Approval granted to Kotel egalitarian section upgrades

However, the plans to extend the prayer platform to the stones of the Western Wall actually received the requisite permits back in 2013.

August 28, 2018 18:52
2 minute read.

A view of the Western Wall plaza, the Dome of the Rock and the top of Al Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

An expansion of the entrance and staircase leading to the egalitarian section of the Western Wall by Robinson’s Arch was approved by the Jerusalem Municipality earlier this month, as part of a broader plan to upgrade the site.

Following the indefinite suspension of the comprehensive 2016 Western Wall agreement last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been working to implement physical upgrades to the current egalitarian prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall, known as the Ezrat Israel.

The planned renovations are relatively modest, and consist mainly of extending the current prayer platform to reach the actual ashlars of the Western Wall on one level, as opposed to the current situation where a small, lower platform is the only place where the egalitarian section touches the wall.

Other minor physical upgrades will also be made to make the prayer area more aesthetically pleasing and suitable for prayer.

However, the plans to extend the prayer platform to the stones of the Western Wall actually received the requisite permits back in 2013.

As part of the current upgrades, the Prime Minister’s Office is also seeking to create a more suitable and noteworthy entrance to the egalitarian section and broaden the staircase leading down to it, something which was not included in the 2013 permits.

The egalitarian section is below street level and is accessed by a narrow, winding staircase and walkway, the entrance to which is between Dung Gate and the southern entry point to the Western Wall plaza.

In order to obtain the requisite permits to expand the new entrance and broaden the staircase and walkway, the PMO through the Jerusalem Municipality made use of regulations requiring disability access.

This meant that seeking the approval of the Jerusalem Municipal Council could be avoided, which would have likely been blocked by the hareidi and national-religious parties in the council.

The Women of the Wall prayer group deplored the plans for the upgrade and the use of disability regulations.

“Adding a few meters under the guise of helping the handicapped is like telling Rosa Parks ‘We’re putting air conditioning in the back of the bus. Would you move there?’ It’s still the back of the bus!,” declared Women of the Wall chair Anat Hoffman. “The reason she wanted to sit in the front is because she wanted to live a normal life and be recognized as a human person. Likewise, [we] will not settle for less.”

Dr. Yizhar Hess, director of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel, said that he was “satisfied with the bottom line” of the new plans, which will allow many more people to conduct Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies at the site due to the enlarged area, particularly touching the wall itself.

He said however that the planned upgrades were a far cry from what was agreed in the 2016 solution, that they should be done in a more official manner, and that the use of disability regulations made them feel like “thieves in the night.”

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