Israel's Mugrabi Gate Project: The Facts
Posted: February 12, 2007
Update: On July 2, 2007, Israeli officials announced that plans to construct a major new bridge to the Mugrabi Gate had been dropped.
The Israel Antiquities Authority and the Municipality of Jerusalem commenced a rebuilding project on February 6, 2007 on the ramp to the Mugrabi Gate, an entrance to the Temple Mount Plaza/Haram Al Sharif (Al Aqsa Mosque platform). The previous ramp to the Gate was severely damaged during a storm in 2004.
Prior to rebuilding the ramp, the Authority is conducting salvage excavations – a standard procedure under Israeli law when construction is being performed in a recognized archeological site to ensure that ancient remains in the location are protected.
This project is in no way harming the Al Aqsa platform or affecting Muslim holy sites.
The following is a fact sheet prepared by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) on the Mugrabi Gate ramp renovation project. Background
The Mugrabi Gate is located just above the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City. This small gate, high up on the Wall, opens onto the Temple Mount Plaza, and is accessed via a ramp.
Following the reunification of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War, the Israeli government announced that Jews would be able to visit the Temple Mount, but, in a nod to Muslim sensitivities, would not be allowed to pray on the Mount. Since that time, the only gate to the Temple Mount to which Israel "holds the key" is the Mugrabi Gate, which serves as the main entrance for Israel Jews and tourists to enter the Mount.
During Palestinian rioting on the Temple Mount in October 1990, Israeli security forces used the ramp and the gate to stop Palestinians from throwing stones at Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall below.
Israeli Protection of Holy Places
The city of Jerusalem was divided between 1948-1967 when armistice lines drawn between the army of the newly declared State of Israel and invading Arab armies divided Jerusalem into two sectors, with Jordan occupying and annexing the eastern sector, including the Old City, and Israel retaining the western and southern parts of the city. Barbed wire divided the sides. In violation of the Armistice Agreement, Jordanians denied Jews access to -- and the right to worship at -- their holy sites, including the Western Wall. The 58 synagogues in the Jewish Quarter were systematically destroyed and vandalized and Jewish cemeteries were desecrated.
When Jerusalem was reunited under Israeli sovereignty as a result of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Israel immediately passed the "Protection of Holy Places Law," which guarantees the sanctity of all holy sites and makes it a punishable offense to desecrate or deny freedom of access to them.
Since 1967, Christians and Muslims administer their own holy places and institutions and have access to Israel's democratic court system in order to present any claim of violation of these rights.
The Current Project
A snowstorm in 2004 caused parts of the ramp to collapse. A temporary wooden bridge was erected, but it is unstable and a more permanent one is necessary. The Israel Antiquities Authority is currently performing an emergency salvage excavation in order to protect any artifacts under the ramp and to erect cement pillars for a stronger bridge.
Incitement in the Muslim World
There is a long history of Muslim leaders inflaming tensions with claims that Israeli excavations are destroying their holy sites. In 1996, for example, rumors of Israel tunneling under the Temple Mount set off massive and bloody rioting.
In response to the current project, some Muslim leaders are charging that Israel is behind a "Jewish assault of the Mosque." They are alleging that Israel is trying to undermine the foundations of the al-Aqsa Mosque to prepare the ground for the Third Jewish Temple and are calling for action by the Muslim world.
In response to these claims, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni charged: "There are irresponsible elements, who know full well that no harm is being caused here to any holy site, who are exploiting Israeli democracy to fan religious feelings for political gain. This is true of both political groups within Israel and extremist elements outside Israel."
In a statement, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said:
he restoration of the Mugrabi ramp, after it collapsed and was declared a dangerous structure, was done in complete coordination with all parties, including foreign countries, relevant Muslim officials and international bodies…As has been explained, this work is being carried on outside the Temple Mount, and they [the repairs] do not constitute any damage to the Mount or Islamic holy places….The work is being carried out by professionals and with complete transparency, entirely for the safety of visitors to the Mount… A thorough examination of the matter would reveal that nothing about the work underway will harm anyone, and there is no truth in the contentions against the work."
Muslim Endangerment of Archeological Artifacts
While the Muslim world has repeatedly charged Israel with endangering Muslim holy sites, construction performed by the Waqf – the Muslim entity which controls the Temple Mount/Al Aqsa Platform – has destroyed priceless ancient Jewish and Muslim artifacts.
In 1997, the Waqf, without consultation with archeologists or city authorities, unilaterally decided to dig up the south eastern end of the Temple Mount to build a huge new mosque in the so-called "Solomon Stables." Hundreds of truckloads of earth, laden with artifacts from the Second Temple and other periods, were removed and dumped in a garbage pit. Items rescued from this garbage pit included objects from Solomon's Temple - believed to be the first significant objects from the first Temple.
Also recovered were invaluable artifacts from the Second Temple, visited by both Judah the Maccabee and Jesus of Nazareth. Archeologists have claimed this also weakened the foundations of the walls supporting the al-Aqsa mosque.