The Simon Wiesenthal Center on Tuesday accused opponents of its plans to build a museum near a historic Muslim cemetery in central Jerusalem of “sheer hypocrisy” after the center obtained information showing that the Supreme Muslim Council of British Mandate Palestine had planned to build a large commercial center directly on top of the cemetery in 1945.
The Wiesenthal Center has faced severe and protracted criticism from opponents of its work to build a “Museum of Tolerance” on downtown Jerusalem’s former municipal parking lot, which borders the Mamilla Cemetery – a centuries-old Muslim burial ground.
Opponents of the museum petitioned the United Nations last week, maintaining that construction at the site would disturb centuries-old graves and desecrate the cemetery.
Palestinian and Israeli advocacy groups filed a petition against the planned construction in 2004 and have been contesting it ever since. The Supreme Court considered the legal arguments for nearly four years, finally giving the go-ahead in 2009 to the Los Angeles-based Wiesenthal Center.
However, a November 22, 1945 article from The Palestine Post (the pre-state name of The Jerusalem Post), which was forwarded to the Wiesenthal Center on Monday after being posted on a blog
, reports Muslim plans to build directly over the cemetery.
The report states, “An area of over 450 dunams in the heart of Jerusalem, now forming the Mamilla Cemetery, is to be converted into a business centre.
“The town-plan is being completed under the supervision of the Supreme Moslem Council in conjunction with the Government Town Planning Adviser,” the article continues.
“A six-storeyed building to house the Supreme Moslem Council and other offices, a four-storeyed hotel, a bank and other buildings suitable for it, a college, a club and a factory are to be the main structures. There will also be a park to be called the Salah ed Din Park, after the Moslem warrior of Crusader times.”
The 1945 article also describes plans by the council to transfer remains buried in the cemetery to a separate, “walled reserve” and cites rulings from prominent Muslim clerics at the time allowing for the building plans to progress.
“In an interview with Al-Wih-da
, the Jerusalem weekly,” the Palestine Post article continues, “a member of the Supreme Moslem Council stated that the use of Moslem cemeteries in the public interest had many precedents both in Palestine and elsewhere.
“The member added that the Supreme Moslem Council intended to publish a statement containing dispensations by Egyptian, Hijazi and Demascene clerics sanctioning the building programme. He pointed out that the work would be carried out in stages and by public tender. Several companies had already been formed in anticipation, and funds were plentiful.”
The dean and founder of the Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Marvin Hier, told the Post
on Tuesday that the discovery of the article showed the “sheer hypocrisy” of opponents to the planned museum, which Hier stressed was “not even being built on the cemetery itself.”
“We’ve been maligned by newspapers all over the world,” Hier continued. “And now to see this, which shows that a number of [Muslim] clerics had even ruled in favor of building this business center on top of the cemetery – it just shows the double standard at hand here.”
“I’m waiting to see if all of those newspapers in Europe, which
have written about this every day and failed to include our side of the
story, cover this development,” he added.
“My guess is that they won’t have the guts to do it.”