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Religious Group Given Permission to Build Tolerance Museum on Muslim Burial Site

The Israeli government has given a Jewish organization the green light on a building project to take place at a Muslim graveyard in Jerusalem.

Officials say the Simon Wiesenthal Center, based in the U.S., can immediately start constructing the Museum of Tolerance, which has been in the works since 2003.

Israel’s Interior Ministry granted the group a building permit Wednesday, a ministry spokeswoman Efrat Orbach told reporters. She said construction can begin immediately.

The project is located in West Jerusalem, an area populated mostly by Jews.

The museum, which is meant to celebrate coexistence, has sparked the ire of Muslims who find the Simon Wiesenthal Center's project a bit ironic.

Various Islamic groups petitioned the Supreme Court in 2008 to try and put an end to the project. They claimed the area, home to the Mamun Allah cemetery, holds graves dating back to the 12th century, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Court officials noted that Israel's archaeological sites were so numerous that buildings are often constructed over graves. They ordered excavators to remove the graves and bones they unearthed to an alternate location situated along the perimeter of the construction site, but outside the area where the museum is to be built, according to AP.

In many cases where Ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups protested Israeli construction sites where ancient Jewish graves were believed to have once located, building plans were often changed, AP notes.

The Wiesenthal group already has similar museums in New York and Los Angeles.

Protesters say they plan to keep fighting the building project.

“We are trying as much as possible to do this with efforts not only on the United Nations level but also on the Israeli court level, on the international court level,” Huda al-Imam, director of the Center for Jerusalem Studies and a leading campaigner against the museum's construction, told Agence France-Presse.

Imam added, “They should respect human heritage and human dignity and not build this museum of tolerance on a Palestinian cultural site and try to delete our identity.”

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