During the winter of 2004, the sand embankment in Jerusalem’s Old City known as
the Mughrabi Ascent – which provides access to the Mughrabi Gate of the Temple
Mount from the area of the Western Wall – collapsed due to rainstorms, snow and
a minor earthquake. The gate is the only entry point for non-Muslim visitors to
the mount, and it also provides access for Israeli security forces in time of
After the collapse, Israel hastened to erect a temporary
wooden bridge on the spot.
Now, nearly eight years later, Israel is about
to replace the hazardous, temporary bridge with a more stable, permanent bridge.
This has elicited severe criticism and baseless incitement against the State of
Israel in radical Muslim circles, who accuse Israel of endangering the mosques
on the Temple Mount and scheming to seek their collapse as part of a plot to
In fact, the gate is located on top of the Western
Wall and is named after the Mughrabi neighborhood that existed next to the Wall
prior to the Six Day War. On the night of June 10, 1967, three days after Israel
captured the Temple Mount, Israel evacuated the residents of the Mughrabi
neighborhood and demolished the buildings.
The families were compensated
and received assistance in finding new homes.
At the beginning of the
1970s the Ibn Saud houses (part of the Mughrabi neighborhood) that adjoined the
Mughrabi Gate were also removed. The remains of those houses and a layer of sand
that was poured on top of them created a sand embankment that was paved with
concrete and became known as the Mughrabi Ascent. This ascent replaced the
original road from the Mughrabi neighborhood to the Mughrabi Gate.
the Mughrabi Ascent collapsed on February 14, 2004, Israeli officials, sensitive
to repeated accusations that Israel seeks to undermine the mosques on the Temple
Mount, invited one of the Waqf leaders to the site and showed him what had
transpired. The Waqf representative promised to convey the facts to his
colleagues, but the very next day Israel was accused of conspiring to cause the
collapse of the Temple Mount mosques.
At the same time, Jerusalem Police
Superintendent Mickey Levy ordered the construction of an alternative, temporary
wooden bridge to restore access to the Mughrabi Gate.
Levy termed the new
bridge a security structure and the East Jerusalem Development Company built it
quickly, facilitating renewed entrance for Jews, tourists, non-Muslims and
A FEW months after the collapse, an inter-ministerial
staff 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 in the Old City walls to the Mughrabi
The bridge was to be supported by seven pillars, some of which
would stand in the archaeological park area.
A vast amount of work was
invested in the plan, but it was dropped due to protests by archaeologists who
were apprehensive about damage to the archaeological park and the concealment of
the Western Wall, and also because the building permit for it had been issued in
January 2007 in an abbreviated and irregular process. A month later, Jerusalem
Mayor Uri Lupolianski canceled the building permit and a more orderly approval
process was initiated.
The planning work was accompanied by
archaeological rescue excavations that took place in summer 2007, which were a
precondition for the issuance of a building permit for the new
Israeli law determines that whenever a building or excavation is
planned on a site where one could presumably encounter antiquities, it is
mandatory to first examine the ground at the planned building site in order to
rescue the antiquities that may be buried there.
IT IS hard to imagine a
more likely place for discovering antiquities and archaeological findings than
the area surrounding the Temple Mount.
In the Old City, as well as around
the country, Israel has taken care to rescue and preserve antiquities,
irrespective of age, period and national or religious affiliation.
findings from the Muslim periods of Jerusalem have been uncovered and preserved,
including the north wall of a palace from the Ummayad period, a public building
from the Mameluke period, the remains of a prayer niche (mahreb) from an
Ottomanera mosque that existed at the site and ceramics and coins from the
At the site of the Mughrabi Ascent, remnants from houses of
the Mughrabi neighborhood during the Jordanian era and the close of the Ottoman
era were uncovered and preserved, despite the fact that formally and by law they
were not antiquities.
They were preserved as an Israeli gesture of
consideration and sensitivity, and in an attempt to counter Muslim accusations
concerning alleged damage to things sacred to Islam or plans to Judaize
Alas, these gestures were to no avail. In February 2007, at
the time of the archaeological rescue excavations, violent disorders broke out
on the Temple Mount instigated by Sheikh Raed Salah, the head of the northern
branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel.
Rioters threw rocks at the
police, wounding 15. Expressions of incitement against Israel reached new
heights, iand Salah declared, “Whoever is playing with fire should know that the
fire will consume him. Whoever schemes to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque will have
his house destroyed.”
Khaled Mashaal, head of the Hamas political bureau,
furthered the sentiment, telling a press conference in Damascus that “Israel is
perpetrating a new attack on al- Aqsa Mosque.”
Islamic Jihad in Gaza
launched rockets toward Sderot to protest the work and Hamas television warned
viewers that “a danger hovers over Jerusalem.”
Not to be outdone, the
bureau chief for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Rafiq
al-Husseini, said “The Palestinian Authority will provide every assistance to
the struggle against the Jewish excavations under the Temple
THESE AND similar claims that frequently appear in the Arab media
Israel did not cause the collapse of the Mughrabi Ascent;
natural climatic forces were responsible. The archaeological excavation was a
direct outcome of the plan to build an alternative bridge, and the discoveries
that were revealed were precisely from the eras of Muslim rule over
Likewise, the erection of the temporary wooden bridge was
designed to answer real and pressing needs: allowing tourists and non-Muslims to
enter the Temple Mount and providing access for Israeli security forces during
The erection of the temporary bridge did not damage either
the Temple Mount or its mosques. The bridge is hundreds of meters away from the
mosques and could not undermine or damage their foundations.
In fact, the
erection of the bridge only damaged the Jewish side. The iron scaffolding for it
was erected inside the women’s prayer section of the Western Wall Plaza,
reducing its area by a third.
This caused insufferable crowding,
primarily during the Jewish holidays, and led to understandable pressure from
the Western Wall Heritage Foundation and the rabbi of the Western Wall to erect
a permanent bridge quickly and restore the previous situation in the women’s
The Israel Antiquities Authority even stationed cameras
at the excavation site in order to document what was occurring and transmit
pictures in real-time to the entire world to demonstrate that the Temple Mount
and its mosques were not in danger. In addition, Israel allowed all interested
parties to visit the site and examine the claims. Representatives of the
Jordanian government visited the site, as did a delegation from Turkey and a
delegation on behalf of UNESCO.
Lastly, the new Mughrabi Bridge, as well
as the temporary bridge, is located outside the Temple Mount and the Waqf does
not have any pretext to claim that it enjoys any status with regard to
The Waqf was accorded religious and administrative autonomy within
the areas of the Mount but not outside it.
Needless to say, there has
never been any basis to the venomous claim that Israel is endangering the Temple
Mount mosques or seeks to cause their collapse. Radical elements such as Raed
Salah have utilized the events at the Mughrabi Ascent to increase their own
status, to incite against Israel and to attempt to destabilize Israeli
sovereignty in a unified Jerusalem.
It is time to put an end to the
Mughrabi Gate affair, which has been blown beyond all proportion, and to
speedily replace the temporary bridge with a permanent one. There is no need for
stealth or covert action. It should be done openly and with full transparency,
just as Israel has acted so far, while displaying consideration and sensitivity
for the ties of various Islamic and Arab bodies to the site.
clear line should be drawn, one that distinguishes between consideration,
sensitivity and respect, and the conduct befitting a sovereign nation that is
obligated to manage crises, but also to reach decisions and execute them, even
in the highly sensitive area of the Temple Mount.
The writer is a veteran
journalist who has covered Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.
originally appeared as part of the Jerusalem Viewpoints series, published by the
Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.