Yesterday I went to the building site of the museum to see first hand where it is being built and what “progress” has been made. There was a hearing in the High Court yesterday which not yet issued its judgment. Later in the afternoon I participated in a public hearing in the Interior Affairs Committee of the Knesset. The meeting in the Knesset was initiated by the Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin. The following is what I learned yesterday and my conclusions of what must be done:
1. There is no doubt whatsoever that the Museum of Tolerance is being constructed on top of a very important Muslim Cemetery.
2. As the initiators of the Museum contend, part of the Museum is being built on what was a parking lot constructed some 30 years ago over the cemetery by the Municipality of Jerusalem, this is the area where most of the graves have been found so far.
3. The Head of the Antiquities Authority stated that they have already removed from the site 250 bodies-skeletons and skulls. The Antiquities Authority reported to the High Court that the cemetery dates back centuries and that there are at least 5 layers of density of graves there.
4. The lawyers of the Wiesenthal center who appeared in the Knesset hearing appealed to the Muslims to enter into dialogue. They propose reburying all the graves that were/are under the location of the Museum (not necessarily in the same cemetery) and paying for the renovation and the upkeep of the cemetery.
5. The Muslim representatives stated that there is no room for dialogue and that the Wiesenthal center should consider how they would act if it were a Jewish cemetery in question. They also asked that people consider how the plan to build a museum over a Muslim cemetery would influence anti-Semitism in Europe.
6. The Speaker of the Knesset appealed to the Wiesenthal center to move the museum to a more suitable location.
1. The building of the Museum must be stopped. There cannot be any legitimate grounds for building a Tolerance museum on top of a Muslim cemetery and it does not matter what was there on part of the site prior to construction.
2. I saw the anger of the Muslim officials who spoke in the Knesset, even the most moderate of them. This is an issue that will not go away with a court decision. If the building of the Museum continues there is no doubt in my mind that it will become an issue of global proportions and there is no way that the State of Israel or even the Jewish people will come out clean.
3. In my view this is not a legal issue – anything can be made legal. This is a moral issue and an issue concerning the ability of people of the three faiths to live together in this Land and in this City.
3. As a Jew and as an Israeli and I embarrassed by the audacity to even think about building the Museum of Tolerance on that site. I can only imagine (and hope) that the “Knight of Justice” Shimon Wiesenthal must be turning in his own grave if he could realize what has developed.
4. I appeal to the Rabbi Hier who raised $250 million for this project and the Shimon Wiesenthal Center to use their good judgment and to take the initiative to stop the project, find a more suitable location, pay for the renovation of the cemetery as a sign if good faith and apology. I appeal to the donors of the Museum to raise their voice and call on the Wiesenthal Center to stop the project immediately before more damage is done.
This project must be stopped – no good will come from it and the longer it takes to make the decision, the worse the situation will become.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.