The Mughrabi Gate to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem: The Urgent Need for a Permanent Access Bridge

, October 24, 2011

No. 585    September-October 2011

Mughrabi Gate (under the blue awning) and the temporary bridge leading to it. Scaffolding is covered with white sheeting.

Only access to the Mughrabi Gate (under the blue awning) is by way of a flimsy temporary covered bridge.


 

  • 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.

Historical Background

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 evacuated the residents of the Mughrabi neighborhood and demolished the buildings. The families were compensated and received assistance in finding new homes.6 At the beginning of the 1970s the Ibn Saud houses (part of the Mughrabi neighborhood) that adjoined the Mughrabi Gate were also removed. The remains of these houses and a layer of sand that was poured on top of them created a sand embankment that was paved with concrete and became known as the Mughrabi Ascent. This ascent replaced the original road from the Mughrabi neighborhood to the Mughrabi Gate.7

At the foot of the Western Wall, the prayer courtyard was extended to 60 meters in length and 40 meters in width, with an upper square intended for ceremonies and state events that extended over an area of 20,000 square meters. A major access road was opened for the myriads of Jewish worshipers who visit the Western Wall every day. The evacuation of the Mughrabi neighborhood vastly increased the section of the wall available for prayer and exposed additional levels. The area next to the wall was also deepened by an additional 2.5 meters.8

Israel also expropriated a part of the Western Wall itself 142.72 meters long and 1 meter wide at its base, from the Makhkama building in the north to the southwest corner of the wall in the south, along the entire height of the wall.9 The internal religious administration of the Temple Mount itself was entrusted to the Muslim Waqf, while responsibility for the security of the outer envelope of the compound was entrusted to Israel. Jewish prayer was prohibited on the mount, where the Temple had previously stood, but Jews were permitted to visit the site.10

Prior to August 1967, tourists who went up to the Temple Mount via the Mughrabi Gate paid an entrance fee. The Waqf also viewed the Israelis as tourists and collected money from them. Israel opposed this, but the Waqf was unwilling to depart from its custom. Following a proposal by Minister without Portfolio Menachem Begin, the Israeli government decided that collecting money from Israelis in return for entry to the Temple Mount negated the principal of free access to holy places. The keys to the Mughrabi Gate were taken from the Waqf, and it is the only Temple Mount gate whose keys are in possession of the State of Israel. The gate is also the only one by which tourists who are not Muslim currently enter the mount. The security forces designated the Mughrabi Gate and the ascent to it that extends from the upper Western Wall plaza, as a gate and access road through which police forces enter the mount when the operational need arises.

After the Collapse of the Mughrabi Ascent

After the Mughrabi Ascent collapsed on 14 February 2004, Israeli officials, sensitive to repeated accusations that Israel seeks to undermine the mosques on the Temple Mount, invited one of the Waqf leaders to the site and showed him what had transpired. The Waqf representative promised to convey the facts to his colleagues, but the very next day Israel was accused of conspiring to cause the collapse of the Temple Mount mosques. At the same time, Jerusalem Police Superintendent Mickey Levy ordered the construction of an alternative, temporary wooden bridge to restore access to the Mughrabi Gate.11 Levy termed the new bridge a security structure and the East Jerusalem Development Company built it quickly, facilitating renewed entrance for Jews, tourists, non-Muslims, and security forces.

The Planning of a Permanent Bridge and the Vital Archaeological Excavation that Accompanied It

A few months following the collapse of the Mughrabi Ascent, an inter-ministerial staff began planning a new bridge. Architect Ada Carmi proposed a bridge of glass and steel 200 meters in length (the Mughrabi Ascent had been 80 meters in length), extending from the Dung Gate in the Old City walls to the Mughrabi Gate. The bridge was to be supported by seven pillars, some of which would stand in the archaeological park area.12 A vast amount of work was invested in the plan, but it was dropped due to protests by archaeologists who were apprehensive about damage to the archaeological park and the concealment of the Western Wall,13 and also because the building permit for it had been issued in January 2007 in an abbreviated and irregular process. A month later, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski canceled the building permit and a more orderly approval process was initiated.

The planning work was accompanied by archaeological rescue excavations that took place in summer 2007, which were a precondition for the issuance of a building permit for the new bridge. Israeli law determines that whenever a building or excavation is planned on a site where one can presumably encounter antiquities, it is mandatory to first examine the ground at the planned building site in order to rescue the antiquities that may be buried there.

It is hard to imagine a more likely place for discovering antiquities and archaeological findings than the area surrounding the Temple Mount. Quite frequently, important archaeological findings are discovered in rescue digs throughout the Old City of Jerusalem and in Israel in general. For example, in the rescue excavation that took place in the Western Wall Plaza, the remains of the Eastern Cardo – the main thoroughfare of Jerusalem during the Roman era – were discovered.14 In 2006, in a rescue excavation while building an additional facility at Meggido Prison, the world's oldest Christian church from the third century CE was discovered.15 The objective of these excavations is to rescue antiquities, irrespective of age, period, and national or religious affiliation. In practice, many findings from the Muslim periods of Jerusalem have been uncovered and preserved: the north wall of a palace from the Ummayad period, a public building from the Mameluke period, the remains of a prayer niche (mahreb) from an Ottoman-era mosque that existed at the site, and ceramics and coins from the Fatimid era. At the site of the Mughrabi Ascent, remnants from houses of the Mughrabi neighborhood during the Jordanian era and the close of the Ottoman era were uncovered and preserved, despite the fact that formally and by law they were not antiquities.16 They were preserved as an Israeli gesture of consideration and sensitivity, and in an attempt to counter Muslim accusations concerning alleged damage to things sacred to Islam or plans to Judaize Jerusalem.17

Muslim Incitement

In February 2007 at the time of the archaeological rescue excavations, violent disorders broke out on the Temple Mount instigated by Sheikh Raed Salah, the head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel. Rioters threw rocks at the police, wounding 15 of them.18

Expressions of incitement against Israel reached new heights, inflaming the atmosphere. Sheikh Raed Salah declared: “Whoever is playing with fire should know that the fire will consume him and whoever schemes to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque will have his house destroyed.”19 Khaled Mashaal, head of the Hamas Political Bureau, told a press conference in Damascus on 4 February 2007, “Israel is perpetrating a new attack on Al-Aqsa Mosque.” Islamic Jihad in Gaza announced that it had launched rockets toward the Israeli town of Sderot in response to the digs at the Mughrabi Ascent.20 Hamas television warned: “A danger hovers over Jerusalem.”21 Rafiq al-Husseini, the Director of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Bureau, declared: “The Palestinian Authority will provide every assistance to the struggle against the Jewish excavations under the Temple Mount.”22 The northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel proclaimed: “The objective of the work is to transform the [Al Aqsa] mosque into a synagogue.”23

These claims and similar claims that frequently appear in the Arab media are baseless. Israel did not cause the collapse of the Mughrabi Ascent; natural climatic forces were responsible. The archaeological excavation was a direct outcome of the plan to build an alternative bridge, and the discoveries that were revealed were precisely from the eras of Muslim rule over Jerusalem.

The erection of the temporary wooden bridge was designed to answer real and pressing needs: allowing tourists and non-Muslims to enter the Temple Mount and providing access for Israeli security forces during emergencies. The erection of the temporary bridge did not damage either the Temple Mount or its mosques. The bridge is hundreds of meters away from the mosques and could not undermine or damage their foundations.

In fact, the erection of the bridge only damaged the Jewish side. The iron scaffolding for it was erected inside the women's prayer section of the Western Wall Plaza, reducing the area by a third. This caused insufferable crowding, primarily during the Jewish holidays, and led to understandable pressure from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation and the Rabbi of the Western Wall to erect a permanent bridge quickly and restore the previous situation in the women's prayer section.

The Israel Antiquities Authority even stationed cameras at the excavation site in order to document what was occurring and transmit pictures in real-time to the entire world to demonstrate that the Temple Mount and its mosques were not in danger. In addition, Israel allowed all interested parties to visit the site and examine the claims. Representatives of the Jordanian government visited the site, as did a delegation from Turkey and a delegation on behalf of UNESCO.

Furthermore, the new Mughrabi Bridge, as well as the temporary bridge, is located outside the Temple Mount and the Waqf does not have any pretext to claim that it enjoys any status in its regard. The Waqf was accorded religious and administrative autonomy within the areas of the Mount but not outside it.

The UNESCO Report Cleared Israel

At the end of June 2011, Jordan exploited the automatic majority against Israel in UNESCO and initiated the passage of a resolution sharply condemning Israeli policy and activities in the Mughrabi Gate affair.24 In a letter of response by the Israel Foreign Ministry, the Israeli ambassador to UNESCO, Nimrod Barkan, described the resolution as: “Decisions whose provenance is Orwellian, as they are clearly Newspeak where black is white and white is black.”25

In February 2007, UNESCO had dispatched a delegation to inspect the excavations at the Mughrabi Ascent and on 12 March 2007 the delegation's report was published.26 The report determines, inter alia, 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” (Article 17).

UNESCO further determined that “The work area ends at a distance of approximately 10 meters from the Western Wall.” Delegation members also noted that the work is performed with light equipment, picks and shovels, and it is supervised and documented according to professional standards” (Article 18). “The Jerusalem Municipality,” notes the delegation, “is responsible for planning and construction in the Old City, as well as for the infrastructure and its maintenance” (Article 23), including the planning and construction of the new ascent.

The UNESCO delegation did note, however, that no consultation with the Islamic Waqf took place prior to the commencement of work at the location, as there have been no exchanges of information or cooperation between the Israeli authorities and the Waqf since 2000 [the beginning of the Second Intifada]. It also quoted the Waqf's position, which is “responsible for the entire Al-Aqsa compound,” and stated that “the excavations undertaken by the Israeli authorities are illegal since, under international law, no action should be performed in an occupied city” (Article 32). The delegation also expressed its concern “over the lack of a clear work plan defining the limits of the activity” (Article 40) and wrote that the “principal aim” of the excavations “ought to be the restoration of the Mughrabi Passage without any major change to its structure and shape, in order to maintain the values of authenticity and integrity at the site” (Article 50). The report also included a recommendation to cooperate with Jordan and a demand to desist from archaeological excavations, “as the excavations that had been already performed sufficed for the purpose of assessing the structural conditions of the pathway.”

Israeli Court Rejects Appeal Against Construction of a Permanent Bridge

On 5 September 2010, the Jerusalem District Court, convening as a Court of Administrative Affairs, rejected the appeal of Muslim historian Dr. Mahmoud Masalha to cancel the approval granted by the National Council for Planning and Construction to replace the temporary wooden bridge with a permanent pedestrian bridge. However, the court did find fault with the intent to use the replacement of the bridge to enlarge the women's prayer section at the Western Wall, and determined that this matter requires a separate planning procedure.

President of the District Court Mussiah Arad rejected Masalha's claims that Israeli law does not apply to the plan area and ruled that according to Israeli legislation, “Israeli law, including all Israeli planning and construction laws, apply to the plan area” and that “the plan approval process…took place in accordance with these laws.” The judge determined that “Perusal of the relevant materials shows that an access way from the Western Wall Plaza to the Mugrhabi Gate is necessary…[and] the ramp previously utilized for this need is no longer in place. In place is a temporary wooden bridge and no one disputes the fact that this is not a suitable solution from a number of standpoints and good reasons exist to replace it.”

The Potential Danger of Continued Use of the Temporary Wooden Bridge

On 22 May 2011, Jerusalem Municipal Engineer Shlomo Eshkol sent a written warning to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation demanding, by virtue of his legal authority, that the temporary bridge be dismantled quickly and the permanent bridge be built as soon as possible. “The temporary bridge,” Eshkol wrote, “is not intended to provide a permanent solution and is unsuitable to security and civilian needs. It might prove a danger due to its deficient physical state, and action should be taken to stop using it and to destroy it….You are requested to act immediately to construct the permanent bridge and destroy the temporary one.”27 Eshkol's opinion was shared by security bodies who warned of a possible disaster. The scenarios sketched by the security forces described an incident where hundreds of policemen ascend to the Temple Mount simultaneously, in response to a security incident or a public disturbance occurring there, and, as a result, the wooden bridge (currently supported by iron scaffolding) falls down and collapses into the women's prayer area at the Western Wall. The potential result of such a scenario could be scores of fatalities among the policemen and the praying women. A similar scenario described the collapse of the bridge while groups of tourists stood upon it.28

The Extensive Israeli Consideration of the Jordanian Position – and Its Abuse by Jordan

Jordan, which held eastern Jerusalem and the Temple Mount until 1967, was involved in the planning process of the new Mughrabi Bridge. Already during the initial stages, Israel made sure to update and coordinate most of the measures on this matter with the Hashemite Monarchy. Police officers and Israeli officials went to Jordan every few months to discuss various issues related to the Temple Mount with representatives of the monarchy, and the Mughrabi Bridge issue was one of the main topics of these discussions. The decision to include Jordan in the planning process had been made in the days of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and his successors adopted this policy.29 The rationale behind this decision was Israel's interest in isolating and weakening Arab and Islamic elements that had adopted radical positions concerning the Temple Mount and its mosques, such as both branches of the Islamic Movement in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. These bodies have often utilized various incidents in Jerusalem to incite against Israel and spark conflict and hatred, specifically around the Temple Mount.

In the peace agreement signed between Israel and Jordan in 1994 (in the days of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin), Jordan was given formal priority in matters involving the Temple Mount. Israel recognized Jordan as the chief Arab party regarding the mount when a permanent agreement will be reached between Israel and the Arab states. Although a permanent agreement has yet to be signed, Israel's policy in recent years reflects this principle. A few years ago Israel allowed Jordan to transport to the Al-Aqsa mosque the restored preacher's podium, which was almost completely consumed when Michael Rohan, a mentally disturbed Australian, set fire to the mosque in 1969. In the early 2000s, Israel allowed Jordan to play a major role in repairs and renovations of the Southern and Eastern Walls of the Temple Mount complex after cracks and swellings were discovered which endangered their stability. Jordan was also part of the understandings that allowed the opening of the Temple Mount to Jews and tourists after it had been closed during the first three years of the Second Intifada.

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. However, Jordan cast a veto that lasted several years on the construction of the new bridge. Among other things, the Jordanians demanded that Israel be barred from working on the bridge and to perform the work themselves. Israel refused, but continued to discuss the matter with Jordan, although formally Jordan has no official or unofficial status in the areas outside the Temple Mount complex. The extensive consideration offered to the Jordanians derived, inter alia, from a series of security interests Jordan and Israel have shared for many years. The discussions surrounding these interests were primarily conducted by the Israeli Mossad. Finally, after negotiations lasting years, an understanding was signed on 21 June 2011 between Israel and Jordan concerning the Mughrabi Bridge and other issues. The execution of the project was slated for 26 June 2011, but a surprise reversal in the Jordanian position led to a governmental order to freeze the project.

Moreover, despite the understanding between the two countries, which was shared with the United States, at the end of June 2011, Jordan, together with Egypt, Iraq, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Cambodia, submitted a vehement complaint against Israel to UNESCO, and a censure motion was adopted by the organization. The complaint submitted by Jordan expressed concern about “Israel's plan concerning the Mughrabi Bridge,” and demanded that UNESCO order the cessation of the archaeological excavations in the Old City.

The motion stated that the World Heritage Committee “regrets the persistence of the Israeli archaeological excavations and works in the Old City of Jerusalem and on both sides of its walls, and the failure of Israel to provide the World Heritage Center with adequate and comprehensive information about its archaeological activities thereon, and asks the Israeli authorities to cease such excavations and works in conformity with the UNESCO conventions for the protection of cultural heritage.”30

The Jordanian petition was tantamount to stabbing Israel in the back, after it had cooperated with Jordan on the Mughrabi Bridge issue. Jordan has no status outside the Temple Mount, and the entire cooperation with it on this issue went beyond what was required of Israel.

It should be recalled that the Western Wall in the area of the Mughrabi Gate and the area beneath it, including the Mughrabi Ascent, were included in the area of Israeli expropriation, both of the Western Wall and the Western Wall Plaza. Formally, then, this area falls under the responsibility of the State of Israel via a municipal government arm – the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem. This company was appointed to renovate the nearby Jewish Quarter. (The Jews of this quarter were expelled by Jordan in 1948 and the Jordanian Legion destroyed the quarter's homes and synagogues.) The day-to-day management of the Western Wall area is undertaken by another governmental arm – the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.

The Visit of the Turkish Delegation

On 21 March 2007, a delegation of experts from Turkey visited the Mughrabi Gate. The visit resulted from a meeting that took place a month earlier between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The delegation was convinced that the excavations were performed by professional archaeological teams and that the Temple Mount mosques were in no danger as a result. The delegation did not publish its findings, in order to maintain Turkey's good relations with the Arab states.31

The Legality of Israel's Actions

Dr. Shmuel Berkowitz, a world-renowned jurist who specializes in the issue of the holy sites in Jerusalem and has authored a number of books on issues involving the holy sites in Jerusalem and Israel,32 was commissioned by the Israeli Government to prepare a document that summarized Israel's handling of the Mughrabi Gate affair. On 20 August 2007, Berkowitz submitted his report, which emphasizes that the Islamic Waqf's claim that according to international law an occupier “may not perform any action within occupied territory” is incorrect. Even if Israel were to admit the “occupied territory” claim, Berkowitz notes that according to international law, the military commander of an occupied territory is responsible also for the health and welfare of the population and maintaining public order. Since a new bridge for the Mughrabi Ascent would replace an old, rickety wooden bridge, this constitutes a safety need and even a security need. A stable bridge, the opinion emphasized, will allow Israel's security forces to maintain public order and preserve the public welfare on the Temple Mount, and also protect the safety of the Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall, who on more than one occasion had been targeted by rock-throwing from the mount.

Berkowitz also noted that the Mughrabi Ascent is not a holy site and the directives applying to such sites in the Hague Convention and International Heritage Convention do not apply to it. Under Israeli law, he stressed, eastern Jerusalem has been legally unified with western Jerusalem and all of Jerusalem's laws apply there, including to the Temple Mount.

Summary

It has been eight years since the collapse of the Mughrabi Ascent as a result of natural causes. The current, temporary bridge has been designated a hazardous structure that could endanger those who use it. The plan for the new bridge was approved lawfully and awaits implementation by the political echelon. The execution of the plan is being delayed, both for reasons of “timing” (security and political)33 and due to the extreme sensitivity of Jordan – with whom Israel has close relations – to any change in the Temple Mount area.

Israel errs by not making it clear to Jordan that while Israel will generously consider Jordan's concerns within the mount area, this generosity does not extend outside the Temple Mount complex. The Mughrabi Ascent is physically a part of the Western Wall Plaza, which has been sacred to the Jewish people for centuries. Providing Jordan with veto power over activity outside the walls of the Temple Mount complex sets a very undesirable precedent. Such a precedent could lead to future Jordanian demands for shared decision-making in the archaeological excavations at the foot of the walls of the Temple Mount, in the Western Wall Plaza, and even in the Jewish Quarter area.

Furthermore, the international perception of Israel as an occupier in “East Jerusalem,” where the Temple Mount is located, is biased. Israel captured eastern Jerusalem in a defensive war when it was attacked by Jordan. Israel's international legal status in Jerusalem relies upon the Mandate for Palestine, where the League of Nations – the source of international legitimacy prior to the establishment of the United Nations – acknowledged the “historical ties of the Jewish People to Palestine.” The League of Nations did not distinguish between the rights of Jews in Jerusalem and their rights in the rest of the Land of Israel.34 The legality of Jordan's control of “East Jerusalem” was never acknowledged by any country in the world other than Pakistan.35

Needless to say, there has never been any basis to the venomous claim that Israel is endangering the Temple Mount mosques or seeks to cause their collapse. Radical elements such as Raad Salah have utilized the events at the Mughrabi Ascent to increase their own status, incite against Israel, and attempt to destabilize Israeli sovereignty in a unified Jerusalem.

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. There is no need for stealth or covert action. It must be done openly and with full transparency, just as Israel has acted so far, while displaying consideration and sensitivity for the ties of various Islamic and Arab bodies to the site. However, a clear line should be drawn, one that distinguishes between consideration, sensitivity, and respect, and the conduct befitting a sovereign nation that is obligated to manage crises, but also to reach decisions and execute them, even in the highly sensitive area of the Temple Mount.

*     *     *

Notes

1. The information in this report is based on the author having followed the events closely as a journalist for Ha'aretz and Israel Hayom during the relevant years, his ongoing contact with the relevant decision-makers, and his familiarity with the area as a result of numerous visits over the years. He was assisted by many other sources that are detailed in the notes accompanying the text.

2. The operational necessity for security forces to enter the Temple Mount generally arises in cases of disorders on the mount and the throwing of rocks from the mount down upon Jewish worshipers in the Western Wall Plaza, Nadav Shragai, “The Jewish Gate,” Ha'aretz, 8 February 2007.  

3. Yaakov Yaniv, “The Mughrabi Neighborhood Alongside the Western Wall,” Hakotel Hamaaravi [The Western Wall] (Ariel Publications, July 2007), pp. 114-120, 180-181.

4. Zeev Vilnai, Yerushalayim Birat Yisrael Ha'Ir Ha'Atika [Jerusalem Capital of Israel, the Old City], vol. 1, Jerusalem, pp. 314-315, cited also by Yaniv, ibid.

5. This section is based primarily on the summary of these issues written by advocate Shmuel Berkowitz, author of the book The Wars of the Holy Places, on behalf of the Olmert government in summer 2007. Shmuel Berkowitz, “The Struggle over the Mughrabi Bridge,” position paper submitted on 20 August 2007 to the government of Israel at the request of the Minister for Jerusalem Affairs, Rafi Eitan.

6. Nadav Shragai, Har Hameriva [The Mount of Discord] (Keter, 1995), p. 226. See also Uzi Benziman, Yerushalayim Ir Lelo Homa [Jerusalem a City without a Wall] (Tel Aviv: Shocken, 1973), pp. 37-44.

7. Berkowitz, “The Struggle over the Mughrabi Bridge.”

8. Berkowitz, ibid., as well as a paper of the Ministry of Religious Affairs from 1970 that sums up the ministry's activities in the Western Wall area (in the author's possession).

9. Details of this expropriation were revealed by attorney Deborah Hason Kuriel in a research paper in 1994 for the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies )given to the author as a courtesy by the Institute's former director, Ora Ahimeir). The study was not widely publicized and was first mentioned in Shmuel Berkowitz's book The Wars of the Holy Places.

10. Shragai, The Mount of Discord, pp. 22-27.

11. Mickey Levy, in conversation with the author, late June 2011.

12. Nadav Shragai, “The Architect, 'A Nimble Look',” Ha'aretz, 15 December 2006.

13. Nadav Shragai, “Senior Archaeologists: The Plan Must Be Stopped,” Ha'aretz, 12 January 2007.

14. “Avni: One Must Excavate,” Ha'aretz, 5 February 2007.

15. Cited by Berkowitz, op. cit.

16. An antiquity under Israeli law is a finding made by a human prior to 1700.

17. Author's conversation with an archaeologist in the Israel Antiquities Authority.

18. Walla News, 9 February 2007.

19. Reports in Ha'aretz covering 11 and 18 February 2007.

20. Berkowitz, op. cit.

21. Report by the Intelligence & Terrorism Information Center, 7 February 2007.

22. Ibid.

23. A report by Lilach Shoval in the Ynet website on 8 February 2007.

24. Nadav Shragai, Yisrael Hashavua supplement of Israel Hayom, 1 July 2011.

25. Ariel Kahana, “Crisis in Israel-Jordanian Relations Over the Mughrabi Bridge Repairs,” First Class website, 6 July 2011.

26. www.UNESCO.org/bpi/pdf/jerusalem_report_en.pdf. The delegation report was translated by Adv. Shmuel Berkowitz and was summarized in a document submitted by him to the Israeli Government in August 2007. The sections quoted here are taken from the report. See also Shlomo Shamir, “UN Experts: Mugrabi Gate Dig Meets International Standards,” Ha'aretz English website, 13 March 2007.

27. Eshkol's letter, in the author's possession.

28. Nadav Shragai, “A Very Narrow Bridge,” Yisrael HaYom, 1 July 2011.

29. A senior member of the Foreign Ministry confirmed this to the author.

30. Chaim Levinson, “Wait Until September to Build Bridge, Police Advise,” Ha'aretz, 28 June 2011.

31. Berkowitz, op. cit.

32. Berkowitz is the author of the following works among others: The Wars of the Holy Places and How Terrible Is This Place.

33. For example, the expected declaration at the UN on the establishment of a Palestinian state or the aggravation in relations with Egypt as a result of the terror attack from Egyptian territory on Israeli civilians on their way to Eilat in August 2011.

34. Dore Gold, The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West, and the Future of the Holy City (Regnery, 2007), p. 6.

35. Berkowitz, op. cit., par. 12 B.

Nadav Shragai

Nadav Shragai is a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as a journalist and commentator at Ha’aretz between 1983 and 2009, is currently a journalist and commentator at Israel Hayom, and has documented the dispute over Jerusalem for thirty years.   His books include: Jerusalem: Delusions of Division (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2015); The Al-Aksa Is in Danger” Libel: The History of a Lie (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2012); the ebook Jerusalem: Correcting the International Discourse – How the West Gets Jerusalem Wrong (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2012); At the Crossroads: The Story of Rachel’s Tomb (Gates for Jerusalem Studies, 2005); The Temple Mount Conflict (Keter, 1995); and the essay: “Jerusalem Is Not the Problem, It Is the Solution,” in Mr. Prime Minister: Jerusalem, Moshe Amirav, ed. (Carmel and Florsheimer Institute, 2005).