and the Difficulties of Excavations in Jewish Cemeteries: The Situation in Israel.” In Archaeological Intervention on Historical Necropolises: The Jewish Cemeteries, edited by Colomer, Laia, 347–54. Barcelona: Ajutament de Barcelona.
Sprecher-Segalovitz, Shira, 2011. Death Scape: Muslim Cemeteries and the Evolution of Urban Space, Mamilla and Abed Al-Nabi Cemeteries as Case Studies. Haifa: Israel Institute of Technology (in Hebrew).
Sulimani, Gideon, 2013. “Israeli Archaeology in the Old City of Jerusalem.” In The Politics of Israel’s Past: The Bible, Archaeology and Nation-Building, edited by Pfoh, Emanuel and Whitelam, Keith W., 120–36. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press.
Sulimani, Gideon. 2017. “Jerusalem, Mamilla.” Excavations and Surveys in Israel, vol. 129, (accessed 20 May 2017).
Thomas, Suzie, and Koskinen-Koivisto, Eerika. 2016. “Ghosts in the Background and the Price of War.” Nordisk Museologi 2: 6677.
Thurnbull, Paul. 2004. “Indigeneous Australian People, Their Defence of the Dead and Native Title.” In The Dead and Their Possessions: Repatriation in Principle, Policy and Practice, edited by Fforde, Cressida, Hubert, Jane, and Turnbull, Paul, 6386. Routledge: London.
Waltzer, Michael, 1997. On Toleration. Yale: Yale University Press.
Wright, Elizabethada A. 2005. “Rhetorical Spaces in Memorial Places: The Cemetery as Rhetorical Memory Place/Space.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 35, no. 4: 5181.
Wylie, Alison. 2005. “The Promise and Perils of an Ethic of Stewardship.” In Embedding Ethics, edited by Meskell, Linn and Pells, Peter, 4768. London: Berg Press.
Wylie, Alison. 2015. “A Plurality of Pluralisms: Collaboration in Archaeology.” In Objectivity in Science, Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science no. 310, edited by Padovani, Flavia et al., 189210. Basel: Springer.
Yahya, Adel H. 2005. “Archaeology and Nationalism in the Holy Land.” In Archaeologies of the Middle East: Critical Perspectives, edited by Pollock, Susan and Bernbeck, Reinhard, 6677. Oxford: Blackwell.
Yekutieli, Y. 2008. “From the Field of Nationalism to the Field of Capital: Archaeology Today, 1989–1998.” In Archaeology and Nationalism in Eretz Israel, edited by Feige, Michael and Shiloni, Zeev, 221–34. Beer Sheba: Ben Gurion University (in Hebrew).
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Journal of Cultural Property
  • ISSN: 0940-7391
  • EISSN: 1465-7317
  • URL: /core/journals/international-journal-of-cultural-property
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed