A new plan to completely renovate the Western Wall Plaza was approved by the
Jerusalem Local Planning and Building Committee on Monday, paving the way for
the most drastic changes to the layout of the area since the plaza was created
after the Six Day War.
“The goal of expanding the entrances and exits of
the Western Wall plaza and will give us a solution for allowing large numbers of
worshipers and visitors to enter at once, as well as emergency exits,” Rabbi
Shmuel Rabinovitch, the chief rabbi of the Western Wall, told The Jerusalem
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The plan is expected to spark outrage among Muslim groups, who are
opposed to any construction or archeological excavations at the
Women’s groups are also expressing concern that the plan will not
take their needs into account.
The current plaza was created immediately
after the Six Day War in 1967, when the neighborhood next to the Western Wall,
known as the Moroccan Quarter, was razed to make a large plaza.
plan, which is still in the very initial stages of approval, calls for a large
underground plaza to replace the current main entrance, located at Dung Gate. A
new visitor’s center will replace the current police building, with areas for
educational programming, additional bathrooms, an auditorium, lecture halls, and
an exhibition space for the archeological discoveries in the area.
number of visitors has increased by 500% at the Western Wall in recent years,
and is expected to grow even more, but the infrastructure has remained the
same,” Rabinovitch said in a statement. “Hundreds of workers at the Wall,
including security guards, guides, and management, are working under impossible
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation claims that more
than 15 million visitors come to the Western Wall every year, though the
municipality put the figure at eight million. Both expect the number of visitors
to the site to double in the next 10 years.
The proposal is a joint
project by the Prime Minister’s Office, the Jerusalem Municipality, the Israel
Antiquities Authority, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, with involvement
from the Jerusalem Development Authority and the Company for the Reconstruction
and Development of the Jewish Quarter. The plan was designed by architect
Gavriel Kertesz, who has been involved with many historical architectural
projects, including the renovations of Mishkenot Sha’ananim, overlooking the Old
The plan must still pass a number of hurdles before construction
starts; the complicated approval process is expected to take years, if it is
passed at all. The proposal must be approved by the Jerusalem District Planning
and Building Committee, part of the Interior Ministry, as well as pass a number
of periods during the which the public can file objections.
groups and Muslim worshipers are worried by proposal.
“It looks like the
architecture is going to now set in stone, so to speak, the perspective that
women are spectators and men are worshipers,” said Anat Hoffman, director of
Women of the Wall, a monthly women’s prayer group that advocates for equal
treatment for women at the site.
“There are partitions that are suggested
where women can observe men, but men can’t observe women,” she said.
of the plan proposes a moveable mehitza, or barrier, between the men and women’s
“The thing is, I’d like to move it all the way out of
Jerusalem, but a moveable mehitza is interesting because it allows us to be
sensitive to who’s coming to the wall,” said Hoffman.
“There’s no problem
for the women, the new entrance will not eat into the women’s section at all,”
Rabinovitch said, in response to concerns expressed by the women’s groups. “On
the contrary, after the plan is approved, it will allow us to enlarge the
women’s section, in accordance with a court decision.”
Any excavations or
construction in the area usually produces outrage in the Muslim community, both
here and abroad. Islamic groups say they were not consulted as the proposal was
drawn up. Any excavations may upset the tenuous balance in the area. In February
2007, construction of a temporary bridge to the Mugrabi Gate entrance of the
Temple Mount sparked international Muslim protests, fueled by distorted media
reports of what was actually taking place.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t
matter what we do, some of the Muslims will always complain, but these are for
political reasons… we’re not trying to do this for political reasons,” said
Daniel Shukrun, the project director from the Company for the Reconstruction and
Development of the Jewish Quarter.
Shukrun’s company is also working on
the construction of an elevator next to the Aish Hatorah yeshiva, announced in
August, which will make the Western Wall more accessible to the
“We’ve really been trying to fix the area with different types
of improvements,” said Shukrun. “But this area can’t always provide an optimal
solution to all the people making requests.”
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