Archeologists condemn J’lem Museum of Tolerance

Arab leaders say museum's site, opposite Independence Park, is a Muslim cemetery from the 12th century.

Museum of Tolerance construction 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Museum of Tolerance construction 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Eighty-four international archeologists from well-known institutions sent a letter to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat denouncing the city’s Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance in a widely published letter last week.
The Museum of Tolerance has created much debate because Arab leaders said its site, opposite Independence Park, is a Muslim cemetery from the 12th century.
The letter was signed by professors and archeologists from Yale University, the University of Cambridge, Tel Aviv University, the University of Chicago and the American University of Beirut, among others.
“Not only are we opposed to building on such massive and revered sites in any context, but we are also concerned by the surreptitious and unscientific removal of hundreds of human burials, in violation of international and domestic laws and the ethical obligations of archeologists,” the letter stated.
“Such insensitivity towards religious rites, towards cultural, national and religious patrimony, and towards families whose ancestors lay buried there causes grave concern from a scientific and humanitarian standpoint.”
After more than a decade of sitting empty in downtown Jerusalem, the museum received final approval for its new campus on July 13.
The building permit, from the Interior Ministry’s District Planning and Construction Committee, means work can begin on the site immediately.
The Jerusalem Municipality dismissed the letter, which is the latest in a series of efforts by activists to stop the construction of the museum.
“The issue of the Museum of Tolerance has passed all legal procedures and court hearings in Israel, including the High Court of Justice, which ruled on the issue and approved the establishment of a museum, a ruling that lead to the conclusion of legal proceedings and planning,” a municipal spokeswoman said.
The letter, which was also sent to the board members of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Antiquities Authority, also slammed the excavations technique, which they accused of being “hurried.” The Antiquities Authority refused to comment on the letter.
Palestinian-American activist Prof. Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University is leading a group of 60 Muslim families with relatives buried in the cemetery to halt the construction.
The Wiesenthal Center was engaged in a four-year legal battle over the location with Arab activists. The Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of the State of Israel, which gave the land to the museum.
The Museum of Tolerance will include an amphitheater, exhibit halls, classrooms, a stone plaza and a parking lot. As part of the project, the Wiesenthal Center will also renovate Chatulot Square.