Smaller bridge to Mughrabi okayed

Pending final approval, plan would bring controversial excavation to a close.

Mughrabi cool 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Mughrabi cool 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Jerusalem Municipality on Thursday gave preliminary approval for plans to construct a smaller bridge to the Mughrabi Gate adjacent to Jerusalem's Western Wall, after plans to build a larger structure to the site directly through an archeological garden were nixed, the city said. The proposed route of the new bridge, which is still pending final approval, will follow the existing route of the ramp leading up to the Mughrabi Gate and will be significantly shorter than the bridge originally planned. The planned bridge will be supported by four half-meter pylons, and will consist of a wooden walkway, with two-meter-high iron railings on each side. The decision to axe the original building proposal, which was deeply contested by leading Israeli archeologists, effectively means that a salvage excavation under way in the area - which has drawn the wrath of Islamic officials and led to low-level Arab violence in the region earlier this year - will soon come to a close, officials said. The planned bridge was meant to replace a temporary bridge, which had been constructed over the section of the Western Wall allocated for women's prayer. That temporary structure was built more than a year ago, after the original stone ramp leading up to the Mughrabi Gate was removed, having been deemed unsafe by city engineers. The original stone ramp, which was built after the Six Day War in 1967, and served as the point of entry for non-Muslim visitors entering the Temple Mount, was badly damaged during an earthquake four years ago and by inclement wintry weather. The Mughrabi Gate is the entryway for non-Muslims to the Temple Mount, and is also used by Israeli police to enter the Jerusalem holy site for routine patrols and to quell violence. The previously planned route of the new bridge - through one of the most significant archeological parks in Israel and the world - provoked an outcry among archeologists who said that its construction would inevitably damage antiquities and badly hamper the natural view at the site. "The archeological garden is one of the foremost national accomplishments and should not be touched under any circumstance," said Prof. Amos Kloner, a former Jerusalem district archeologist at the Antiquities Authority, who campaigned against the bridge construction through the archeological park. The bridge, which was to have been three times the size of the original one, was backed by the state-run Antiquities Authority and the haredi Chief Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinovitch, who was happy to distance the entryway to Judaism's holiest site from the Western Wall plaza. It later emerged that the authorities did not have all the required permits to build the new bridge, the officials said, and the whole project - which was frozen two months ago, as first reported in The Jerusalem Post - was sent back to a municipal committee to look for alternative solutions. A conventional solution to the dispute - to build any new bridge on the exact same route as the old one - had been rejected by the Antiquities Authority, but was subsequently put forward for approval. The new proposal, which was approved Thursday by the city's planning and construction committee, will now be sent to another municipal committee for final approval, the city said. "The alternative bridge, which will be built along its original route while safeguarding archeological finds, is the best plan which meets the demands of all sides," said Yehoshua Pollack, the chairman of the municipal committee. The archeological tempest over the planned bridge was subsequently overshadowed by violent protests by Islamic officials over the salvage excavation near the Temple Mount that the planned construction prompted. The dig, which began in February, touched off low-level Arab violence in Jerusalem following assertions by Islamic leaders that the work, which is taking place dozens of meters outside the Temple Mount, could damage the mosque inside the ancient compound. Israeli law requires such an archeological excavation in advance of any construction. A UNESCO report on the dig concluded that the excavation was not damaging the holy site, but UNESCO called on Israel to stop the dig nonetheless in order to allow for international observation of the work.