The SWC's Second Response to Rashid Khalidi

04.23.12 3:12 PM ET

Once again, Rashid Khalidi chooses to ignore reality and besmirches one of the most respected and fiercely independent Supreme Courts in the world—the Israeli Supreme Court.  What he grossly glosses over is the fact that they were meticulous in deliberating on this case for over three years before reaching a unanimous decision in favor of the Museum project going forward.  They ruled:

We are speaking of the remains of [ancient] graves that were found under the ground, and their presence on the site was not known to the public at all. As a result, the area was designated for decades for various development purposes, and the plans to build the museum received final approval without there being any knowledge that there were remains of graves under the surface.

Second, this site, because it was hidden, was not the focus of any regard by the public or the relevant religious community. It was not used as a site with any sanctity or religious or human value, and the various uses of it for a public car park and a road testify to the manner in which the public, including the Muslim community, regarded the aforesaid compound.

A violation of such a compound cannot be compared to a violation of the nearby Mamilla cemetery, which is classified and designated as a cemetery from a planning perspective, and which the public regards as a site that has had emotional and religious value for many generations…. In our case, the area of the museum compound was separated from the Muslim Mamilla cemetery as long ago as the 1960’s, and it was classified as an open public area.

Thus the compound was severed from the area of the cemetery from a planning viewpoint, and it was made available for various kinds of planning activity. A multi-story car park was built on it, a road was paved on it, and plans were made to construct multi-story buildings on it. For decades this area was not regarded as a cemetery by the general public or by the Muslim community, and throughout all the planning procedures that took place with regard to the compound over a period of decades, no one denied this position.

Not only was the compound not identified as an area with religious sanctity nor was it the focus of any emotional regard, but it was the subject of planning for various proposes throughout the decades, without any objection for reasons of the sanctity of the site.

Further appeals were submitted and rejected in December 2008 and December 2009.  In April 2009, another petition was filed to the Supreme Court of Israel claiming that the Muslim community had new evidence and that the Supreme Court had been misled. On December 23, 2009, the Court rejected the appeal and fined the petitioner 70,000 shekels for abuse of the Court’s time.

But what is especially relevant is what appeared in the November 22, 1945 edition of Palestine Post on page 2.  Remember this is before there was even a State of Israel, when Jerusalem was controlled by the British and the Arabs. This is what the Palestine Post wrote under the headline "Cemetery Into Business Centre":

An area of over 450 dunams in the heart of Jerusalem, now forming the Mamillah Cemetery, is to be converted into a business centre. The townplan is being completed under thesupervision of the Supreme Moslem Council in conjunction with the Government Town Planning Adviser. A six-storeyed building to house the Supreme Moslem Council and other offices, a four-storeyed hotel, a bank and other buildings suit-able for a college, a club and a factory are to be the main structures. There will also be a park to be called the Salah ed Din Park, after the Moslem warrior of Crusader times.

The remains buried in the Cemetery are being transferred to a spot round the tomb of al Sayid al Kurashi, ancestor of the Dajani family, in a 40 dunams walled reserve.

In an interview with “Al Wih-da,” the Jerusalem weekly, a member of the Supreme Moslem Council stated that the use of Moslem cemeteries in the public interest had many precedents both in Palestine and elsewhere. He quoted the cases of the Bab al Sahira (Herod’s Gate) Cemetery, which formerly stretched down Saint Stephen‘s Gate; the Jaffa Cemetery, which was converted into a commercial centre and Queen Farida Square in Cairo, which not long ago was a cemetery.

The member added that the Supreme Moslem Council intended to publish a statement containing dispensations by Egyptian, Hejazi and Damascene clerics sanctioning the building programme. He pointed out that the work would be carried out in stages and by public tender. Several companies had already been formed in anticipation, and funds were plentiful, the correspondent concluded.

The Supreme Muslim Council, the highest religious authority in Jerusalem, in 1945 authorized the building of a business center on the grounds of the actual Mamilla cemetery and was going to unearth and reinter the bones.  Our Museum of Tolerance was never going to be built on the actual Mamilla cemetery.  We are building on the nearby former Jerusalem Municipal car park, where each day for over fifty years Christians, Jews and Muslims parked their cars without any protest from anyone.

Avra Shapiro
Director, Public Relations
Simon Wiesenthal Center
Museum of Tolerance