Egypt denies destroying ancient Islamic cemeteries to build bridge

Egypt has poured cold water on an online campaign critical of the scheme to build a bridge through ancient cemeteries. (Supplied)
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Updated 21 July 2020

Egypt denies destroying ancient Islamic cemeteries to build bridge

  • Online campaigners claim construction project could wipe out historic Cairo monuments

CAIRO: The Egyptian government on Monday denied claims circulating on social media that ancient Islamic cemeteries and artifacts were being destroyed to make way for a bridge-building project.

Antiquities dating back five centuries in Cairo’s City of the Dead were among treasured items online posters said had been wrecked.
However, in a statement, head of the Islamic, Coptic and Judaic Antiquities Sector, Osama Talaat, said that the rumors were “completely untrue” and images of tombs that had appeared on social networking sites were not historic registered monuments.
He added that although the pictured tombs were from more recent times, the secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities had still ordered the formation of a scientific technical committee to examine the tombstones and look into the possibility of displaying some of them in museums.
An online campaign, launched on Facebook, has been critical of the scheme to build a bridge through the Mamluk Desert Cemetery.
Activist and journalist Khaled Abdel-Hadi said that the Mamluk tombs were part of Egypt’s world-famous Islamic architecture and destroying them would be to erase key aspects of the country’s history.
Archaeologist Hisham Auf pointed out that the cemeteries being demolished to make way for the bridge were in an archaeological site registered since 2009 and as such it was against the law to damage them.
He said the cemeteries dated back to the 1920s and contained the bodies of pashas, former Egyptian prime ministers, and members of the Egyptian intelligentsia who fought during the Egyptian Revolution of 1919 against British occupation.


Archaeologist Hisham Auf pointed out that the cemeteries being demolished to make way for the bridge were in an archaeological site registered since 2009 and as such it was against the law to damage them.

This, he noted, “made the area a part of modern history as well as ancient history. The region as a whole went through changes, all of which were against the law as this tampered with Egyptian history and Egypt’s international pledge to UNESCO.
“It is true that during the construction of the Salah Salem Road during the time of (Egyptian) President Gamal Abdel Nasser parts of graves were removed, but this does not legitimize what is happening now and does not mean anything in the debate about the graves.”
Auf added: “We were informed only 10 days ago of the decision to demolish. It was an official report and was conducted by the person responsible for my mother’s family tombs in El-Ghafir, in which its two-room reception and large vacant space will be destroyed.
“As the tombs are on a side street, the cemeteries themselves are still safe. I don’t know if we have to move the remains of the dead. The state did not provide us with alternate graves.”
He said some people had been able to arrange for remains to be moved but others were struggling. “My great grandfather had bought a second cemetery in the same area, but he donated it. This second cemetery will most likely end up being destroyed and no one will move any of the bones located there.”
He said that to date there had been no offer of compensation.
“This is not a process of moving the graves. This is the demolition of the graves, which is untenable behavior. I am disgusted by the attempts to defend this sad day in the history of Cairo,” Auf added.

Seth Rogen’s Israel comments highlight fraught diaspora ties

Palestinian firefighters try to extinguish a fire after an Israeli airstrike, on a floor in a building that also houses international media offices in Gaza City. (Reuters/File)
Updated 08 August 2020

Seth Rogen’s Israel comments highlight fraught diaspora ties

  • Jewish comedians’ conversation on Israel spark an uproar

TEL AVIV: It began as a lighthearted conversation between two Jewish comedians, riffing on a podcast about the idiosyncrasies of their shared heritage. But after talk turned to Israel, it didn’t take long for Marc Maron and Seth Rogen to spark an uproar.

Their comments about Israel — especially Rogen saying the country “doesn’t make sense” — infuriated many Israel supporters and highlighted the country’s tenuous relationship with young, progressive Jewish critics in the diaspora.
Israel has long benefited from financial and political support from American Jews. But in recent years the country has faced a groundswell of opposition from young progressives, disillusioned by Israel’s aggressive West Bank settlement building, its perceived exclusion of liberal streams of Judaism and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cosy relationship with President Donald Trump.
“What Seth Rogen said is par for the course among our generation and the Israeli government has to wake up and see that their actions have consequences,” said Yonah Lieberman, spokesman for If Not Now, an American Jewish organization opposed to Israel’s entrenched occupation of the West Bank.
Rogen’s remarks follow a dramatic shift by an influential Jewish American commentator who recently endorsed the idea of a democratic entity of Jews and Palestinians living with equal rights on the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Peter Beinart’s argument that a two-state solution — Israel and Palestine — is no longer possible sent shock waves through the Jewish establishment and Washington policymaking circles.
For many Jews, Israel is an integral part of their identity, on religious grounds or as an insurance policy in the wake of the Holocaust and in a modern age of resurgent anti-Semitism. But polls have shown that while most American Jews identify with Israel and feel a connection to the country, that support has waned over recent years, especially among millennials.
Some have even embraced the Palestinian-led movement calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel to protest what it says is Israeli oppression of Palestinians. Israel accuses the movement of waging a campaign to delegitimize its very existence.


Their comments about Israel — especially Rogen saying the country ‘doesn’t make sense’ — highlighted the country’s tenuous relationship with young, progressive Jewish critics in the diaspora.

In the podcast, Rogen, who appeared in such smash comedies as “Superbad” and “Knocked Up,” talked about attending Jewish schools and Jewish summer camp while growing up in Vancouver. He said his parents met on an Israeli kibbutz.
As they continued to chat, Rogen appeared to question why Israel was established.
“You don’t keep all your Jews in one basket. I don’t understand why they did that. It makes no sense whatsoever,” Rogen said. “You don’t keep something you’re trying to preserve all in one place especially when that place has proven to be pretty volatile. I’m trying to keep all these things safe. I’m going to put them in my blender and hope that that’s the best place to, that’ll do it.”
Rogen then said he was “fed a huge amount of lies” about Israel during his youth. “They never tell you that ‘oh, by the way, there were people there.’ They make it seem like, ‘the (expletive) door’s open.’”
Maron and Rogen both joked about how frightened they were about the responses they would receive from Israel’s defenders. Their concerns were justified.
Rogen’s comments immediately lit up “Jewish Twitter.” They unleashed a flurry of critical op-eds in Jewish and Israeli media. And they prompted Rogen to call Isaac Herzog, the head of the Jewish Agency, a major nonprofit that works to foster relations between Israel and the Jewish world.
In a Facebook post, Herzog said he and Rogen had a frank and open conversation. He said Rogen “was misunderstood and apologized” for his comments.
“I told him that many Israelis and Jews around the world were personally hurt by his statement, which implies the denial of Israel’s right to exist,” Herzog wrote.
In an interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz, Rogen said he called Herzog at the urging of his mother and he denied apologizing. He said the comments were made in jest and misconstrued.
“I don’t want Jews to think that I don’t think Israel should exist. And I understand how they could have been led to think that,” he said.
Rogen also said he is a “proud Jew.” He said his criticism was aimed at the education he received, and he believed he could have been given a deeper picture of a “complex” situation.
Ironically, Rogen was on the podcast to promote his new movie, “An American Pickle,” about a Jewish immigrant to the US at the start of the 20th century who falls into a vat of pickle brine and emerges 100 years later. He called the project a “very Jewish film.”
Lieberman, from If Not Now, said the uproar shows “how much the conversation has changed” about Israel among American Jews.
Shmuel Rosner, a senior fellow with the Jewish People Policy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank, said Israel should not be expected to change its “security and foreign policies” based on growing estrangement from Jews overseas.
But he said it can take realistic steps to close the gap, such as establishing a pluralistic prayer site at the Western Wall, long a sticking point between Israel’s Orthodox establishment and more liberal Jews in the US
“It’s a challenge for Israel. It’s inconvenient. We want everyone to love us, especially other Jews,” he said. “Israel can do certain things to make it somewhat better.”