City demands closure of Mugrabi Bridge in one week

J'lem municipality insists decrepit state of bridge could lead to a “Carmel Fire II.”

Mughrabi Gate bridge 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Mughrabi Gate bridge 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Jerusalem Municipality threatened on Thursday to close the bridge that links the Western Wall plaza to the Temple Mount next week due to safety concerns, a move that could incite violence across the Arab world.
The city insisted the decrepit state of the Mugrabi Bridge could lead to a “Carmel Fire II,” referring to the forest fire on Mount Carmel last year that claimed 44 lives.
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The wobbly wooden bridge is the only entrance for non- Muslims to the Temple Mount. The temporary structure was built in 2004 after a snowstorm caused the original earthen ramp to collapse.
But the explosive nature of the area, holy to Jew, Muslims and Christians, has made what would normally be a routine bridge replacement a thorny and dangerous issue.
“The dilapidated state of the bridge and the danger of it catching fire could demand a high price in human life; the bridge could collapse on the Western Wall plaza and injure worshipers in the women’s area, and a fire on the bridge could cause very heavy damage to the Western Wall and even extending to the Temple Mount,” a municipal spokeswoman said.
In October, the municipality gave the Western Wall Heritage Fund one month to begin replacing the bridge. Its management threatened to destroy the old structure on November 28. At the last minute, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu intervened to stop the demolition, citing the unrest sweeping Egypt ahead of elections there, and the concern that much anger would be directed at Israel if the renovations went ahead.
Construction in 2007 of a replacement bridge sparked violent protest marches in Jordan, as well as calls for a third intifada, and riots in the holy basin, the area immediately surrounding the Old City.
The Council for Muslim Interests in Israel has demanded that any construction be done in cooperation with the Wakf Islamic trust or other Muslim organizations. Authorities in the Wakf, the Jordanian entity that controls Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, including the Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount, told the media that the reaction in the Arab world to replacement of the bridge would be violent.
“It will confuse the status quo and all the quiet that we have now in Jerusalem,” said Kais Nasser, an attorney with the Council for Muslim Interests.
“It could end in violence and demonstrations.”
The issue of a replacement bridge and coordination with Muslim authorities was set to be discussed by the High Court of Justice in June, but the case was pushed off until December 28. Another case involving the Western Wall plaza and the Mugrabi Bridge will be heard by the Jerusalem District Court in January.
Nasser said that the Council was pressing for no change to the current bridge, or, if a bridge must be built, a return to the earthen ramp that was destroyed in 2004. He dismissed the city’s dire warnings.
“We don’t believe this claim, our advisers said there is no urgent need to destroy the bridge... and the present danger is not serious,” he said.
In a letter to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation on Thursday, City Engineer Shlomo Eshkol wrote: “By virtue of my authority according to section 6a of the Law of Assistance and according to the opinion and after checks made upon the structure, I hereby determine that there exists immediate danger to the users, to the public, and to the property nearby, due to the flammability and potential for collapse. Therefore I intend to issue an order to close the structure and not allow any use of it.”
The municipality gave the Western Wall Heritage Foundation a week to appeal the Eshkol’s order. Thursday’s order threatened to close the bridge to pedestrians, rather than to demolish it, as previous letters from the engineer have demanded. The bridge will only be used by security personnel in case of emergencies.
It is unclear how tourists and non-Muslims will enter the Temple Mount if not through the Mugrabi Gate. Muslims use a variety of side gates to the plaza, but those are traditionally not open to non-Muslims.
A spokesman at the Western Wall Heritage Foundation said it had received the letter and was studying the order and its consequences. “Of course, every decision will take into account the safety needs of the bridge users and the Western Wall worshipers,” the spokesman said.
The decision of whether to demolish the bridge and build a replacement rests with the Prime Minister’s Office. Officials at the PMO declined to comment on the issue.