February 27, 2006
A dispute over moving Muslim graves in
downtown Jerusalem to make way for Frank Gehry, FAIAs
$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 groupsKaramah,
a human rights organization, and the Al-Aqsa Company for the
Development of the Properties of the Islamic Trustdemanded
that all work be banned at the site. The museum is to be located
at the foot of downtown Jerusalems Hillel Street.
Israels 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
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.