Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine.
3 November 2008
Dear Mr Gehry
Re: Museum of Tolerance – Jerusalem
I am writing to you on behalf of Architects & Planners for Justice in Palestine an international campaigning group highlighting the injustices and unethical conduct of Israeli architects and planners of the illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories. This includes the building of projects over destroyed Palestinian villages, on expropriated Palestinian land within Israel itself, and the erasure of Palestinian memory and history. We have support from many acclaimed figures in the academic and professional field of architecture and planning, including Charles Jencks, Ted Cullinan, Sir Terry Farrell and Will Alsop.
The Museum of Tolerance-Jerusalem, which bears the hallmarks of your highly acclaimed ‘oeuvre’ over the years, has again hit the news. While the admirers of your work worldwide are legion, and include many among our group, we feel that this project would not enhance the reputation of your firm, and would be a continual and unwelcome source of friction and political controversy.
The recent judgement by Israel's Supreme Court to allow the construction of the museum complex on top of a Muslim cemetery of religious and historical importance in the centre of Jerusalem, defies all satire and irony.
This project started in 2004, was frozen due to public outcry and most especially from Muslim religious authorities and the Israeli Islamic movement with backing from orthodox Jews concerned about disturbing of their family graves and the graves of venerated figures from Arab history and religion going back to Mohammed. The site near Jerusalem's Independence Park, in Mamilla in the centre of Jerusalem is on disputed land, taken over by the Israel’s Land Administration in 1948, whose ownership is claimed by the Islamic authorities. It may be ‘disused’ because the Muslim population is barred from it. The project is a flashpoint for more conflict and hatred at a time when annexed East Jerusalem is being infiltrated by more Jewish settlements built on expropriated land in the heart of Palestinian neighbourhoods that were to form part of the Palestinian capital in a proposed “two-state solution”.
It is disingenuous for the Weisanthal representatives to claim this is a ‘defunct’ cemetery and there were no protests when it was used as a car park. Surely it is up to the Muslim representatives to decide its status? The avenues for protests by Palestinians are extremely limited, as they impotently view the expropriation of their land and property and the breaches of the human rights using the might and force of the Israeli state and army. It is well known that the secrecy of decision making in the planning process, as for the Museum of Tolerance, precludes genuine consultation and objections. In any case, all the architecture in the world cannot engender harmony on the basis of trampling over people’s rights and history.
While the Museum of Tolerance in LA can contribute to communal harmony, to pursue this enormous project in Jerusalem, at this critical time, when the ‘peace process’ is in turmoil, would seem highly insensitive, a statement of Israel's hegemony over the Palestinians, rather than any expression of 'tolerance'. Though the Wiesenthal Centre claims it will promote inter communal harmony, it will not be particularly appealing to most Palestinians, since they are institutionally discriminated against within Israel, and walled off, imprisoned and under siege in most of the West Bank and Gaza. It will further inflame passions in an already combustible Middle East, and push any peace accord further off the horizon.
IPCRI (Israel/Palestine Centre for Research & Information) who have asked for support in stopping this project from going ahead, say that Jerusalem “is the one city in the world where there is a real potential to demonstrate that Jews, Christians and Muslims can live together in peace, understanding and real tolerance, where we can learn to celebrate the diversities of our civilizations.”
We respectfully request that you use your influence to put a stop to this project on this location. Maybe when there is a really genuine peace with justice, it can be built in a different location, with full participation of all sectors of the community in a truly free and undivided Jerusalem. Till then, your refusal to be part of this project would be a much more worthy contribution to human rights, and enhance your reputation and achievements.
Abe Hayeem, RIBA Chair APJP
The following architects and planners wish to add their signatures to this letter.
Haifa Hammami, Architect, Secretary APJP
Hans Haenlein, RIBA
Cezary Bednarski, RIBA
John Murray, RIBA
John van Rooyen, RIBA
Suad Amiry, RIWAQ, Ramallah
Shmuel Groag, Architect, Jerusalem
Beatriz Maturana, Architects for Peace, Australia
Ian Martin, Architecture Critic
Gail Waldman, RIBA
Ahmad Barclay, Architect
John Lynes, Engineer, CPT Hebron
Dena Qaddumi, Architect,
Jake Brown, RIBA
David Berridge, RIBA
Martin O’Shea, RIBA
Malcom Hecks, RIBA, France
Isabel Camacho Garcia, Architect, Spain
Karin Pally, Planner, LA
Zahira Nazer, Architect,Urban Planner
Mustafa Chaudhary, Architect,UK
Walter Hain, RIBA
Kelvin Bland, RIBA
Faisal Khan, RIBA
John Hodge, RIBA
Asif Khan, MRTPI
Nicholas Wood, RIBA
Sara Wood, Architect