Daniela Yanai in the Los Angeles Times:
Last week, Israel’s High Court of Justice ordered Los Angeles’ Simon Wiesenthal Center and the municipality of Jerusalem to explain why they should be allowed to construct a new Museum of Tolerance on the site of an ancient Muslim cemetery.
On the surface, it’s a straightforward enough question. But it’s really about more than the fate of one cemetery and whether it should be preserved. What is at stake is the nature of both people’s claims, Palestinian and Israeli, to Jerusalem.
The site of the museum is in the heart of downtown Jerusalem, on a parking lot next to the city’s Independence Park. Designed by architect Frank Gehry and kicked off in 2004 with a visit by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the museum (a sister, of sorts, to the one of the same name in Los Angeles) seems, at first glance, like a welcome initiative. In a region wracked by intolerance, what better way to improve the chances for peace than to teach people about different cultures?
But the museum itself became a test case for tolerance when bulldozers digging its foundation unearthed human remains last year, and the project has been mired in legal disputes ever since. Even though archeologists and historians knew that the site was on top of an ancient cemetery — parts of which are visible just adjacent to the site — spokespeople for the Jerusalem municipality claimed that the discovery of remains came as a surprise.