Forget Hamas - Israel is a tunneling giant

Jerusalem's underground cemetery project a finalist in international competition.

November 2, 2017 17:08
2 minute read.
Artist's rendering of the underground cemetery.

Artist's rendering of the underground cemetery.. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Israel made headlines around the world this week for destroying a tunnel. But at an awards ceremony in Paris this month, it might receive a prize for designing one.

Israel is one of three finalists this year in a competition run by the International Tunneling Association. Later this month, for the third year running, the organization will be awarding a grand prize to the most “innovative underground space concept.”

Among the three finalists is a project in Jerusalem that is building a system of tunnel cemeteries to tackle the burial overcrowding problem in the city. The project, at the Har Hamenuchot Cemetery in the Givat Shaul neighborhood, began construction in 2015.

Arik Glazer, the head of the Rolzur Tunneling company, said it should allow for burials to begin around a year from today.

“The project is progressing as scheduled,” he told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. “More than 60% of the tunnels are already excavated. Design is finished and very soon we will start to build the various buildings inside the caverns.”

Rolzur and the project were selected by the International Tunneling Association for addressing “a mounting global, environmental and real estate crisis, while also meeting emotional and religious needs.”

According to the ITA, “the proximity of underground cemeteries to mushrooming cities will enable people to continue to visit their departed loved ones, and in any weather.”

The project, which will take at least four to five more years to fully complete, is slated to eventually house 22,000 graves and cost $50 million. Access is expected to be via three main large elevators, and the space is even supposed to be air conditioned.

Demand for burial in the capital has been high for decades, with locals and foreigners alike clamoring to be buried in the holy city. Need around the country is high overall, as Jewish law forbids cremation.

While the National Insurance Institute covers burial costs for locals, foreign nationals or those from outside the city opting for burial in Jerusalem have to cover their own costs. Investments from Diaspora Jews play a large financial role in the ongoing project.

Rolzur is competing against projects from Turkey and Hong Kong. The Istanbul-based plan is a large underground transport hub, which would connect trains, buses, taxis and a ferryboat, and include underground parking and a garden.

In Hong Kong they are working on a “caverns master plan,” which is seeking to tackle the urban housing crisis by using underground caverns for storage of food and wine, data and archives, research laboratories and for parking.

The winning entry will be announced at the ITA conference in Paris on November 15.

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