JERUSALEM (JTA) — Palestinian families appealed to the United Nations to prevent the construction of a museum on the site of an ancient Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem.
The challenge to the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, announced at a news conference Wednesday in Jerusalem and Geneva, is being led by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights. The petition was filed Wednesday with the United Nations in Geneva.
There have been years of delay since the 2004 groundbreaking after Palestinian and some Israeli advocacy groups claimed that the site for the new museum is an ancient Muslim cemetery that would be desecrated by the museum’s construction.
The Israeli Supreme Court considered the legal arguments for nearly four years, finally giving the go-ahead last year to the Los Angeles-based Wiesenthal Center.
The museum is being built on a former parking lot that was not being used as part of the cemetery, the center asserts. The graves have been removed from the site and the remains reburied on the edge of the construction site, according to Haaretz.
Sixty Palestinians who say they are descendants of those buried in the cemetery going back to the 12th century have signed on to the petition to the United Nations, according to the center.
“The callous disregard for the most basic values of tolerance involved in building this museum in the most ancient and revered Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem is not just an affront by the Simon Wiesenthal Center to the many Jerusalemites whose families, like my own, have had ancestors buried there for many centuries,” said Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said professor of Arab studies in the history department at Columbia University in New York. “It is also a blatant violation of the ethical, moral and legal responsibilities of the Israeli government, which itself repeatedly protested the desecration of ancient Jewish cemeteries in Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967.”
It was announced last month that plans for the museum would be scaled down and that renowned architect Frank Gehry would withdraw from the project due to the redesign, which the center’s board said was due to the global economic downturn.