Skeletons are being removed from the site of an ancient Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem to make way for a $150m (pounds 86m) "museum of tolerance" being built for the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre.
Palestinians have launched a legal battle to stop the work at what was the city's main Muslim cemetery. The work is to prepare for the construction of a museum which seeks the promotion of "unity and respect among Jews and between people of all faiths".
Israeli archaeologists and developers have continued excavating the remains of people buried at the site - which was a cemetery for at least 1,000 years - despite a temporary ban on work granted by the Islamic Court, a division of Israel's justice system. Police have been taking legal advice on whether the order is legally binding. The Israeli High Court is to hear a separate case brought by the Al Aqsa Association of the Islamic Movement in Israel next week.
The project, which a spokesman said had been conceived in partnership with the Jerusalem municipality and the Israeli government, was launched at a ceremony in 2004 by a cast of dignitaries ranging from Ehud Olmert, who is currently the acting Prime Minister, to the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The Israeli branch of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre declined to comment yesterday and has had no role in the project.
Durragham Saif, the lawyer who brought the Islamic Court petition on behalf of three Palestinian families, Al Dijani, Nusseibeh and Bader Elzain, all of whom have members buried at the cemetery, said: "It's unbelievable, it's immoral. You cannot build a museum of tolerance on the graves of other people. Imagine this kind of thing in the [United] States or England. …