Left-wing group petitions High Court over exclusivity of Western Wall tunnels

Passages wind through Byzantine, Crusader, Mamluk and other structures, can’t be sacred only to Judaism.

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December 7, 2016 02:32
2 minute read.
THE WESTERN WALL tunnels. ‘Recognizing these underground spaces as sacred only to the Jewish people

THE WESTERN WALL tunnels. ‘Recognizing these underground spaces as sacred only to the Jewish people has consequences for the archeology of the area and carries political implications.’. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

 
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Emek Shaveh, a left-wing consortium of archeologists and activists, submitted a petition to the High Court on Monday against the Religious Services Ministry over claims about the religious sanctity and ongoing excavation of the Western Wall tunnels.

The tunnels, which are being excavated by the Antiquities Authority, are situated under the Muslim Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City.

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The petition follows a November 6 notice by the ministry stating that the tunnels are recognized as a sacred site only for Jews, although Emek Shaveh contends that a legally-mandated ministerial committee was not assembled to make the determination, or approve the excavations.

According to the Antiquities Law, to excavate a sacred site in the country it is necessary to assemble a ministerial committee and receive its approval. The committee must include the ministers of Culture, Religious Services and Justice.

In April of last year, Emek Shaveh also petitioned the High Court demanding that the state take over management of a tunnel that connects Silwan and the Western Wall from a right-wing NGO.

The tunnel, which leads to the archeological site known as the Davidson Center, and reaches the foundations of the Temple Mount, is managed by Elad, which was founded in the 1980s to acquire the former homes of Jewish families who fled Silwan after the 1936 riots.

That petition was summarily dismissed by the court.

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“Recognizing these underground spaces as sacred only to the Jewish people has consequences for the archeology of the area and carries political implications,” Emek Shaveh said in a statement on Monday regarding its current petition.

“In the petition, we demand a limitation of the area declared as sacred to the Jewish people, and a clear delineation of its boundaries. In today’s reality, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel has control over Jerusalem’s ancient sites, while archeology is used as a tool for adding and expanding sites sacred to Jews.”

Hundreds of meters have been excavated over the last decade as part of the Western Wall tunnel project, with the main archeological excavation activity taking place in the Old City.

“The decision to sanctify the underground [tunnels] for the Jewish religion only means sanctifying structures from different periods for the Jews – from the Second Temple period, through Roman pagan structures, Byzantine and Crusader, Mamluk and Ottoman – all this beneath the homes of residents of the Muslim Quarter,” Emek Shaveh claimed.

A Religious Services Ministry spokesman did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

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