UN Special Procedures Communication: Destruction of Al-Shuhada’ Cemetery

Israel has been demolishing parts of Al-Shuhada’ Cemetery for the purposes of turning parts of it into a public park. 

The Al Shuhada’ Cemetery has existed in East Jerusalem since 1963 and is an integral part of Al Yusuf Cemetery. It contains the graves of identified Muslim Palestinians, and unidentified Jordanian soldiers whose bodies  were  found  during  the  1967  Arab-Israeli  war. The Islamic Cemeteries Committee was established, and is overseen, by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf for the purposes of managing and protecting Islamic cemeteries in Jerusalem. 

Over the last two years, the Jerusalem Municipality has intensified its actions against Al-Shuhada’ Cemetery when Israel announced its plans to turn parts of the Cemetery into a public park. As a result, parts of the Cemetery have been subjected to demolition, resulting in the destruction of a number of graves, and consequently the destruction and exposure of bones. 

On 24 February 2022, the Sub-Committee for Objections, a sub-committee of the Israeli Higher Planning Council, approved a plan that would lead to the confiscation and complete destruction of Al-Shuhada’ Cemetery. This decision was issued amidst ongoing legal proceedings before Israel’s Magistrates’ Court by the Palestinian owners and guardians of the Cemetery to protect this important cultural site.  

Unfortunately, the case of Al- Shuhada’ Cemetery is not an isolated incident. It is part of a wider and concerted effort by Israel desecrate religious Palestinian sites. Over the years, Israel has targeted at least two other Palestinian cemeteries – Ma’man Allah (Mamilla), which has served as a cemetery for over 1,000 years, and Bab Al-Rahmah in Jerusalem.  

Under international human rights law, cemeteries enjoy the same special status as places of worship and other holy sites. They are protected as an essential part of how people exercise their right to freedom of religion or belief.  

On 1 March 2022, ICJP delivered a speech during PASSIA’s roundtable discussion in Jerusalem, on the importance of cultural heritage and its protection.  

On 15 June 2022, the ICJP submitted a Communication, on behalf of the Islamic Cemeteries Committee, to the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since 1967; the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; and the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief, regarding Israel’s targeting of the Al Shuhada’ Cemetery. 

The Communication is currently under review by the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since 1967. 

ICJP has instructed Haydee Dijkstal of 33 Bedford Row Chambers, and Chief Counsel (External) for ICJP, to act as counsel. 

Press releases: 

20 June 2022: Press Release: ICJP Submits Communication to the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council Regarding Israel’s Ongoing Destruction of the Al-Shuhada’ Cemetery 

15 March 2022: Press Release: The ICJP Demands the Israeli Government Halts the Destruction of Al-Shuhada’ Cemetery in East Jerusalem