The Museum of Tolerance site 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
empty site in downtown Jerusalem intended to accommodate the future
Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance came a step closer to the start of
construction on Monday, when the Jerusalem Local Planning and Building
Committee approved plans for the new building.
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The Center had
previously completed the long approval process following a four-year
legal battle over the controversial location. Palestinian leaders claim
the site, opposite Independence Park, is an ancient Muslim cemetery from
the twelfth century.
The Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of the State of Israel, which gave the land to the museum.
Following the economic recession which dried up donations, the Simon
Wiesenthal Center scrapped the original building plan, which was
designed by architect superstar Frank Gehry, in favor of a $150 million
cheaper version offered by Tel Avivbased Chyutin Architects, which was
revealed last September.
Because the building plans changed, the Center was forced to resubmit
the plans for an abbreviated approval process. Normally, this
abbreviated approval process is only used if there are small changes to
the building. The committees can also decide that the building has
changed significantly enough that it must be submitted from the
beginning of the approval process, a complicated procedure that can take
three years to a decade.
However, the municipality committee ruled on Monday that the plan did
not need to be resubmitted, allowing it to progress to a hearing with
the Interior Ministry’s District Planning and Construction Committee.
Architect Miki Chyutin, one of the founding partners of Chyutin
Architects, was confident that the District Committee would also approve
the new structure without the need to resubmit from the beginning. He
was also optimistic that construction could begin in as little as three
Because all the state-required archeological excavations have already
been completed on the site, which has sat empty for years, construction
can begin immediately after receiving final approval. Chyutin added that
he did not anticipate problems with violence or tensions surrounding
the start of construction on the site. “The Supreme Court has already
said their part,” he told the Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
The Jerusalem municipality echoed Chyutin’s sentiments.
“All of the issues of ownership and politics in connection with the
Museum of Tolerance have already been discussed by the courts,” a
municipality spokeswoman said.
Kais Nasser, an attorney for the Muslim Committee, a heritage body that
aims to protect Muslim holy sites, said he was filing public opposition
to the project with the District Committee. He added that he was
confident the district committee would accept their opposition,
considering the project was totally different from the project that was
“The area is a Muslim cemetery, and there are political and ownership
issues with that, and in addition they are building a totally different
building from what the Supreme Court approved, while minimizing the
opportunities of the public to oppose the project,” said Nasser. While
noting that the committee had been unsuccessful with the appeals to the
Supreme Court, Nasser said he would continue to fight the approval at
the District Committee.
“There will be a serious conflict [if the project goes ahead], not just
with the Arabic community, but also with the Israeli community,” said
Palestinian-American activist Prof. Rashid Khalidi, who is part of a
group that has challenged the legality of constructing the museum on its
current designated site, said the decision by the local municipality
was a violation of Muslim religious rites.
"As a member of a group of 60 members of families whose ancestors are
buried in the Maman Allah (Mamilla) cemetery, we remain firmly opposed
to any building in the oldest Islamic cemetery in Jerusalem, as should
any persons of good conscience and moral integrity," he wrote in an
email. "It is nauseating, and especially hypocritical, that this
desecration is carried out in the name of 'tolerance' and "human