Disabled rights activists to challenge Kotel car ban

Activists say only solution for disabled is to reopen the Old City to private cars, ready to appeal to the Transportation Ministry.

311_Kotel steps (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
311_Kotel steps
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
People with disabilities will find it nearly impossible to get to the Western Wall this Succot, given the recent closure of the capital’s Old City to private cars, former deputy mayor Haim Miller warned on Monday.
Miller is now the chairman of the Movement for Jerusalem and its Residents.
On June 6, the municipality banned private cars, except for vehicles belonging to Old City residents or transporting the disabled, from entering the Old City between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.
“I worked against this [decision], we made all the arguments that are being made today,” Miller told The Jerusalem Post.
He said that there have been many instances of vehicles transporting the disabled that were turned away by the police at Jaffa Gate, despite having arranged beforehand with the authorities and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the organization that oversees the Kotel.
“We try to only give permission to people whose need to get to the [Western Wall] Plaza is really urgent, because of the amount of construction vehicles that have been there recently. It’s really crowded,” explained a worker at the Western Wall Heritage Foundation who preferred not to be named.
“But usually if someone needs to get into the plaza [because of a disability] they’re allowed to enter automatically.”
Succot will be a flashpoint for the issue of private cars in the Old City because of the number of tourists.
Miller said he had gotten “hundreds” of calls from visitors concerned that they won’t be able to go to the Western Wall during the holiday. “Many people come during the haggim, and for them it’s the first time that they’ll see that it’s closed [to cars],” said David Rothner, the spokesman for Yad Sarah (www.yadsarah.org), which helps the elderly and disabled.
Currently, the only way for someone with disabilities to get to the Western Wall is by taxi, which can both enter the Old City and get very close to the Wall. For someone in a wheelchair who can’t navigate a taxi, or for those who can’t afford it, the solution often lies in getting dropped off at one of the Old City’s gates and having someone push them.
Yad Sarah requests permission in advance from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation if it is working with someone who needs to get directly to the Western Wall, Rothner said. While noting that the foundation has “a positive attitude” toward granting permission, he pointed out that during crowded periods, it’s simply not possible for a van to enter the plaza.
“We very much prefer not going into the Old City, period,” he said. “The Old City at all hours is extremely jammed with cars.”
Yad Sarah has six handicapped-accessible vans in Jerusalem that deal with 500 transportation requests a day.
The NGO also provides services to tourists who have questions about accessibility in Israel.
Miller said the only solution was to reopen the Old City to private cars and that he was appealing to the Transportation Ministry.