Mughrabi Bridge renovation gets municipal nod

Left-wing groups criticize authorities’ failure to coordinate the potentially explosive project with the Wakf.

Mughrabi Gate bridge 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Mughrabi Gate bridge 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
A plan for the renovation of the Mughrabi Gate bridge, which leads from the Western Wall plaza to the Al-Aksa Mosque and the Temple Mount, received final approval from the Jerusalem Municipality last week, enabling construction to begin at any time.
Previous work on the bridge has sparked widespread rioting and violence in both east Jerusalem and the Arab world due to the sensitive location.
Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch said that despite receiving final approval, his organization did not anticipate starting construction in the near future. The project will be carried out in cooperation with the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The Antiquities Authority declined to comment on the matter.
The new bridge is a scaled-down version of the original project, which proposed a massive 95-meter bridge leading from an archeological garden.
The original plan prompted an outcry from archeologists worried that such a large structure would not only damage archeological findings, but also detract from the aesthetic nature of the site.
Work for the original project started in 2007, without the necessary construction permits from the municipality.
Legal challenges from the Ir Amim organization and city councillor Pepe Alalu (Meretz) froze the work until the municipality could approve the project though the regular process that all construction in the city must undergo. That process, which includes approval by the Interior Ministry, was concluded last Thursday.
Construction on the Mughrabi Bridge in 2007 sparked protest marches in Jordan, as well as calls for a third intifada and low-level violence in Wadi Joz and other areas of the Holy Basin. UNESCO investigated the site in an attempt to defuse religious tensions, and found that the construction was not damaging holy sites. However, it called on Israel to halt construction until a team of international observers could join.
Rabinovitch dismissed any suggestion of renewed tensions, even with the Arab world in a state of unrest.
“We don’t see any reason for conflict, because we’re talking about a bridge renovation,” Rabinovitch said on Monday.
“In Jerusalem, you never can tell,” said Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran. “There are things we think will cause riots and don’t do anything, and there are things that we don’t understand why they suddenly riot.”
While left-wing organizations did not condemn the bridge itself, they criticized the Western Wall Heritage Foundation for undertaking the project without discussing it with the Wakf, which controls Muslim holy sites in the area.
“They didn’t consult with the Wakf and didn’t consult with UNESCO,” Alalu said on Monday. “They only got the permits from the State of Israel. They say the project is legal, but it depends which legal system you’re looking at.”
The municipality noted that the construction permit awarded on Thursday was the last step in the approval process, and that the municipality could not withhold the permit after the project had already been approved by the local and district committees.
The new bridge is meant to replace the temporary wooden bridge that has been in use since a 2003 earthquake and winter storm caused part of the original bridge to collapse, leading city engineers to deem it unsafe. The ramp is used as the main entry point for non- Muslim tourists to visit the plaza, as well as security forces entering the area in times of unrest.