Muslim graves found at planned site of J'lem Museum of Tolerance

The construction of Jerusalem's Museum of Tolerance has hit a snag after Muslim graves were found on a section of the museum's planned central Jerusalem site, with work ordered stopped in that area, Israel's Antiquities Authority said over the weekend. An archeology inspector from the Antiquities Authority overseeing the work discerned signs of Muslim graves at a section of the site during a routine inspection last month, and has ordered the work to be stopped at the area in question, Antiquities Authority spokeswoman Osnat Guez said. The section of the site where the graves were found had not been touched so it was still unclear how many graves were in the area, what the size of the grave-site was or from what period they were from, she said. She added that all the current clearing and infrastructure work being done at the site was being carried out above ground, without touching any of the underground graves. The $200 million museum, which is being built by the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center adjacent to Jerusalem's Independence Park off Rehov Hillel, is expected to be completed in 2007. Last night, the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in response that "the center has engaged the Moriah Jerusalem Development Corporation, a company with extensive expertise in this field, to execute the infrastructure work at the site. "Moriah has been instructed to cooperate with the Antiquities Authority in the event that any findings are discovered, and to treat them with the greatest respect and dignity. "The Wiesenthal Center trusts that any problem which arises will find an appropriate solution in coordination with all the relevant authorities so that no delay is caused to the advancement of the building of the museum." In a statement, the city spokesman said that construction of the museum was continuing as planned under the supervision of the Antiquities Authority and in accordance with the law. The city is working with Muslim religious officials to resolve the problem, said Itscho Gur, a spokesman for the city's Moriah construction company which is carrying out the work at the site. The spokesman for the construction company said in a telephone interview that he hoped a solution could be worked out regarding the graves. "There are enough places where graves have been found in Jerusalem during construction, and solutions were found for them," he said. "Usually solutions are found which will not necessitate moving the site of the planned museum," he added, calling the discovery a "sensitive religious issue." The museum, which is being designed by the world-renowned architect Frank Gehry and will include a theater complex, conference center, library, gallery, and lecture halls, seeks to promote unity and respect among Jews and between people of all faiths. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger led an international delegation of dignitaries at the museum's lavish groundbreaking ceremony last year. Over the years, Israel's haredi community has periodically clashed with police over a series of other construction sites believed to house ancient Jewish graves. The protests often result in road changes, or multi-million dollar rerouting.