‘The writing is on the wall’

It is – literally- in Mamilla, where I met my first interviewee of the trip in a cafe this morning.

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It seems every city has been opening one of these high-end, retail-driven, mixed-use developments in recent years, with privatised retail ‘streets’, gated apartment blocks and leisure outlets – think Victoria Square in Belfast, SouthGate in Bath, or Liverpool One.  Well Jerusalem’s got one too – it’s big and flashy and grand, right next to the Old City’s Jaffa Gate and made entirely of stone.  And it’s called the Mamilla Compound.   It’s a bit sterile and commercial – even the sculptures on display are for sale – but at least the incorporation of historical buildings means you get a bit of a sense of where you are.

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But I really can’t figure out why the existing stone is still emblazoned with numbers.  Clearly they were codified in order to take the buildings down and rebuild them in the same way…but as far as I’m aware, when they do this back home, they write the code on the back of the bricks, or they do it in something that will wash off, like chalk.  If they really had to write it on the front in big black permanent ink, I wish they’d at least given the job to someone with smaller handwriting!  Maybe it remains as a stamp of authenticity on the restoration job they carried out.

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Like the nearby Musrara of my last blogpost, Mamilla was one of the early settlements to form outside of the Old City walls, and was initially a mixed Arab and Jewish neighbourhood, which, like Musrara, was located on the 1949 Armistice Line between east and west.  Now many of the historic buildings have been subsumed into the Mamilla Compound, and new buildings added.  However across the road from all the glitz, the ancient Muslim Mamilla Cemetery still remains, which has within it Mamilla Pool – an ancient reservoir which used to supply drinking water to the walled city nearby, and was also the location of the Mamilla massacre, where Jews murdered thousands of Christians in 614, in an incident about which I know little.

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The ancient reservoir, Mamilla Pool

And it is on this site that – wait for it – a Museum of Tolerance is currently being built.  Yes, that’s right, on part of an old Muslim Cemetery, and right next to the place where Christians were slaughtered, the US-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre are building a museum to promote ‘Jewish Unity and Universal Respect’, or in other words, the tolerance of Jews, with a seeming lack of tolerance for others.  As my husband asked over the phone this evening – ‘Is it called a Museum of Tolerance because there isn’t any, any more?!’

This building was initially announced in 2005, and designed by starchitect Frank Gehry, who subsequently resigned.  Delays and stopping of works due to fall-outs and legal battles mean that construction is still not above ground level, but was very definitely (noisily) underway today.

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Mamilla Cemetery with the hoarding of the Museum of Tolerance building site in the background

When I asked him about the Museum of Tolerance, my ‘Zionist liberal’ (his words) architect interviewee commented:

‘You know, when there’s a rotten apple in the box, everything will rot.  The core of this thing is evil.  Why is it evil?  I’ll tell you why.  Not because it’s on a Muslim graveyard, that’s just stupid and disrespectful.  It’s because they’re not really about tolerance…  It was an evil idea in the first place…if it will [be built], it will be a complete failure…’

It does all leave me wondering whether ‘the writing is on the wall’ of more than one building in modern-day Mamilla.

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