No. 585 September-October 2011
During the winter of 2004, the sand embankment in Jerusalem’s Old City known as the Mughrabi Ascent – which provides access to the Mughrabi Gate of the Temple Mount from the area of the Western Wall – collapsed due to rainstorms, snow, and a minor earthquake. Since the Mughrabi Gate is the only entrance way for non-Muslim visitors to the mount, and it also provides access for Israeli security forces in time of emergency, a temporary wooden bridge was erected.
The Jerusalem District Court has determined that the temporary bridge is no longer a suitable solution and has upheld the legality of the plan to replace it with a permanent bridge. The plan to establish a permanent bridge, and the archaeological excavations performed prior to constructing the new bridge, did not endanger and do not endanger the mosques on the Temple Mount which are located hundreds of meters from it.
Israel has acted with total transparency, allowing international supervision over the excavations at the location (by UNESCO and Turkey), and even positioned cameras that provided live transmission of the archaeological activities there. A UNESCO delegation report on 12 March 2007 determined that “no work is being conducted inside the Haram es-Sharif [Temple Mount], nor is there anything in the nature of the works being performed at this stage that could constitute a threat to the stability of the Western Wall and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
When the Mughrabi Ascent collapsed, Israel established almost immediate contact with Jordan and throughout the years the Jordanians have been partners in the planning of the new Mughrabi Bridge. After negotiations lasting years, an understanding was signed on 21 June 2011 between Israel and Jordan concerning the new bridge, but a surprise reversal in the Jordanian position led to a governmental order to freeze the project.
On 22 May 2011, Jerusalem Municipal Engineer Shlomo Eshkol demanded that the temporary bridge be dismantled quickly and the permanent bridge be built as soon as possible. Concerns include the potential collapse of the wooden bridge (currently supported by iron scaffolding) while it is being used by security forces or tourists, resulting in scores of fatalities as it fell into the women’s prayer area at the Western Wall below.
The erection of a new bridge is legal from the perspective of both Israeli law and international law. It is time to put an end to the Mughrabi Gate affair, which has been blown up beyond all proportion, and to speedily replace the temporary bridge with a permanent one.
The Old Access Path Collapses
During the winter of 2004, the sand embankment in Jerusalem’s Old City known as the Mughrabi Ascent – which provides access to the Mughrabi Gate of the Temple Mount from the area of the Western Wall – collapsed due to rainstorms, snow, and a minor earthquake.1 The Mughrabi Gate is the only entranceway for non-Muslim visitors to the mount, and it also provides access for Israeli security forces in time of emergency.2
After the collapse, Israel hastened to erect a temporary wooden bridge on the spot. Now, nearly eight years later, Israel is about to replace the hazardous, temporary bridge with a more stable, permanent bridge. This has elicited severe criticism and baseless incitement against the State of Israel in radical Muslim circles, who accuse Israel of endangering the mosques on the Temple Mount and scheming to seek their collapse as part of a plot to Judaize Jerusalem. This report seeks to rebut this criticism and set the record straight.
The Mughrabi Gate is atop the Western Wall of the Temple Mount at a point between the prayer plaza to the north and the archaeological park to the south. The gate and the ascent to it are named after the Mughrabi neighborhood. The Mughrabis, who came from North Africa (the Maghreb), fought in Saladin’s army and settled in Jerusalem after their discharge in a neighborhood adjoining the Western Wall and the Temple Mount compound. During the Mameluke era (1265-1517), many immigrants from the North African Maghreb joined them.3 The neighborhood effectively controlled the approach to the Western Wall, and for generations, Jews were forced to pay a bribe to be allowed access to the wall.4 The Mughrabi neighborhood was poor, shabby, and squalid, with some of its public toilets abutting the Western Wall, part of Judaism’s most sacred site.
The Cancellation of Restrictions on Jewish Worship at the Western Wall and the Status of the Mughrabi Gate5
After the Six-Day War, the State of Israel adopted a number of measures to guarantee that Jews could realize their right to worship at the Western Wall. The wall was declared a site sacred to the Jews, according to the Ordinances for Safeguarding the Holy Places. Previous restrictions dating from the British Mandatory era that humiliated the Jews who came to worship at Western Wall via diverse and absurd prohibitions were rescinded. (For example, it was decreed that Jews could only pray while standing, they were prohibited from blowing the shofar, the number of Torah scrolls at the site was limited, and passage was afforded to domestic animals in the Western Wall alleyway.) The Israel Supreme Court abolished and the Knesset ratified the termination of “The King’s Order in Council of 1931″ which determined that the Muslim Waqf owned the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. Likewise, actions were taken to transform the Western Wall into the main prayer site for Jews in Israel and worldwide.
In 1967, the narrow alleyway adjacent to the Western Wall was only 28 meters long and 3.4 meters wide. On the night of 10 June 1967, Israel