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Dispute Threatens Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance

A dispute over moving Muslim graves in downtown Jerusalem to make way for Frank Gehry, FAIA’s $200 million Museum of Tolerance, threatens to delay, or possibly end, construction on the project.

After graves were discovered on the site during early phases of construction, two Muslim groups—Karamah, a human rights organization, and the Al-Aqsa Company for the Development of the Properties of the Islamic Trust—demanded that all work be banned at the site. The museum is to be located at the foot of downtown Jerusalem’s Hillel Street.

Israel’s High Court of Justice has granted a 30-day temporary injunction against work at the site and has referred the parties in the dispute to arbitration.


Rescue excavations of the graves and other antiquities by the Israel Antiquities Authority would last several months, according to the authority's lawyer, Yoram Bar-Sela. Such delays occur often in Israel's capital, because "all of Jerusalem is one big archaeological site," says Osnat Goaz, spokeswoman for the authority.

An underground parking garage and ground-level parking lot, built in the1960s, previously occupied much of the museum site. The site is part of an old Muslim cemetery, which has not been used for burial for decades. A larger part of the cemetery lies under an adjacent park.

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, which is building the museum, claims it did not know about the graves before planning construction. Spokesperson Charles Levine says that the city and the Israel Lands Administration assured the organization that no problems existed with the site.

The museum was originally to have been located far from the city center, in northeastern Jerusalem. One reason for moving it was the hope by then-mayor Ehud Olmert, who is currently the acting prime minister of Israel, that a Gehry-designed building would revitalize the downtown. The project, to be built of stone in keeping with a Jerusalem ordinance, as well as glass and titanium, will include cultural and conference centers.

Esther Hecht