Thousands of fervently Orthodox men gathered in front of the Israeli Consulate in midtown Manhattan last week to protest the building of a parking lot on an ancient cemetery site in the Israeli city of Jaffa.
Wearing traditional black hats covered with plastic to fend off the afternoon drizzle on March 7, protesters carried signs decorated with skulls saying “Israeli Government: Stop the Brutal Grave Vandalism,” and “Let Our Sages Rest in `Peace,’ Not in `Pieces.'”
According to the Athra Kadisha organization and the Central Rabbinical Congress, which both sponsored the rally, the site in question holds the remains of a Jewish cemetery more than 2,000 years old. But a statement from the Israeli Consulate says that even though a Jewish burial ground in Jaffa does in fact exist, it is not at this particular site.
The Israeli Antiquities Authority, after completing a “rescue excavation” on the site in 1994, found traces of a 4,000-year-old city. The authority determined that the burial site was Christian, and with the cooperation of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Saint Davidoros I, officials removed all remains to rebury them.
But Rabbi Lazer Stern, a spokesman for Athra Kadisha, said a cave was discovered recently on the site containing “seven boxes” of Jewish bones. He added that Athra Kadisha archaeologists have determined that the site contained Jewish graves.
Athra Kadisha has asked the developer to compromise by building the parking lot above ground so as not to disturb the site.
But both the mayor of Tel Aviv, Roni Milo, and the developing company, Ilan- Gat, have refused on the grounds that it would violate Jaffa’s strict building code, which keeps all structures low enough as to not interfere with the view of the Mediterranean.
“How is it that in Israel, to save a view, we have to desecrate our forefathers’ bones?” Stern said.
Fervently Orthodox in Israel have also protested the Jaffa construction site. Last month, Israeli police arrested some 140 fervently Orthodox Jews at the site.
Last week, a massive demonstration took place in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem. Haredi protesters also clashed with the Antiquities Authority over an excavation site in Jerusalem. The authority said on March 99 that it was suspected that radical haredi activists had severely damaged the mosaic floor of a Byzantine bathhouse uncovered in recent excavations in the Mamilla development project near the Jaffa Gate of the Old City.
Israel Radio reported that the vandals had painted black graffiti at the site, signing it with the name of an extremist haredi group called “Keshet.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.