Posted by on March 07, 2013 in Blog

By Jade Zoghbi

Spring 2013 Intern

There are numerous vulnerable cultural sites that carry a deep national meaning and history. Many of these are now facing imminent destruction. The preservation of the ancient Mamilla cemetery is one such place.

The cemetery is one of the oldest in the world, dating back to at least the 12th century, and to the end of the Byzantine era. Early during the rule of Byzantine Empire over Palestine, the church of St. Mamilla was built, and now shares the ground with the tombs of ancient scholars, Palestinian ancestors and other figures.

The disagreement on how to use the space began when the Simon Wiesenthal Center announced a few years ago its plan to build the “Museum of Tolerance and Center for Human Dignity” on top of the cemetery. Due to the financial constraints, the project has slowed down.

Would the museum fulfill its role as an institution that stands for the education and humanitarian message of tolerance and respect? Millions of tourists will stream to the museum every year and the population itself will be informed of its history and identity by the institution. Some have been arguing otherwise and worry that the Museum destroys the ground on which a historical value is founded.

In honor of the site, the Mamilla International Poetry Festival named “A Dialogue with Memory” has announced its open call for submissions. The festival is taking place in Ramallah and Jerusalem, September 7-9, 2013 with the hope of protecting the site.

Poetry has the power to inspire others to listen closely, to take action, to create the memory of place by which it can act as a testimony and an argument in political and social conflicts.

The event is made possible through help from partners such as the Alliance to Restore Cultural Heritage in the Holy City of Jerusalem (ARCH), the Mahmoud Darwish Foundation and Museum, and the Campaign to Preserve Mamilla Jerusalem Cemetery. The submission deadline is set for May 31, 2013.

The three day festival will feature performances, readings, and poetic vigils, and will overall serve as a great channel to reflect on the lives of those buried in the cemetery. The goal is to invite and attract a diverse crowd of people, of all ages, to evoke a sense of universality and cross geographical boundaries by honoring the multiple representations of citizenships, ancestries and collective memories. 

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