Last week Israel’s Supreme Court ruled the project could go ahead after two years of delay over the fate of the cemetery’s 400-year-old graves, saying a parking lot built in the area more than 40 years ago had then raised no objections.
“We have come to tell the world, on behalf of all the Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, Israel and the diaspora, we will not put up with this,” Sheikh Kamal Khatib, a leader in the Arab-Israeli Islamic Movement, told the crowd.
“We will not forgive the defilement of the graves of our mothers, fathers and grandparents. We will not tolerate the construction of the Museum of Tolerance.”
The cemetery has not been in use since before Israel’s creation in 1948, and most of the area is today a popular park in west Jerusalem, though many gravestones still stand among the trees.
The museum’s sponsors, including the US-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre, have pledged that the $250 million (£160 million) complex will promote co-existence, with a conference centre, a theatre and museums for adults and children.
“All citizens of Israel, Jews and non-Jews, are the real beneficiaries of this decision,” Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Wiesenthal Center, in a statement following the Supreme Court ruling. “Jerusalem is 3,000 years old and every stone and parcel of land has a history that is revered by people of many faiths. We are deeply committed to do everything in our power to respect that sacred past, but at the same time we must allow Jerusalem to have a future.”