Frayed at the edges

“In this museum you see only one point of view – the political opinion of the left in Israel,” - Hadari.

At a municipal committee meeting last month, city councilman David Hadari (National Religious Party) blocked renewal of the lease of the building in which the Museum on the Seam is housed. Hadari told In Jerusalem, "If this museum wants support from the municipality, then it must not be political in any way." The municipality doesn't directly fund the museum, but it has leased the building free of charge and provided a 66 percent discount on municipal taxes (arnona). The Museum on the Seam is the first of its kind in Israel and one of few such museums anywhere in the world. Opened in June 1999, it is dedicated, according to its own promotional materials, to "dialogue, understanding, and coexistence." Its name, Museum on the Seam, alludes to both its location and its purpose. The museum is located in the Tourjeman House, less than 100 meters from the former Mandelbaum Gate, the only point of transfer between east and west Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967. And there are other seams, too - between the crowded public housing and the newly gentrified homes of Musrara, between densely populated Mea She'arim and the newer, more modern parts of the city, and between the desert to the east and the greenery to the north. The Tourjeman House itself makes a point. In 1932, Anton Baramki, a noted Christian Arab architect, built it as a home for his family. In 1948, the Hagana seized the building to use as a forward military position. After the War of Independence, it was "abandoned property" and became known as the Tourjeman House, used as an observation post. In 1967, the site was heavily shelled. In the 1980s, it was made into a museum dedicated to the theme of "A City Reunited." In the spirit of the times, the museum celebrated military victories and patriotism. By 1996, the Jerusalem Foundation felt a need to update the museum to reflect political and social changes. The donors, the von Holtzbrinck family of Germany, contacted noted Israeli graphic artist Raphie Etgar. Deeply troubled by the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Etgar had no interest in military messages. "I wondered," he recalled, "if we, here, in this strife-torn city, could send out a message to all the world, a message of coexistence? Could this war-scarred building become a symbol of understanding?" The building was totally refurbished and renovated, at a cost of over $3 million. Since it opened, the museum has grown in popularity. Although during the worst of the violence over the past few years, school groups did not come into Jerusalem, in the past year, groups from all over the country have come. And the army and police regularly bring soldiers here as part of their educational courses. But Hadari told IJ that he has received a large number of complaints about the museum and that while he hasn't visited this current exhibition, he did visit the previous one which he felt showed unacceptable political bias. "In this museum you see only one point of view - only the political opinion of the Left in Israel," he insists. Hadari feels it is the responsibility of "the professional offices of the municipality to check the museum." He says he had expected the office of municipality attorney Yossi Havilio to investigate the museum and "cultural officers of the municipality" to check that there is no discernible political message in the exhibition. Such investigations have not as yet taken place, "probably delayed by the festivals" he adds. Hadari denies that his own actions are politically motivated and says that he believes he "has an obligation to the people of Jerusalem to ensure that municipality money is not used inappropriately." He explains, "If they paid rent and didn't get a discount on arnona there would be no problem."