Plans approved for redesign of Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem

06 October 2010

A municipal committee has approved a plan to fundamentally change the layout of the Western Wall plaza in Jerusalem's Old City. An underground plaza and tunnel would replace the existing main entrance at the Dung Gate. The ancient Roman highway that begins at the entrance near the Old City’s Silwan neighborhood, which leads to current archaeological excavations, will be renovated and reopened, enabling visitors to view the results of the ongoing digs. A visitors' center and extra bathrooms, classrooms and an auditorium, as well as exhibition space for archeological artifacts found in the area are also envisaged.

Palestinian Authority officials lambasted the Israeli plans, which are the most extensive since the Old City was restored to Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Day War. Hassan Khater, secretary-general of the Islamic Christian Corporation in Jerusalem, told the Chinese news agency ‘Xinhua’: “This plan is similar to heart surgery because it first targets al-Aqsa Mosque, which is the heart of the city.” Khater accused Israel of “demolishing the Arab and Islamic identities of the city and forcing its residents to leave,” so Jews could “seize the entire city.”

The Western Wall plaza was filled with tumbledown shacks at the time; while it was cleared and renovated by Israel, the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site for thousands of years, was left in the hands of the Waqf, the Islamic authority. Jews can ascend to the Temple Mount, but are not allowed to pray there. According to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, eight million visitors arrive at the site each year, with the Israeli Tourism Ministry hoping to double the number within the next decade.

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