The Center for Human Dignity is the Simon Wiesenthal Center-planned Museum of Tolerance over Mamilla Cemetery at the center of West Jerusalem between Zion Square and the neighbourhood of Mamilla. The construction of the approximately 200-million dollar Museum began in June 2005 and was expected to be finished in 2007. After controversy concerning its location on an ancient Muslim burial site came to head, its construction was frozen by a Supreme Court order issued on February 2006. In November 2008, the Israeli Supreme Court decided to allow construction to proceed, noting that this corner of the cemetery had been transformed into a parking lot “as long ago as the 1960s” and that Jerusalem has been inhabited for roughly 4,000 years, and many ancient sites have been built over.
I pass by the site of the Muslim Cemetery in Mamilla Jerusalem where the so-called Museum of Tolerance is being constructed every morning because it is near my son’s school. Last week I noticed some trucks entering and exiting the site so I tried to take some pictures. I was immediately accosted by some private security guards who conspired between themselves that I had attacked them violently.
They said that they were calling the police to have me arrested on charges of assault. The photographed me and my car. I almost lost my cool, but decided “let them arrest me”. I am a public figure who has never raised a hand against anyone and has always led non-violent struggles against violence, wars and injustice. I have been arrested about 8 times before, never charged, so if I get arrested it will only bring more attention to the struggle to have the construction worked ceased. I waited for about 20 minutes for the police to come. When I had to leave to go to work, I gave one of the security cards my business card and told him it would make it easier for the police to find me. I guess they aren’t looking because I have not yet been arrested.
I want to make my point of view very clear on why I oppose this project so strongly. In response to my last article in the Jerusalem Post against the Museum City of Tolerance from November 4, 2008, many of my readers wrote letters to Rabbi Hier, the Director of the Wiesenthal center. The Wiesenthal center then put out a very convincing response with all kinds of information, some of it completely false, regarding the status of the Cemetery according to Islamic Law. For whatever reason, religious, political, sentiment, historical, etc. the overwhelming majority of Muslim leaders today, in Israel, in Palestine and in Jerusalem including the President of the Israeli Sharia Appeals Court, Qadi Dr. Ahmad Natour, do not accept the Islamic rulings brought by the Wiesenthal Center.
I am not going to argue Islamic law with Rabbi Hier. I am neither a Sheikh nor an expert scholar in Islamic Law. My argument against the Museum never had anything to do with Islamic Law, or with law in general. If the Muslim community in Jerusalem decided to build a shopping center on top of the Muslim Cemetery, I would not have anything to say about it. It may not appeal to me, but I would not argue against it.
My argument has always been about what is proper or improper for us as Jews, as Israelis, the sovereign power in Jerusalem, and as Jerusalemites to do in this Holy City. I honestly and wholeheartedly believe that there is a potential in Jerusalem to create an example for the world where Jews, Muslims and Christians can demonstrate an true celebration of each others culture and religion. Jerusalem can be a world class city that is an international center of peace, understanding and real tolerance, but not if we completely disrespect the sacred space of others. The Wiesenthal Center project in Jerusalem is a disgrace to the Jewish people, the State of Israel and to the City of Jerusalem.
This project can still be stopped. The three new city council members from Meretz, Deputy Mayor Pepe Alalu, Meir Margalit and Laura Wharton have told me that they will bring up this matter urgently in the City Council. They have already raised the issue with Mayor Nir Barkat. There are three grounds for stopping this project:
- It creates animosity and hatred between Jews and Muslims in this country and around the world. It will leave an indelible scar of damage in the relations between these peoples and cultures.
- It will defame the good name of the State of Israel and the city of Jerusalem.
- From information brought to my attention by people who used to work for or with Rabbi Hier and the Wiesenthal Center, there have apparently been all kinds of questionable financial arrangements and promises made between the Jerusalem Municipality, at the time when Ehud Olmert was mayor, and the Wiesenthal center. I cannot say more about this information, but I have transmitted it to our friends in the City Council. That information may end up being transferred to the Israeli police which would have to open a formal investigation. The less said on this right now, the better.
There are astronomical sums of money involved in this project and direct financial interests of the Wiesenthal Center are at stake, therefore, it is worthless to continue to direct letters to Rabbi Hier or the Wiesenthal Center. I would recommend directly letters to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, (firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com).
I have attached pictures of the site that I took this morning and last week. You will notice the high wall they have built around the construction site so that no one can see what is going on inside. There are several plastic covered areas where excavations are taking place. There are a lot of young Israelis digging there, I assume from the Antiquities Authority. They are digging with shovels and carrying the dirt in small buckets. This is the area where they uncovered more than 250 skeletons when they first broke ground some 2 years ago. There is a Rabbi on presence, which is common whenever bones are unearthed. If they were Jewish bones, the project would be stopped. There are also Arab workers on the premise. They are not working in the area where graves are being unearthed – they are involved in other infrastructure work.
I have several questions to ask:
- There are trucks that enter and leave carrying huge quantities of dirt – where are they dumping it? I don’t know?
- Is all of the dirt being taken our of the area checked for human remains? I don’t know.
- Why are they so extra careful about hiding everything that they are doing?
- Why are there so many private security guards with 24 hours close circuit television cameras on the presence – as if it was a Treasury storage for gold?
- What are they hiding from the public?
Let’s not give up; we can prevent this horrible project from moving forward.
For Arabic translation of the article, click Here
Click Here to see the Imageshere
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.