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Archaeologists Knock Western Wall Bridge Plan

reprinted from Haaretz
January 13, 2007 Tevet 23, 5767

By Nadav Shragai

Senior archaeologists have come out in harsh criticism against the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) for authorizing plans for a bridge to connect the Dung Gate in Jerusalem's Old City to the Mugrabi Gate, located next to the Western Wall and leading to the Temple Mount.

Work on the bridge is to begin Sunday, after it received a green light from the city's planning division.

The archaeologists say that the bridge's pylons will damage one of the most significant archaeological parks in Israel and the world, located outside the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount.

They also say the plan was not held up to professional and public scrutiny, that the conservation committee of the IAA was not called together to discuss it, and that other alternatives were not given proper consideration. They are thus calling for a halt to work until the plan can be reevaluated.

The IAA rejects the criticism outright and says "the construction of the bridge was conditioned on archaeological excavations that would expose the ancient remains completely, preserve them and present them to the public as part of the Archaeological Park." The rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinovich, who has promoted the plan, says that from his point of view, the Mugrabi Gate could be closed, but since the police insist on its continued use, and the plan was approved and alternatives carefully examined, the bridge is the lesser evil.

Dangerous temporary bridge

It all started one snowy Jerusalem day in 2004, when part of the earthen ramp leading to the Mugrabi Gate - the main gate to the Temple Mount - collapsed. The police demanded construction of a temporary wooden bridge to replace it, which took over one-third of the women's section of the Western Wall plaza. Meanwhile, architect Ada Carmi began preparing plans for a permanent bridge at the site, after engineers warned that the rest of the ramp and the wooden bridge were in danger of collapse.

Yesterday, the IAA came to the site to prepare for a salvage dig, to start Sunday. The dig will focus on the three points where the bridge pylons are to be sunk in the park, which holds remains from the Second Temple period and the Muslim period.

Professor Amos Kloner, former IAA Jerusalem district archaeologist says that even if the bridge is built at the level of the road and the sidewalk leading from the Dung Gate to the Western Wall, which overlooks the archaeological park, the view of the park will suffer severely. "I understand the pressure on the IAA from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation and other bodies to approve the plan, but it is not its job to compromise and give in. Its people should have fought against this plan and found another solution that will separate the entrance to the Western Wall from the entrance to the Temple Mount. This bite out of the archaeological garden is bad in and of itself and creates a dangerous precedent."

The archaeologist Dr. Gabi Barkai points out that it was not coordinated with the country's senior experts on the Archaeological Council, an advisory body to the IAA, or other archaeologists whose expertise is the Temple Mount. "The rational mind would require that the ascent to the Mugrabi Gate would be on a direct line from the Western Wall plaza, but the rabbis, who are not interested from the perspective of Jewish law, in Jews visiting the Temple Mount, opposed the direct access from the plaza to the Mount."

The IAA counters that the plan had been presented to the Archaeological Council and that some of its members supported it.

The conservation committee was not convened

The archaeologist and architect Professor Ehud Nezter, who is considered a world-renowned expert in Herodian architecture like that of the Western Wall, which was an outer retaining wall of Herod's Temple, says, "with all due respect to architect Carmi, this plan has not been sufficiently evaluated. I, for example, am a member of the conservation committee of the IAA. That's why it exists. But the committee was not convened." Netzer also says the bridge creates the potential to cut off the Western Wall from the Temple Mount, and because "the fate of the Temple Mount from a diplomatic perspective has not yet been determined," this connection is important and should be retained.

In the opinion of the chair of the Archaeological Council, Professor Ephraim Stern, the ramp that collapsed should be restored "and not go into the ancient area with a modern element and materials whose connection with the environment is forced and artificial."

The Jerusalem district archaeologist, Yuval Baruch, told Haaretz yesterday that "the three pylons that have so far been approved have been placed as close as possible to the nearest sidewalk, so the bridge in this area will seem part of the sidewalk.

The IAA says that it "sees the project as part of the process of improving the appearence of the Western Wall plaza. Naturally, as in every area, here too it is not possible to reach agreement with all of the hundreds of archaeologists in Israel."

Archaeologists Rip Planned Bridge to Mughrabi Gate

reprinted from The Jerusalem Post
Jan. 14, 2007

Etgar Lefkovits, The Jerusalem Post

The planned construction of a new bridge leading through an archaeological garden to the Mughrabi Gate near the Western Wall has incurred stinging criticism from dozens of senior archaeologists in Israel, officials said Sunday.

The bridge, which is being built by the Israel Antiquities Authority, will replace the temporary walkway constructed more than a year ago at the women's section of the Wall after the original stone ramp to the Mughrabi Gate was removed, having been deemed unsafe by engineers.

The new bridge, which has received a green light from the city's planning committee and the blessing of the rabbi of the Western Wall, is slated to tower above the archaeological garden next to the site and will be supported by as many as eight pylons anchored in that garden, Jerusalem district archaeologist Yuval Baruch said Sunday.

A salvage excavation is starting at the site this week, Baruch said, adding that the three pylons approved so far had been placed as close as possible to the sidewalk in an effort not to detract from the archaeological garden.

The site, located outside the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, has been deemed one of the world's most significant archaeological parks.

The plan to construct the new bridge straight through the archaeological garden has provoked fierce opposition by archaeologists, who say that the bridge will inevitably damage antiquities.

"What is being done is a crime against one of the world's top archaeological places, and the Antiquities Authority is lending its hand to this crime, the destruction of archaeology," said Dr. Eilat Mazar, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Shalem Center.

Mazar noted that there is no need for the bridge - whose planned length has nearly tripled - to run through the garden. Originally, the route for the bridge ran between the Western Wall and the site.

"The archaeological garden is of primary importance to the future and history of Jerusalem and under no circumstance should be touched," said Professor Amos Kloner, former Jerusalem district archaeologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Kloner lambasted the IAA for succumbing to "foreign interests" in approving the plan and forgoing its mandate to preserve the archaeological site.

Kloner added that a petition against the planned bridge had been signed by 30 leading Israeli archaeologists, already forcing some changes in the proposal.

But the Antiquities Authority said that it was impossible to please everyone.

The original stone ramp, built in 1967 after the Six Day War, served as the point of entry to the Temple Mount for non-Muslim visitors. The ramp was badly damaged by an earthquake that rattled that region three years ago and by inclement weather.

After city engineers declared the ramp unsafe for use, it was removed. The bridge built next to it has cut off more than a third of the space allocated for women's prayer at the Western Wall.

The new bridge will restore the original space of the women's prayer area, Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinovitch said.

The haredi rabbi is opposed to Jews entering the Temple Mount compound, and is happy to distance the entryway to Judaism's holiest site from the Western Wall plaza.



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