Tensions between France, Israelis continue over opening of contested Jewish tomb

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In this Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019 photo, The French tricolor flutters over the Tomb of the Kings, a large underground burial complex dating to the first century BC, as Muslims past bay the iron gate in east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. (AP)
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In this Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019 photo, ultra-Orthodox Jews visits the Tomb of the Kings, a large underground burial complex dating to the first century BC, in east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. (AP)
Updated 08 November 2019

Tensions between France, Israelis continue over opening of contested Jewish tomb

  • The French Consulate General reopened the Tomb of the Kings last month despite a dispute over access to the archaeological-cum-holy site
  • Israeli nationalists and ultra-Orthodox Jews who seek open worship at the tomb challenge France's ownership of the site

JERUSALEM: Tensions continue between French authorities and Israelis continue after France reopened one of Jerusalem's ancient tombs to the public for the first-time last month in over a decade.
After several aborted attempts, the French Consulate General reopened the Tomb of the Kings last month despite a dispute over access to the archaeological-cum-holy site in the city's volatile eastern half.
Israeli nationalists and ultra-Orthodox Jews who seek open worship at the tomb challenge France's ownership of the site.
France, which has managed the property since the late 19th century, closed the site for an extensive $1.1 million restoration in 2009. The French flag flutters over the site's massive black gate marked with the words "Republique Francaise."
In 1878, a French Jewish woman purchased the property through the French consul in Jerusalem, and eight years later one of her heirs donated it to the French government.
Today, most archaeologists contend it belonged to Queen Helena, a Mesopotamian monarch who converted to Judaism in the first century BC. Adiabene was an ancient Assyrian kingdom whose rulers converted to Judaism. One of the sarcophagi at the Louvre bears an inscription mentioning a "Queen Saddan," possibly a relative of the Adiabenian queen.
"Altogether, I think there is a scholarly agreement that this tomb should be associated with Helena," Peleg-Barkat said.
The Tomb of the Kings is an underground burial complex dating to the first century BC and "definitely one of the most elaborately decorated tombs that we have from the early Roman period in Jerusalem," said Orit Peleg-Barkat, a Hebrew University archaeologist. Access to the interior burial chambers is prohibited.
Jews who worship at the tomb believe it is the resting place of several prominent Jewish figures from antiquity, including the revered queen and her relatives, and that praying there will help bring rain and good financial fortune. Ultra-Orthodox Jews have called for the site to open without restrictions for prayer.
The surrounding east Jerusalem neighborhood of the tomb, however, is predominantly Palestinian. In this volatile city, visits by large numbers of religious Jews to a spot in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood runs the risk of raising tensions or even sparking violence.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed it, a move unrecognized by most of the international community. Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, while Israel considers the entire city its capital.
Yonathan Mizrachi, head of Emek Shaveh, an Israeli organization against the politicization of archaeology, said the tomb's location in Sheikh Jarrah is what makes it so "politically problematic" for French authorities.
The past decade has seen a rise in Israeli nationalists buying properties and evicting longtime Palestinian residents in Sheikh Jarrah and other east Jerusalem neighborhoods. Just north of the Tomb of the Kings, an enclave of Israeli homes has grown around another ancient tomb in Sheikh Jarrah — that of Simeon the Just — where ultra-Orthodox Jews pray.


Suspected arson at East Jerusalem mosque

Israeli border policemen take up position during clashes with Palestinian demonstrators at a protest against Trump's decision on Jerusalem, near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank March 9, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 January 2020

Suspected arson at East Jerusalem mosque

  • The attack had the appearance of a “price tag” attack, a euphemism for Jewish nationalist-motivated hate crimes that generally target Palestinian or Arab Israeli property

JERUSALEM: Israeli police launched a manhunt on Friday after an apparent arson attack, accompanied by Hebrew-language graffiti, at a mosque in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.
“Police were summoned to a mosque in Beit Safafa, in Jerusalem, following a report of arson in one of the building’s rooms and spraying of graffiti on a nearby wall outside the building,” a police statement said.
“A wide-scale search is taking place in Jerusalem,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP. “We believe that the incident took place overnight. We are searching for suspects.”
The spokesman would not say if police viewed it as a hate crime. The graffiti, on a wall in the mosque compound and viewed by an AFP journalist, contained the name Kumi Ori, a small settlement outpost in the north of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The Times of Israel newspaper said on Friday that the wildcat outpost “is home to seven families along with roughly a dozen extremist Israeli teens.”
“Earlier this month security forces razed a pair of illegally built settler homes in the outpost,” it reported.
All settlements on occupied Palestinian land are considered illegal under international law, but Israel distinguishes between those it has approved and those it has not.
The paper said: “A number of young settlers living there were involved in a string of violent attacks on Palestinians and (Israeli) security forces.”
Police said that nobody was injured in the mosque incident.
The attack had the appearance of a “price tag” attack, a euphemism for Jewish nationalist-motivated hate crimes that generally target Palestinian or Arab Israeli property in revenge for nationalistic attacks against Israelis or Israeli government moves against unauthorized outposts like Kumi Ori.
“This is price tag,” Israeli Arab lawmaker Osama Saadi told AFP at the scene.
“The settlers didn’t only write words, they also burned the place and they burnt a Qur’an,” said Saadi, who lives in the area.
Ismail Awwad, the local mayor, said he called the police after he found apparent evidence of arson, pointing to an empty can he said had contained petrol or some other accelerant and scorch marks in the burned room.
“The fire in the mosque burned in many straight lines which is a sign that somebody poured inflammable material,” he said.
There was damage to an interior prayer room but the building’s structure was unharmed.
In December, more than 160 cars were vandalized in the Shuafaat neighborhood of east Jerusalem with anti-Arab slogans scrawled nearby.
The slogans read “Arabs=enemies,” “There is no room in the country for enemies” and “When Jews are stabbed we aren’t silent.”
The attackers were described by a local resident as “masked settlers.”