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JIIS Bulletin - September 2011
Mamilla: A case of tolerance vs. dignity?
The controversy surrounding the construction of the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem has not abated. As building continues on the Mamilla site that is known to have previously been a large Muslim cemetery, the debate surrounding it has developed into a clash between human dignity (respect for the deceased) and the urban development interest of modern society. Beyond that, argues Prof. Yitzhak Reiter, it now "reflects a conflict between the needs of the Jewish state and the sensitivities of the Muslim-Arab minority, with its needs for symbols of identity in the local and national landscapes." 

In his latest book, Allah's Safe Haven? The Controversy Surrounding the Mamilla Cemetery and the Museum of Tolerance (JIIS, 2011), Reiter analyzes the situation from three different perspectives: "first, pertaining to the location of the museum, with its inherent contradiction between its objectives (after all, it is meant to promote tolerance) and its possible outcome; second, at the political level in the context of majority-minority relations and questions of what is fair or discriminatory; and third, at the universal level – can a conflict over a holy place that reflects 'identity politics' be addressed independently of the ideological positions that it represents?" 

There are of course counter-claims to the widespread Muslim opposition to the project – that the Muslim community neglected the place for years, that the museum's backers are not the first to have diverted part of the cemetery for another purpose (for example, the one-time Palace Hotel, soon to be the new Waldorf-Astoria also occupies some of the same plot) and not least that the place was used as a parking lot for at least two decades before the planning of the museum started. 

And yet, Reiter stresses, the question remains: was the decision to build the Museum of Tolerance here right or was it harmful? "Black and white legality is not the only issue here. Downplaying the heritage of property is not usually a great way to resolve such a problem." He suggests that in the future a special inter-religious body should be set up, under government auspices, to try and resolve conflicts over holy places swiftly and effectively
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