Palestinians protest at Israeli plan to build museum on Muslim graveyard

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Hundreds of Palestinians marched through the streets of Jerusalem yesterday to protest against plans to build a museum on part of a centuries-old Muslim cemetery. The Museum of Tolerance is intended to promote understanding in a city divided by ethnic and religious rivalries, but protesters say building it over gravesites does anything but.

Several Muslim groups opposed the project but the Israeli Supreme Court overturned theirappeal last week, saying that there had been a busy parking lot on the site since 1960, and no objections had been filed.

The protesters, many wearing traditional black and white check keffiyeh headdresses, marched peacefully from East Jerusalem to the proposed site, just west of the walled Old City but voiced heated sentiments. "To go and to kill the people another time after their death is criminal," said Dr Ahmed Kanam, one of the protesters.

The court did give contractors 60 days to agree with the Israel Antiquities Authority on a way to either remove the deceased for reburial or install a barrier between the graves and a future building foundation to avoid disturbing the remains. The cemetery is 300 to 400 years old, but fell out of use after the founding of Israel in 1948. Crumbling gravestones are still visible. One of them is daubed with graffiti reading "Death to Arabs".

The Muslim protesters are supported by ultra-Orthodox Jews active in preserving graves and often interfering with construction projects.

The museum is being built by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Los Angeles-based Jewish organisation. The Weisenthal Centre says the purpose of the museum is to promote understanding in a city holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. It is to have a conference centre, theatre and museums for both adults and children.