Building of a Museum of tolerance in Jerusalem

Press review – Week from November 10 to 14, 2008

On February 2007, Le Monde diplomatique had dedicated an article to Simon- Wiesenthal Center’s project of building a museum of tolerance, right on Mamillah former Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem. Despite the government and the town council’s authorization to build the museum, Muslim figures had protested against what they considered as a violation of their rights.  Indeed, under the British mandate, it was forbidden to touch this cemetery and the Israeli law on « abandoned goods », voted in order to legitimate the dispossession of Palestinian refugees, forbids any transfer of cemeteries or mosques to a third party.
From that moment, this case gained a dimension which exceeded Jerusalem frame: Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement, had gone to Turkey in November 2006 to ask for Ankara’s government support and the Arab League had protested against a decision that «affects the deep feelings of Muslims in the whole world ».
After a law ruling from the Israeli Supreme Court, in spring 2006, public works had to be stopped in the waiting of another judgement.
Mamillah is Palestine’s most important Muslim cemetery and the tradition says that Prophet Mahomet’s comrades and eighty warriors from Saladin’s army were buried there.
Such a case « is going to sully the city of Jerusalem, the State of Israel and the Jew people’s image » had declared in a petition, one hundred Israeli famous teachers and searchers.
Nowadays, this case is coming again on the international scene: in November 4th, 2008Jerusalem Post, Gershon Baskin, the head of the Israel Palestine Centre for research and information, explains why he is opposed to the building of a museum on a former Muslim cemetery. To him, it is not a legal or political question but it is rather a moral matter which concerns the three faiths’ capacity to live together in Jerusalem.
Highlighting the irony of the building of a museum of tolerance on such a site, Gershon Baskin considers himself as “ashamed that the only protests against the Court’s decision came from the Radical Islamist Sheikh Raed”.
Where are those Jerusalemites and Israelis who believe that in Jerusalem we can truly create a city of tolerance, understanding and peace between civilizations?” wondered Gershon Baskin before calling on the government and on the Jewish people to raise their voice so that Jerusalem will be the centre of tolerance, without a museum of tolerance on top of Muslim graves.

On November 8th, in the Jerusalem Post, Rabbi Marvin Hier, fonder and dean of Simon Wiesenthal Centre and of the museum of tolerance, denied the critics that have been made against the building project of museum on a former Muslim cemetery, recalling that the place has been during nearly 50 years a local parking despite the fact that everyone was aware that it was a former cemetery. Besides, the High Court of Justice had confirmed that the site had not been registered as a cemetery for dozens of years and that remains found was from 100 up to 300 years old, without any possible identification of name or religion.
Moreover, Marvin Hier highlighted that Muslim personalities dealt with cemeteries matters and came to the conclusion that a cemetery not in use for 37 years is considered “mundras” – an abandoned cemetery that has lost its sanctity. The concept of “mundras” would be invoked throughout the Muslim world.
Directly answering to Gershon Baskin’s intervention, he declared that it is not those who lie beneath the ground who threaten the stability of the Middle East but the blind hatred and intolerance of extremists above the ground which impede any prospects for civility and peace.
Finally, Marvin Hier recalled that the location of the museum in the centre of Jerusalem has a telling meaning since Jerusalem is a unique city in the world where the three monotheist religions are living together. Therefore, according to him, such a museum would have an important role to play in a dialogue and mediation dynamics between the Israeli and the Palestinians.

According to Ma’an press agency, despite the Israeli police deployment, the demonstration protesting against the building of a museum of tolerance on a former Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem, headed by Christian and Muslim figures, managed to occur as scheduled in the city streets.
Hatem Abed Al- Qader, President Abbas’ advisor for Jerusalem considered that the decision of building of a museum on an historical cemetery affected the whole community.
Besides, the Mufti of Palestine, Sheikh Mohammad Husein called the Palestinians to stand by Jerusalem, declaring that “harming the cemeteries means harming (our) religion and the dignity of the dead not only for Muslims but in the wider sense of respecting the human race and its religions.”