J'lem again vows to demolish temporary Mughrabi Gate bridge

ByMELANIE LIDMAN
October 26, 2011 02:16

Structure leading to the Temple Mount is dangerous, says the Jerusalem city engineer.

3 minute read.



Mughrabi Gate bridge

Mughrabi Gate bridge 311. (photo credit:Marc Israel Sellem)

For the second time in six months, Jerusalem’s city engineer has threatened to destroy the temporary bridge connecting the Western Wall Plaza to the Temple Mount in an effort to force the Western Wall Heritage Fund to replace the aging structure.

City Engineer Shlomo Eshkol said the bridge, used by non-Muslims, was in danger of collapse and gave the Western Wall Heritage Fund 30 days to work on a replacement plan.

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Eshkol made similar threats in May, when he said the Fund had two weeks to remove the bridge or the city would destroy it. The Fund said that the decision depended on the Prime Minister’s Office, and since then no plans were made to demolish the bridge.

The covered ramp has been used since 2004, when a small earthquake and winter storm caused part of the original bridge to collapse. The Mughrabi Bridge is the main entry point for non-Muslim tourists to access the Temple Mount from the Western Wall plaza, as well as for security forces entering the area in times of unrest.

“The bridge was not intended to provide a permanent solution and is not suitable for security and civilian needs, and as well may be hazardous due to deteriorating physical conditions and its flammability,” a spokeswoman for the municipality told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

“Use of the bridge should be halted by destroying it, as the city engineer has noted,” the spokeswoman said.

The Western Wall Heritage Fund said it had received the letter from the municipality and was examining the consequences of the announcement. The Fund refused to elaborate on possible courses of action.

The Wakf Department in Jerusalem, which is in charge of the Islamic religious sites, said that the Mughrabi Bridge belongs to Muslims and Israel does not have any jurisdiction over the area.

Madeline Lavine, a private tour guide, vowed never to bring a group on the bridge again after she felt the bridge rocking and swaying while ascending with a large group last May. “It should be closed down immediately, we shouldn’t be taking people up there,” she said on Tuesday. “We’re waiting for a disaster. If it’s dangerous, you close it, I don’t understand why it’s so difficult.”

Lavine added that while the city deals with political concerns about construction in such a sensitive area, a security checkpoint should be set up at the Gate of Chains to allow tourists to enter into the plaza without using the bridge. Currently, non-Muslims may only enter through Mughrabi Gate unless there are extenuating circumstances.

Israeli construction of a replacement bridge started in 2007 but was halted because the project lacked the necessary permits. Legal challenges from the Council for Muslim Interests, the Ir Amim organization and city councillor Pepe Alalu (Meretz) froze the work until the municipality could approve the project though the regular process that all construction in the city must undergo.

That process, which includes approval by the Interior Ministry, was concluded at the beginning of March.

Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran accused Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat of “playing with fire in the most sensitive place.” She said that handled poorly, without coordination and discussion with Muslim authorities, the issue could cause massive disturbances.

The construction in 2007 sparked protest marches in Jordan, as well as calls for a third intifada and violence in the Holy Basin, the area immediately surrounding the Old City.

UNESCO investigated the site in an attempt to defuse religious tensions, and found that the construction was not damaging holy sites.

However, it called on Israel to halt construction until a team of international observers could get involved. The Council for Muslim Interests has demanded that any construction be done in cooperation with the Wakf Islamic trust or other Muslim organizations. The issue of a replacement bridge and coordination with Muslim authorities was set to be discussed by the High Court of Justice in June, but the case was pushed off until December.

The construction of a new bridge will be carried out in cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.

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