Interfaith initiatives from Morocco to Jerusalem

Dialogue by design

Landscape architecture is a field that grapples with social inequality and spatial complexity – two characteristics that Jerusalem embodies. Sarah Turkenicz compares the Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem with the Akrich tree nursery in Morocco and argues for a more sympathetic design approach when dealing with interfaith relations

The Museum of Tolerance (MOT) is located at the heart of modern Jerusalem on Hillel Street, a vibrant area that is at the intersection of the expansive Independence Park and the urban city centre. The building is intended to host a variety of different activities: exhibition spaces, an education centre, a theatre, and includes numerous restaurants, cafes and shops.

As a student walking by this site on my daily commute, I began to question. Who is this building for? Tolerance for whom and in what capacity? And more pressingly – why here? My apartment overlooked the ancient Muslim cemetery that dates back to the 7th century, known as Mamilla (Ma′man Allah in Arabic) – the location chosen by the Simon Wiesenthal Center to site their architectural project for tolerance.

According to the project′s chief excavator, Gideon Suleimani, 400 graves containing human remains buried according to Muslim tradition were exhumed or exposed during excavations on the museum site, many dating back to the 12th century. Another 2000 graves remain under the new structure, the lowest layer dating back to the 11th century. Apart from the burial ground′s general historical significance, it also marked the final resting place of a number of prominent Muslim warriors and scholars.

Mamilla Muslim cemetery with the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem building site in the background (photo: Sarah Turkenicz)
An "act of colonialism": for all its good intentions, many Palestinians, not to mention the Muslim religious authorities, consider the Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem to be merely part of a larger strategy aimed at physically and culturally removing Palestine from Jerusalem. So how could the situation be alleviated?

With museums often encapsulating history in countries that are post-conflict, how does this design play out in the milieu of Israel, where conflict is ongoing and ever-evolving, and narratives are notoriously complex and contradictory?

MOTJ is surrounded by acres of green space and Muslim heritage, yet this was overlooked in favour of the prestigious building project. Planning permission was granted to the Museum of Tolerance, yet, ironically, it has had the effect of silencing the very people with whom it was hoping to build bridges.

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