Dear Board Member of the Simon Wiesenthal Center:
As you may be aware, the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) is building a Center for Human Dignity — Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem. You may not be aware, however, that construction of this Museum has already resulted in the disinterment and desecration of thousands of Muslim graves and human remains. These were buried in part of the ancient Mamilla Cemetery, which the SWC has chosen as the site of the Museum. The Cemetery is a historically significant site, which dates back at least to the 12th century and is the resting place of many generations of Jerusalem’s most respected leaders, scholars, judges, and families. In desecrating this cemetery, the SWC has shown disrespect for the dead, and has offended the living descendants of individuals buried there.
We urge you, as supporters of a Center whose goals include promoting human rights and dignity, to insist that the SWC heed the pleas of the descendants of those buried in the cemetery to accept another site for the Museum of Tolerance. Not only would such a move ease tensions in Jerusalem; it would also illustrate the sincerity of the Center’s goal of advocating tolerance.
Since 60 individual descendants from 15 of Jerusalem’s oldest Muslim families submitted a Petition in February, 2010 to United Nations bodies urging them to help stop the building of the Museum atop the cemetery, the issue has gained attention world-wide. Over 8,500 people have signed a public petition supporting the demands of the Petition. These include ensuring that the disinterred remains are reburied by Muslim authorities, that the Museum be relocated outside of the Cemetery, and that the Cemetery be preserved. Please find the Petition enclosed; all referenced documents and facts are available within or online at www.mamillacampaign.org. An Addendum will soon be submitted to update the case.
Opposition to the SWC’s desecration of the Mamilla Cemetery has continued to build. Rabbis for Human Rights have written a letter to the SWC asking it to move the Museum. In addition, the U.N. Human Rights Council passed a resolution expressing “its grave concern at the excavation of ancient tombs and removal of hundreds of human remains from part of the historic Ma’man Allah (Mamilla) Cemetery in the holy city of Jerusalem in order to construct a museum of tolerance.” The Swiss Secretary for Foreign Affairs has stated that Switzerland “deplore[s] the decision to build such a museum on the site of an ancient Muslim cemetery” which “was not helpful with regard to fostering the peaceful cohabitation between the different faiths.” Permanent Representatives of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Group of Arab States have brought the matter to the attention of the United Nations Security Council and requested that the Secretary-General of the United Nations intervene personally, urging that the Museum project be abandoned and that the Cemetery be preserved.
While honorably fighting for the preservation of Jewish cemeteries all over the world, SWC has defended its own destruction of part of an ancient Muslim cemetery. It is indisputable that the site of the Museum is in fact part of Mamilla Cemetery, as evident from the thousands of graves and human remains hastily disinterred during construction and others thought to be still under the site (most recently demonstrated in the article and photographs published in Ha’aretz newspaper on May 18, 2010). The cemetery’s sanctity under Islamic law was never rescinded and opposition to desecration of the cemetery has been consistent, especially since 1967.
Since the filing of our Petition on February 10, 2010, Rabbi Hier has declared that construction will continue. Countless graves, remains, and other archaeological artifacts have already been destroyed and displaced, yet the SWC has not disclosed their current whereabouts. Furthermore, there are likely to be many more graves underneath the site of the Museum.
We therefore appeal to you to consider the effect that the construction of the Museum atop the oldest Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem will have on the prospects for peace and tolerance in the entire region. If the Museum is finally built on the planned site, it will represent anything but the tolerance and human dignity that its name suggests. Instead, it will symbolize insensitivity and hypocrisy, and will continue to elicit widespread opposition. We believe that the ultimate responsibility for the continuation of this project now rests with the Board members, who are accountable to the public and private world for supporting this assault on common sense and decency. While appreciating that the Board is not directly involved in SWC operations, we believe that the weight of this decision can no longer be left to the discretion of Rabbi Hier.
We commend the idea of a Museum of Tolerance. But why, of all the places in the world, must it be built on top of the ancient Mamilla Cemetery? What logic and fairness dictates that an American institution should build a Museum on top of a foreign Muslim Cemetery, while desecrating the dead and angering their descendants and a whole community? Will you allow the SWC to desecrate what others deem sacred, and deign to call it tolerance?
We encourage you to learn more about the historic Mamilla Cemetery, and to question the tendentious assertions made by Rabbi Hier. As this is a pressing matter, we would hope to hear from you within the week regarding any questions or additional information you might need. We would be glad to have discussions with you or with the entire Board, as we are hopeful that this matter can be resolved.
Center for Constitutional Rights
Michael Ratner, President
666 Broadway, 7th Floor
New York, New York 10012
Campaign to Preserve Mamilla Jerusalem Cemetery
Rashid I. Khalidi
Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies
Columbia University, New York