Activists demand ‘Kotel Hakatan’ be renovated

Legal Forum for the Land of Israel sent letter to Netanyahu, Barkat pleading for better sanitation.

Birkat Hakohanim at Kotel Succot 311 (photo credit: Courtesy Western Wall Heritage Fund)
Birkat Hakohanim at Kotel Succot 311
(photo credit: Courtesy Western Wall Heritage Fund)
In honor of the pilgrimage holiday of Succot, during which hundreds of thousands of people visited the Western Wall, activists demanded that authorities renovate a small section of the wall located in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City next to the Temple Mount. The Kotel Hakatan (Small Wall) is believed to be the remaining structure of the Second Temple closest to the Holy of Holies.
The site, which some consider the holiest part of the Western Wall, is a nondescript, crumbling stone wall in an alleyway surrounded by apartments near the Iron Gate entrance to the Temple Mount.
The area is filled with trash, and activists complain residents use it as a latrine. For years, unused scaffolding took up a large portion of the plaza.
Due to the sensitive location of the site, authorities are loathe to change any aspect of the Small Wall for fears of disturbing the delicate status quo.
Last week, the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel sent letters to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu demanding that the site be cleaned and maintained for the public. The Legal Forum pointed out that in September 2010 the government’s Education, Culture and Sports committee stated in a protocol that the Small Wall is recognized as part of the Western Wall, and is considered a holy place that should be cared for under the Law for Protection of Holy Places.
“There was a unanimous agreement it was a holy site and that no one is in charge,” said Bracha Slae, a member of the activist group Kotleinu, which advocates for the Kotel Hakatan. The Legal Forum is also requesting that permanent benches, prayer books and an ark for a torah be installed in the site to further facilitate worshipers.
“There is no chance that there will be permanent structures,” said Elie Lifshitz, a lawyer for the Tourism Ministry responsible for legal aspects of holy sites in Israel.
“The place is basically a street.
Even if it’s a holy place, it’s still a street, and also you can’t do whatever you want because you can’t change the status of the place,” he said.
Small groups can bring torahs and gather for prayer events with coordination from the police and the Western Wall Heritage Fund, said Lifshitz.
Security forces at the Iron Gate always have the right to deny entrance to Jews wishing to pray at the Kotel Hakatan, especially during sensitive events and holidays or times when there is a threat of violence.
Slae called the situation of the Kotel Hakatan’s neglect “intolerable.”
“More and more people have been coming to the Kotel Hakatan,” she said. “Years and years ago, people knew about it but it was dangerous to go there, but in the past 10 years security improved tremendously.”
Slae said the intimate atmosphere of the alleyway, as well as the location even closer to the Holy of Holies, made it a very spiritual place for worshipers.
Though the Jerusalem Municipality is responsible for the sanitation, the city refused to comment on the situation as it is under the auspices of the Tourism Ministry’s holy sites.
Lifshitz expressed pessimism that anything would