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Archaeologists resume work at contentious site of Jerusalem museum

No one involved in the digs would comment on any archaeological findings since the resumption of the excavations, which are taking place in the capital's Mamilla neighborhood.

By Nir Hasson      Haaretz     14 November 2011

Archaeologists have resumed excavating the Jerusalem site where the Museum of Tolerance is to go up, amid controversy surrounding the exhumation of skeletons in what had been a Muslim cemetery for nearly 1,000 years.

In addition to fielding objections to the museum site, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which is sponsoring and financing the project, also has to contend with the recent resignation of the two architects who planned the museum. But for all the troubles, construction of the museum is scheduled to begin in the next few weeks.

The site of the Museum of Tolerance             Photo by Olivier Fitousil

No one involved in the digs would comment on any archaeological findings since the resumption of the excavations, which are taking place in the capital's Mamilla neighborhood. But the first archaeologist to work at the site said there must be more skeletons there.

"There are definitely skeletons there," said Gideon Sulimani, who also used to head the Israel Antiquities Authority's Jerusalem district. "They're digging at the edge of the excavation I conducted, and the graves continue in the direction in which they're currently digging."

The Los Angeles-based Wiesenthal Center said it would receive a summary of the archaeological findings after the excavation was completed. "The work is being conducted in accordance with the law," the center said in a statement, adding: "As far as we know, the work will be completed very shortly."

Architects Bracha and Michael Chyutin recently quit working on the museum over differences with the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Chyutin Architects was hired to design the museum about a year ago, after the resignation of world-renowned architect Frank Gehry. Chyutin Architects has signed a contract leaving the Wiesenthal Center with the architectural copyright for the plan.

More than 1,000 skeletons were expected to be exhumed during the excavation, which has the approval of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Although the Mamilla site served as the primary Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem for centuries, it was being used as a parking lot for the past few decades.


Israeli government intends to exhume over 1,000 graves in the Ma'man Allah Cemetery

16 November 2011

Dmitri Dalyani, a member of the Fatah Movement's Revolutionary Council, has warned of intentions by the Israeli Occupation to exhume a thousand additional graves in the historic Islamic cemetery of Ma'man Allah in occupied Jerusalem. The al-Aqsa Foundation for Endowments and Heritage and has also confirmed that in recent days, unusual activities have been occurring in a fenced off area of the cemetery earmarked by the Los Angeles based Simon Wiesenthal Centre to build the so-called 'Museum of Tolerance'.

In a press statement released on Monday (14.11), Dalyani asserted that digging and excavation works in the cemetery "continues intensively with the consent of all Israeli authorities concerned, principally the Antiquities Department and the so-called Jerusalem Municipality." 
According to reports from representatives of the al-Aqsa Foundation who have visited the site, digging equipment and a large number of workers including various engineers were seen entering the site which has been cordoned off with extremely high metal fences and barbed wire. The actual excavation site has also been covered over using thick material while security patrols have also been significantly stepped up.
Dalyani pointed out that there was a "suspicious media blackout surrounding the process of grave exhumations which embodies the Israeli Antiquities Department's refusal to make any announcements of discoveries made since the operation began despite the obvious existence of vast numbers of bodies and artefacts in the historic cemetery." The al-Aqsa Foundation has confirmed the existence of vast numbers of bodies successively buried in the cemetery over a period of approximately 1400 years. 
Dalyani stressed that "the crimes of aggression against the graves, particularly in the Ma'man Allah Cemetery, which is of religious and historic distinction, exists within the framework of the historic and cultural falsifications carried out by the Occupation since its establishment, and that its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people extends to also include the dead." The al-Aqsa Foundation also strongly condemned the violation of this sacred and historic Muslim graveyard which has occurred repeatedly. 
Dalyani drew attention to the fact that "the series of violations against the Ma'man Allah Cemetery began during the British Mandate era, and specifically in 1933 through the civil projects later implemented by the Israelis. These violations have not stopped since then, and thousands of graves containing the remains of the companions of the prophet, scholars and martyrs as well as Jerusalemite symbols attesting to Arab Jerusalem have been exhumed and destroyed."