ULTRA-ORTHODOX MEN walk past soldiers at the Kotel in Jerusalem.
The High Court of Justice on Wednesday will hear NGO Emek Shaveh’s petition against the Religious Services Ministry over claims regarding the religious sanctity and ongoing excavation of the Old City’s Western Wall tunnel.
The left-wing consortium of archeologists and activists submitted the petition to the High Court in December, noting that the tunnel, which was excavated by the Israel Antiquities Authority, runs under the Old City’s Muslim Quarter.
The petition followed a November 6 notice by the ministry stating that the tunnel is recognized as a sacred site only by Jews, although Emek Shaveh contends that a legally mandated ministerial committee was not assembled to make the determination or approve the excavation.
According to the Antiquities Law, excavating a sacred site in the country first necessitates the assemblage of a ministerial committee for approval. The committee must include the ministers of Culture, Religious Services and Justice.
In April of last year, Emek Shaveh unsuccessfully petitioned the High Court to demand that the state take over management of Hezekiah’s Tunnel, which leads from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam, from the right-wing NGO Elad.
Elad founder and chairman David Be’eri was announced the winner of this year’s Israel Prize for his work in renovating the City of David into a major tourist destination and archeological site.
“Recognizing these underground spaces as sacred only to the Jewish people has consequences for the archeology of the area and carries political implications,” Emek Shaveh said in a statement regarding Wednesday’s hearing. “In the petition, we demand a limitation of the area declared as sacred to the Jewish people and a clear delineation of its boundaries. In today’s reality, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel has control over Jerusalem’s ancient sites, while archeology is used as a tool for adding and expanding sites sacred to Jews.
“As we see it, these excavations are being used as a tool for the development of an underground quarter beneath the Old City, which the state seeks to sanctify for Jews, but is not willing to do so legally and responsibly through a ministerial committee,” Emek Shaveh said, adding, “In Israel today, archeological excavations have a lot more to do with politics than with science.”
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