I’ve been working so hard on my Africa book that I had missed all the reports that the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center has started building a Museum of “Tolerance” on the site of a Muslim cemetery in West Jerusalem.
The Independent’s Donald Macintyre reported Friday that
- Skeletons are being removed from the site of an ancient Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem to make way for a $150m (£86m) “museum of tolerance” being built for the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre.
Palestinians have launched a legal battle to stop the work at what was the city’s main Muslim cemetery. The work is to prepare for the construction of a museum which seeks the promotion of “unity and respect among Jews and between people of all faiths”.
This Reuters report in HaAretz says:
- A petition to halt construction of the museum had been presented to the Supreme Court….
The discovery of human remains during construction in Israel is highly sensitive, particularly to Jews and Muslims who have strict rules for burial of the dead.
A spokesman for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights group behind the Museum of Tolerance, said… “The land wasn’t a cemetery when we got it from city hall and the government and we are waiting to know the (court’s) decision.”
Muslim leaders say the parking lot on which the museum is planned is above remnants of a Muslim cemetery on land owned by the Muslim Waqf, a religious trust, and confiscated by Israel.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled a cornerstone of the museum in 2004. The $150 million facility will promote “the vital need for tolerance in Israel and around the globe,” the Wiesenthal Center said on its Web site.
Gershon Baskin, the admirable Israeli who is co-director of the Israeli-Palestinian Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) issued a statement today that said:
- the issue is not a legal one. It is an issue of tolerance, sensibilities, morality, and mutual respect.
Imagine the outrage if the Palestinians were building a Museum of Tolerance (or anything else) on what was once a Jewish Cemetery. Would it matter to anyone if the cemetery was not active and in use since 1948 or that it was being done “legally”?
This project has no right to exist if it creates the outrage of the millions of Muslims in this shared land and of the hundreds of thousands of them in the Holy City. The issue is now before the High Court in Israel, but it is not a legal issue. A Jewish moral voice must be sounded loud that will resonate throughout the Land against this outrageous blindness. The Chief Rabbis of Israel must speak out against the desecration of this Muslim Cemetery. All of the citizens of Jerusalem should raise their voice against this project. Jews, Muslims and Christians alike should respect each others’ sacred spaces – without this there can never be peace in this Holy City or in this Holy Land.
We call on the Government of Israel to stop this madness – who could ever imagine a Museum of Tolerance built on such bad foundations?!
In addition to appealing to the Israeli government, I believe those of us here in the US should make our voices on this issue heard by the Wiesenthal Center itself– contact details here.
I must admit, as I come to the end of my work on the Africa book, I am looking at the issue of public memorial spaces and museums– how and when they help to build a greater sense of shared humanity, and how and when they are used (as they quite frequently are) for quite contrary purposes. Reading these news accounts sent a shiver down my spine.
To have construction workers lifting Muslim bodies out of an ancient Jerusalem cemetery, quite without any permission from the Muslim Waqf (religious trust) authorities concerned– and to do so in the name of “tolerance”?? This almost beggars belief.