Grand Mufti asks to halt building 'tolerance museum' on cemetery

By Reuters

Haaretz

Shvat 12, 5766

A senior Muslim cleric said on Thursday he asked the Supreme Court to stop construction of a museum dedicated to human rights and tolerance in Jerusalem after bones from an old Muslim cemetery were found during
foundation work.

"We adhere to our legitimate right to protect the Ma'man Allah graveyard and all other Muslim cemeteries. This is the oldest Muslim graveyard in Palestine," said Irkima al-Sabri, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories.

A petition to halt construction of the museum had been presented to the Supreme Court, he said.

The discovery of human remains during construction in Israel is highly sensitive, particularly to Jews and Muslims who have strict rules for burial of the dead.

A spokesman for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights group behind the Museum of Tolerance, said the court would hear the appeal next week.

"The land wasn't a cemetery when we got it from city hall and the government and we are waiting to know the (court's) decision," the spokesman, Hagai Elias, said.

Muslim leaders say the parking lot on which the museum is planned is above remnants of a Muslim cemetery on land owned by the Muslim Waqf, a religious trust, and confiscated by Israel.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled a cornerstone of the museum in 2004. The $150 million facility will promote "the vital need for tolerance in Israel and around the globe," the Wiesenthal Center said on its Web site.

"The entire city of Jerusalem is built on an archaeological site and human remains are frequently discovered," said Osnat Goaz, a spokeswoman for the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The remains are often removed and reburied by religious authorities, she said.

Haredi Jews have in the past rioted to demand building plans be halted or road routes changed when workers have found human skeletons on land due for construction.

The Moriah Company for the Development of Jerusalem, which is excavating foundations on behalf of the Jerusalem Municipality before it gives the land to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said it would "abide by the Supreme Court's decision."