IMPORTANT FACTS ON
THE ISRAELI SUPREME COURT RULING IN FAVOR OF
THE MUSEUM OF TOLERANCE JERUSALEM
1. Following the unanimous decision of the Israeli Supreme Court in favor of the Center for Human Dignity, Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem, the project has now resumed construction in the heart of West Jerusalem.
The Museum is not being built on the nearby Mamilla cemetery, but on the adjacent site which, for nearly a half-century, served as Jerusalem's municipal car park where every day hundreds of Jews, Christians, and Muslims parked their cars. Electric, cable and sewer lines were laid below the ground.
During all this time, not a single Muslim group or individual, including today's most vociferous critics said a word in protest although they argued before the Court that they had known all along it was a Muslim cemetery, yet they kept silent for nearly a half-century.
2. This is not only the opinion of the Simon Wiesenthal Center but also the opinion of the government of Israel, the City of Jerusalem, and the Antiquities Authority – an independent agency responsible for cemeteries and archaeological sites – all of whom presented their opinions to the Supreme Court.
Israel’s position before the Court
“The State agrees with the project owners [Simon Wiesenthal Center] that the claim of the Petitioners [Al-Aqsa Corporation] was tainted by a lengthy delay in filing... Starting from the beginning of the 1960’s without any objection being heard from any parties in the Muslim community...the planning procedures on the compound were carried out lawfully without any objection based on a claim of the sanctity of the site as a cemetery.”
“In the opinion of the state, the solutions that were proposed by the project owners for dealing with the remains of the graves reflect a proper balance between giving proper protection to the value of the dignity of the dead in an area where the remains of graves have been found, on the one hand, and the necessity of development and building in the various parts of Israel, and especially in Jerusalem, on the other.”
City of Jerusalem’s position before the Court
“The Jerusalem municipality agrees with the main arguments of the project owners and the State.” Shalom Goldstein, a political advisor to the Mayor of Jerusalem, on east Jerusalem affairs during the years 1995-2004, told the Court, “that to the best of his memory from his childhood the Museum compound was sometimes used for circus tents and entertainment attractions.” “The opposition to the building is in fact a political ploy which is motivated behind the scenes by Sheikh Raad Salah [Head of the Islamic Movement’s northern branch].”
Antiquities Authority’s position before the Court
“...the action of removing graves from their original site is done as a matter of course ... and despite the importance of the Mamilla cemetery as a site of antiquities, already in the Mandate period [1920’s] parts of the area of the cemetery were used for development purposes...the Palace Hotel compound, [built by the Grand Mufti] the car parks that were built on the museum compound, the construction of the Bet Agron [journalist’s]building and even the building of the Experimental School that is situated to the west of the museum compound...were constructed over the years on the area of the Mamilla cemetery, without any objection from any party.”
“Documents prove…the existence of building plans on the area of the cemetery that were prepared with the approval of the Muslims themselves as can be seen in correspondence from 1946.”
Major Paragraphs from the Supreme Court’s Decision
“Details of the planning procedures on the museum compound from 1960 onward show that for almost fifty years the compound has not been a part of the cemetery, both in the normative sense and in the practical sense, and it was used for various public purposes. It was classified as an open public area and a road, an underground car park, two buildings on top of the car park, and finally the Museum of Tolerance were planned for it. During all those years no one raised any claim, on even one occasion, that the planning procedures violated the sanctity of the site, or that they were contrary to law as a result of the historical and religious uniqueness of the site.”
"Israel is a small strip of land, of great antiquity, with a history that extends over thousands of years...” “For decades this area was not regarded as a cemetery by the general public or by the Muslim community... no one denied this position."
3. When the design was completed, the model was on display at Jerusalem City Hall and newspaper ads were taken out and posted in the Hebrew and Arab press - again, no protest from any Muslim group whatsoever.
They were silent because, as the High Court said, "...the area has not been classified as a cemetery for decades." The bones found during construction were between 300 and 400 years old. They were unaccompanied by a single marker, monument, or tombstone, family name or religion.
Imagine the chaos to society if, after fifty years of designation for public use, land would be changed and reverted to what it may have been four or five centuries ago.
4. Muslim scholars and religious leaders have dealt with such issues for centuries and, in seeking to resolve such difficulties, ruled that a cemetery not in use for 37 years is considered mundras - an abandoned cemetery that has lost its sanctity.
In fact, because the whole area was regarded as mundras, in 1946, the mufti of Jerusalem planned to build a Muslim university on the entire Mamilla cemetery (now Independence Park). We submitted the architectural plans and drawings of that proposed university to the Supreme Court. Today, the concept of mundras is widely sanctioned and practiced throughout the Arab world, in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian territories.
5. While Judaism does not have a mundras concept, the Supreme Court, in its decision notes, "That despite the Jewish religious law prohibitions ... to prevent the removal of graves or building on top of them, in practice, in cases where public needs required this, an agreed Jewish law solution has usually been found, and this allowed the building to be carried out in a way that minimized...the violation of the graves... Jewish religious law also allows, as we have said, the removal of graves in a dignified manner. Balanced solutions of this kind were also proposed by the respondents (Simon Wiesenthal Center), and they even agreed to pay all the expenses involved in them."
6. It is important to note that the Sheikh initiated the proceedings before the High Court because he saw this as a land grab in the center of Jerusalem. The Court immediately ordered mediation between the parties to be conducted by former court president Meir Shamgar. Our Center was very sensitive to the issue and offered numerous compromises, but they were all rejected out-of-hand by Sheikh Salah, who refused to even meet to discuss them. He insisted that the Court rule on the matter.
Now, after over two years in the Courts, the Supreme Court has handed down a 119-page unanimous verdict in favor of the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem. Sheikh Salah and his defenders, who eagerly sought the Court's relief, are now agitating against its decision because they lost.
7. It is not those who lie beneath the ground who threaten the stability of the Middle East. It is the intolerance of extremists above the ground and those with an agenda who impede any prospects for civility and respect. Almost every place you dig in Jerusalem you're going to come into contact with ancient civilizations. Is it better to let this site remain a parking lot, or build a center for human dignity there, which would teach young people mutual respect and social responsibility?
8. In the end, the Supreme Court in its verdict gave the best reasons for the need of a Museum of Tolerance, "The importance and benefit of realizing the plan to build the Museum of Tolerance in the center of the city of Jerusalem are very great. The Museum of Tolerance embodies an ideal of establishing a spiritual center that will spread a message of human tolerance between peoples, between sectors of the population and between man and his fellow-man."
“The establishment of the museum is likely to make an important national contribution to the whole country, in which no center has yet been built with the purpose of addressing the issue of tolerance in all its aspects, and to bring about the assimilation of this idea among the general public."
"The location of the museum in the center of Jerusalem has special significance, since it is a city that has a special ethical significance for three religions and an ancient history, which is unique to human civilization."