Re "Whose Jerusalem?" Opinion, Jan. 23
Daniela Yanai's critique of Israel's ideology of "exclusivity" shows a simplistic grasp of history. She contends the accidental discovery of ancient graves in West Jerusalem is desecration.
Yanai doesn't understand the true meaning of desecration, whether committed by Jordan after seizing East Jerusalem following the 1948 war, erecting latrines on the ancient Jewish cemetery, or Muslims in France defacing Jewish graves with swastikas.
The fact is that Muslims historically desecrated cemeteries and houses of worship of "nonbelievers" (Jew and Christian) as a matter of policy. Israel has protected Muslim sites, even subjecting its own soldiers to life-threatening danger when they are forbidden to respond militarily to Palestinian gunfire emanating from mosques.
Yanai might have legitimate concerns about the discovery of ancient Muslim graves under the Wiesenthal construction site, but moral parity simply does not exist.
Could you imagine the outrage if Palestinians wanted to build a museum in Gaza on top of a newly discovered ancient Jewish cemetery? There would be a war unlike any ever seen before.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center and the municipality of Jerusalem need to immediately back off and move their Jerusalem museum project off the sacred ground of an ancient Muslim cemetery. The Israeli government should preserve this historical and archeological treasure and holy site for Muslims and Jews. It would go a long way toward peace.
While the Wiesenthal Center pushes for the building of a Museum of Tolerance, this cultural edifice is clearly an insult to anyone who upholds those values of tolerance. The Islamic faith considers the desecration of cemeteries as a highly disrespectful attack on the memory of the dead. The ideology of exclusivity does not serve peace, nor does it encourage tolerance. Respect must be the first step in the process of reconciliation if there are to be any peace talks in the Middle East.
This project should be relocated or be forgotten altogether.
The Center for Human Dignity Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem is being built on a former municipal parking lot that has not been designated a cemetery for 50 years. The current dispute is over a very small part of the museum's three-acre site. In 1964, the highest Muslim religious court in Israel ruled the Mamilla Cemetery, including the museum building site, an abandoned ancient cemetery whose sanctity had ceased to exist. Between 1923 and 1931, Arabs themselves built on part of the cemetery.
Over the last six years, the museum has been the subject of open hearings at Jerusalem City Council meetings, notices in Hebrew and Arabic newspapers, and the architectural model was on display at City Hall. During those years, not a single organization objected.
Jerusalem, a city of 3,500 years, is layered in memory and history, and chances are that almost any structure that is built is going to offend someone's religious beliefs. But in our case, one thing is certain -- the museum is a better way to preserve the memory of our ancestors than a parking lot.
RABBI MARVIN HIER
Founder and dean
Simon Wiesenthal Center