(photo credit: Simon Wiesenthal Center)
The Simon Wiesenthal Center may relocate Muslim graves discovered on the Jerusalem site of its planned Museum of Tolerance in hopes of soothing Muslim anger, a spokesman for the center said Monday.
Muslims, including the city's senior Islamic cleric, Mufti Ikrema Sabri, have protested the multimillion dollar museum project since human remains were found under the building site, an old Muslim cemetery.
In February, two Arab human rights groups filed a suit in Israel's Supreme Court to stop construction. The court recently ruled the Simon Wiesenthal Center must halt the project and enter into mediation.
Moving the graves is just one of several options the Wiesenthal Center will present over the next few weeks of mediation, said Charlie Levine, a spokesman for the Wiesenthal Center.
"We are really trying in good faith to work out the situation," Levine said. He declined to describe other options being considered.
The site in downtown Jerusalem served as the main Muslim cemetery until 1948, when Israel gained independence.
The Wiesenthal Center has cited rulings by Muslim courts, the most recent in 1964, that canceled the sanctity of the site because it was no longer used.
Durgham Saif, a lawyer for the human rights group Karameh, one of the sides in the court case, said he didn't know about the plans to relocate graves, but moving them would not satisfy the group's demands.
"We have criteria that there is no way to build anything on the cemetery," Saif said. "It's a holy matter."
The graves were discovered during pre-construction excavations at the site, a process legally required before any building project in Israel.
The Los Angeles-based Wiesenthal Center received the land for the museum about five years ago from the city of Jerusalem and was not told the site contained graves, although they knew it was near a cemetery, Levine said. The museum aims to promote tolerance among Jews and people of all faiths.