During the winter of 2004, rainstorms, snow, flooding and a minor earthquake destroyed the old Mughrabi Ascent. Connecting the Western Wall plaza to Mughrabi Gate, the earthen ramp was the only entry point for non-Muslims to the Temple Mount, which is under control of the Jordanian Waqf, the Muslim custodian of holy sites – though Israel has entry rights.

Tourists regularly used the ascent. So did some religious Jews motivated by a spiritual yearning to be as close as possible to Judaism’s holiest site and by the conviction that it is important to demonstrate a Jewish presence there – at least in the areas where, according to their understanding, Jewish law permits Jews to venture. (Under the agreement between Israel and the Waqf, Jews are not allowed to pray there out of deference to Muslim sensibilities.)

The ascent was also the only way large numbers of Israeli security forces could gain quick access to the mount in times of emergency or disturbances.

Seven years ago a “temporary” wooden ramp, which blocked about a third of the space reserved for female supplicants at the Kotel, was erected. In parallel, an interministerial committee began planning a new bridge.

Architect Ada Carmi proposed a bridge of glass and steel 200 meters in length (the original Mughrabi Ascent had been 80 meters long), extending from the Dung Gate to the Mughrabi Gate. The planning was accompanied by archaeological rescue excavations, a precondition under Israel law aiming to protect archaeological artifacts. Israel took meticulous care rescuing and preserving antiquities – Arab and Jewish.

Cameras were stationed at the excavation site proving the Temple Mount and its mosques were not in danger. Representatives of the Jordanian government, a delegation from Turkey and a delegation on behalf of UNESCO were allowed to visit the site – to no avail.

Muslim extremists used the excavations and the bridge plans as an excuse to stage violent demonstrations and incite against Israel. In February 2007, Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the more extremist northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, claimed that Israel was planning to build a third Temple.

“They want to build their temple while our blood is on their clothing, on their doorposts, in their food and in their water,” he said.

Islamic Jihad in Gaza launched rockets at Sderot. Leading Palestinian Authority cleric Taysir al-Tamimi called on Palestinians to go to al-Aqsa immediately “to protect it from the bulldozers of the Israeli occupation… which are working to destroy Al-Aqsa mosque.”

Israel buckled under the pressure. Carmi’s plans were scrapped. Instead, it was decided that the original earth ascent would be restored. But even this modest project, which entails the destruction of the temporary wooden bridge, has aroused the rancor of the Muslim world.

In June of this year representatives from Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Bahrain hijacked UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, convincing it to censure Israel for daring to renovate the bridge.

Now time is running out. Jerusalem’s chief engineer for dangerous structures and the firefighting service determined that the wooden ramp was dangerous and a fire hazard, and must be dismantled immediately. Meant to be a temporary solution, the ramp has been standing for seven years and is a disaster in the making.

Finally, it looked as though the dangerous ramps would be replaced. Over a 72-hour period starting this Saturday night, crews were to begin dismantling the ramp. However, on Monday Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, fearful of Arab reactions, ordered a delay in the demolition of the bridge yet again.

Apparently, the bridge has become an issue in the Egyptian elections. The Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, is claiming that the bridge could enable Israeli security forces to invade al-Aqsa Mosque. Posters were put up at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University calling on Muslims to protect the mosque.

This madness must stop. An absurd situation has been created in which some irrational Muslim leaders, intoxicated by their own lies – including the spurious belief that the First and Second Temples were never situated on the Temple Mount – have intimidated Israel into inaction.

Israel must not cave in to the insanity of Muslim extremism. The Mughrabi bridge must be replaced – the sooner the better.

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