Jerusalem: Israeli "Tolerance Museum" to be built on Muslim tombs

Israel’s Ministry of the Interior has given the green light for the commencement of the construction of the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, which is to be built on the site of Muslim tombs dating back many centuries, said a spokesperson on Wednesday.

"The permit given on Tuesday by the Ministry’s district commission means that the digging for this project can begin immediately," spokesperson Efrat Orbach confirmed to Agence France Presse (AFP) without giving a precise date for the commencement of the work.

Orbach added that "numerous steps" must first be taken before moving from digging the foundations to the actual construction of the building itself.

The museum is to be erected on the grounds of the ancient Muslim cemetery, Ma'man Allah where many holy Sufis are buried, which has aroused the indignation of the Muslim population and uneasiness in Israeli public opinion.

According to Israel’s Department of Antiquities, 200 skeletons had to be exhumed so as to move the remains.

Israel’s Supreme Court, which had originally ordered the suspension of the work, gave the green light for the construction in January 2009, the promoters claiming that the greater part of the grounds served as a parking lot.

The project, estimated at 250 million dollars, is being financed by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre which has built another museum in Los Angeles, California. Simon Wiesenthal, a Nazi-hunter of Austrian origin, died in 2005.

This Museum of Tolerance "will have as its goal to promote tolerance and understanding between Jews, Christians, Muslims and others, but also between Jews themselves," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Los Angeles Simon Wiesenthal centre in 2002.

In February of 2010 dozens of Palestinian families called upon the United Nations to intervene to stop the construction of the museum which they called the "profanation of the cemetery" and "a violation of international conventions".

Adapted from "Jérusalem: feu vert pour un musée israélien situé sur des tombes musulmanes", published by Agence France Presse on July 13th, 2011.

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Distributed by PAJU (Palestinian and Jewish Unity)