The Jerusalem municipality is moving ahead with construction plans at a site that for many centuries housed a Muslim cemetery.
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Last week, the Jerusalem Planning and Building Committee approved a massive construction project to be built over the current location of the Experimental School in Independence Park, in the city center. It has been known for years that this location was once a large cemetery that served the city’s Muslim residents.
The approved new plan includes 192 housing units, a 480-room hotel, commercial spaces, parking and other elements. The plan was proposed by Eden, a municipality-owned company that promotes construction in the downtown area. Before the plan is implemented, a new home must be found for the Experimental School; the municipality doesn’t currently have a solution in place for the school.
The municipality has long sought to move the Experimental School and build commercial and residential premises at the central site. Originally, a new courthouse was planned there, but – at the behest of then-Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch – concern over the graves scuttled that plan.
During preparations for construction at the site, the Antiquities Authority conducted archaeological probes in the schoolyard; in five of the six probes, graves and skeletal remains were found.
Construction has been underway on the adjacent Museum of Tolerance since 2011. When skeletal remains were found after work began on the museum, the Islamic Movement and other entities fought hard against construction. Work on the museum was halted for an extended period following a petition to the High Court of Justice, although the court subsequently granted permission for construction to resume. In 2010, a rapid, controversial archaeological probe uncovered hundreds of skeletons at the site.
In a statement, the municipality said it was “working to move the Experimental School to another compound in the center of the city that will provide a proper solution for the students.” It added that Eden “was working in keeping with all sensitivities and, of course, according to the law. This issue has been discussed in the past before the construction of the Museum of Tolerance, and was treated with maximum sensitivity and approved at all levels of the courts, including the High Court of Justice – a ruling that led to the end of legal and planning discussion.”