Mar 2009 Journal

previous article:How I missed out on a peerage
next article:

Letter from Israel:

A few months ago, a supposedly jocular reference to Jerusalem’s projected Museum of Tolerance in this journal caught my eye. Having been involved in translating some of the material associated with the project, I feel that this is a subject which, in a roundabout way, I am qualified to address.

The purpose of the projected Museum of Tolerance, initiated and funded by the Simon Weisenthal Foundation when the late Teddy Kollek was still mayor of Jerusalem, is to constitute an ‘interactive social centre which will use innovative technology, amongst other things, to foster social interaction between all segments of the population, the object being to promote mutual understanding and respect for the values of others’. Renowned architect Frank Gehry was asked to design the building and, after visiting Israel several times and examining various sites, he chose a public site in the centre of Jerusalem. This site, on which a car park was situated, was approved by the Jerusalem municipality, which sought to revive the run-down downtown area which had suffered as a result of terrorist attacks.

When the plans were first submitted, over ten years ago, no objections were lodged with the municipality. The idea of building in the Mamilla district, in part of which a disused Muslim cemetery was situated, was not considered exceptional. In fact, in the late 1920s, during the period of the British Mandate in what was then known as Palestine, the entire area was intended by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, to be the site of the projected Muslim University. The first building to be constructed there, which later came to be known as the Palace Hotel, was completed in 1929 and was initially owned by Arabs. When human remains were found there in the course of the construction work, the builders consulted the Mufti and other Islamic clerics. In line with similar rulings elsewhere in the Arab world, they opined that the work could continue once the human remains had been re-interred elsewhere and provided they were treated with due respect.

The principal instigator of the recent legal proceedings brought to prevent the erection of the Museum of Tolerance is Sheikh Ra’ad Salah, leader of the extremist Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement and a leading opponent of Israel’s right to exist. In the past, he has spent time in jail for his role in instigating violent opposition to Israeli rule. In 2006, under the aegis of the Al-Aksa Association, one of the radical organisations he heads, an injunction was brought against the Jerusalem municipality to prevent the construction of the Museum of Tolerance. Since then the issue has gone through Israel’s various courts and, not long ago, a landmark decision to allow the project to go ahead was handed down by Israel’s Supreme Court.

The area on which the State of Israel is situated has been the site of established civilisation for several thousand years. During that period, countless individuals of all faiths have died and been buried. It is hardly possible to find a single square metre of ground which does not yield archaeological finds or human remains of one kind or another. If one were so inclined, that could be used to prevent construction, modernisation and progress of any kind. It is patently obvious that the arguments put forward by those who oppose the construction of the Museum of Tolerance are specious, politically-motivated and self-serving. It is Israel’s right, provided it shows due respect for whatever human remains may be found, to proceed with a project which will serve to stimulate growth and foster inter-faith relations.
 

Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

previous article:How I missed out on a peerage
next article: