Officials closed the Mugrabi Bridge on Sunday, three days before the municipality deadline to close the ramp leading from the Western Wall plaza to the Temple Mount.
The Jerusalem city engineer, Shlomo Eshkol, has warned over the past year in a series of letters to the prime minister and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation – which oversees the area – that the temporary bridge is unsafe.
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The municipality originally set November 28 as the deadline to destroy the bridge, but Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu intervened to stop the demolition, worried about triggering riots across the Arab world. In the most recent letter, sent last week, the municipality insisted the entrance must be closed to the public until a new bridge is built.
The closure, which came earlier than expected, touched off a stormy reaction in the Knesset and among right-wing activists.
“Israel doesn’t know how to express its own independence in its own capital,” said Yehudah Glick, the founder and chairman of the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation, which advocates for Jewish access to the site. He said that in the past, when construction caused the closure of the Mugrabi Gate, non-Muslim tourists and pilgrims were allowed to use the Chain Gate, one of the 12 entrances to the Temple Mount. Similar access was not granted on Sunday.
MK Uri Ariel (National Union) called for the immediate demolition of the bridge so construction of a safer alternative could begin.
“But even with this, it would be inconceivable if during construction Jews are hindered from going to the Temple Mount for even one minute, and the construction work should never be an excuse for this,” he said.
Glick and Ariel both called for the prime minister to work to find alternate routes for Jewish worshipers and tourists while the bridge’s fate is decided.
The bridge has been the subject of contention because it is the only entrance for non-Muslims who want to visit the Dome of the Rock. The original earthen ramp collapsed during a snowstorm in 2004, and the temporary bridge was built in its stead, meant to serve for a few months at most until a permanent bridge was built. Repair work on the bridge in 2007 touched off widespread Muslim rioting in Jordan and Jerusalem and calls for a third intifada.
Most people agree that the bridge is indeed dangerous to use, and that closing it is not a political move.
Tour guide Madeline Lavine told The Jerusalem Post
in October that she refused to bring tourists up the bridge ever since heavy traffic had caused it to sway beneath her feet while she was accompanying a large group. The wooden structure is flammable and was not meant to handle years of heavy loads, including patrols of border police who use it as the emergency entrance to the Temple Mount in times of unrest. The municipality has warned that a cigarette tossed on the bridge could create a tragedy along the lines of a “Carmel Fire II.”
The only groups that disagree with the city engineer’s findings is the Council for Muslim Interests in Israel and the Wakf Islamic trust. The council says its engineers deem the bridge structurally sound, and that any work on it should be done in coordination with the Wakf.
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 28. Another case involving the Western Wall plaza and the bridge will be heard by the Jerusalem District Court in January.