State planning authorities must examine plans to expand the women’s section at
the Western Wall as part of reconstructions of the Mughrabi Bridge, and must
take into consideration security issues, the Supreme Court ruled on
The decision came in response to a petition filed by the state
and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the state body responsible for
maintaining the Kotel, against an administrative court ruling that forbade
expansion of the women’s section as part of plans to reconstruct the
The court’s ruling is the latest stage in a
protracted legal battle over plans to redevelop the Mughrabi Bridge, a temporary
wooden structure and the sole point of access for non-Muslims to the Temple
Mount from the Western Wall.
Israel built the wooden bridge in 2004,
after the previous structure, an earthen mound known as the Mughrabi Ascent,
A 2007 decision by local planning committees to replace the
wooden bridge with a permanent structure sparked widespread riots in Jerusalem
and in Jordan, after the Antiquities Authority carried out archeological
excavations on the Mughrabi Ascent. In Gaza, Islamic Jihad fired rockets at
Sderot in protest against the excavations.
The excavations were part of
mandatory planning procedures to avoid destroying important antiquities.
However, Muslim leaders in Israel and elsewhere accused the authorities of
attempting to destroy the Aksa Mosque.
After legal consultation, the
authorities decided to freeze their initial plans and submit a new plan to
Jerusalem’s district planning and construction committee, which included a
request to expand the cramped women’s section by including a prayer section
under the bridge.
In 2009, Islamic historian Dr. Mahmoud Massalha
petitioned the appeals subcommittee of the National Planning Council against the
decision, arguing that the aim of the permanent bridge and the archeological
excavations was to expand the Western Wall Plaza.
When the appeals
subcommittee rejected his appeal, Massalha petitioned the Jerusalem
Administrative Affairs Court against the plan.
That court partially
accepted Massalha’s petition, holding that the state was permitted to build the
permanent bridge but not to expand the Western Wall plaza to create more room
for prayer. Judge Moussia Arad said that the original plan approved by the
planning authorities had been to create the bridge and not expand the plaza to
add extra prayer space.
In their Supreme Court appeal, the state and the
Western Wall Heritage Society argued that about seven million people visit the
Western Wall every year and preventing the expansion of the women’s section was
“an absurd result.”
In Tuesday’s ruling, the Supreme Court accepted the
appeal, but not in the way the state and the Western Wall Heritage Society
The panel of justices Miriam Naor, Esther Hayut and Neal
Handel said that the national planning council’s appeals subcommittee had been
wrong when it found that expanding the women’s section had been removed from the
agenda, since the regional planning committee had explicitly endorsed
Naor said that the appeals subcommittee had in any case not discussed
the matter, and so returned the issue to them to make a decision on the issue of
expanding the plaza.
The justice added that as the Administrative Affairs
Court had noted, the purpose of the plans was not to expand the Western Wall
Plaza for prayer but to replace the temporary bridge to allow access to the
“It should be taken into consideration that this is a holy
place designated for seclusion and prayer,” Naor said. “The physical status quo
should also be taken into account, not just the normative status
Naor added that the planners also needed to account for the unique
security needs of the site.
“The history of the Temple Mount and the
Western Wall, including the events that took place because of the explosive
nature of the site, are well known,” she said.
The court also noted that
any new decision by the National Planning Council would be subject to judicial
Attorney Kais Nasser, representing Massalha, noted in response to
Tuesday’s ruling that the Supreme Court had said the state could not expand the
Western Wall Plaza until the National Planning Council had examined all the
relevant issues, including security implications.
Nasser added that his
client, Massalha, would state his claims to the national committee.
our view, expanding the Western Wall Plaza, as set out in the plans, is
prohibited and cannot be made without the consent and cooperation of the
relevant bodies, including the Temple Mount Waqf,” Nasser told The Jerusalem
Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinowitz said in response to the
decision that it was vitally important to expand the women’s section as the
current area is not enough to cope with the number of people visiting every
He also argued that the plans do not alter the status quo and
expressed hope that the planning and construction committee would approve the
plans to expand the women’s section.
Rabinowitz added that the character
of the site should remain as it has been in the past, a place of traditional
prayer with separate areas for men and women.
“It is a place for all Jews
to come, but it is impossible to accommodate every different denomination, so
the character of the Western Wall, which has been the same for hundreds of
years, should be preserved so everyone can come and pray.”
prevented from performing religious practices traditionally done by men in
Orthodox Jewish practice, such as reading from a Torah and wearing a prayer
Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of the Women of the Wall organization and
director of the legal advocacy center for Progressive Judaism in Israel, said
following Tuesday’s ruling that she was less concerned with the technical
expansion of the women’s section and more interested in what women are allowed
to do at the site.
“There should be access to the Western Wall for
everyone, and we should stop acting as if the Western Wall is an Orthodox
synagogue,” said Hoffman, who was arrested in 2010 for holding a Torah scroll in
the women’s section of the plaza. “Women can’t pray out loud, dance, read from
the Torah, hold a lulav, put on tefillin, or read a megilla.
But we will
live to see the day when the wall is the true representation of the Jewish
people and lives up to the Biblical verse ‘For My House shall be called a house
of prayer for all peoples.’”