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
RELATED:City: Destroy Mughrabi Gate within two weeks Mughrabi Bridge renovation gets municipal nod
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.
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.
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
The construction of a new bridge will be carried out in
cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority.Khaled Abu Toameh
contributed to this report.