/ 1 December 2010

Old City plan raises new ire

Israel has approved a £15-million five-year plan to develop the area around the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site and the most sensitive and contested part of Jerusalem’s Old City.

The move has been condemned by the Palestinians as illegal.

The Western, or Wailing, Wall — revered by Jews as the last remnant of the Second Temple — draws millions of tourists every year to pray or to watch Jewish worshippers stuff handwritten prayers on scraps of paper into cracks between the historic stones.

The plan approved by the Israeli Cabinet is to improve access to the wall and the surrounding plaza as well as to nearby archaeological sites to cater for the growing number of tour buses and private cars and to provide educational facilities. It is a continuation of an earlier five-year plan approved in 2004.

“The Western Wall is the Jewish people’s most important heritage site,” said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. “We are committed to developing and maintaining it so that it may continue to be a source of inspiration for millions of visitors, young and old, from Israel and around the world.”

Immediately above the wall is the Muslim compound known as Haram al-Sharif, which houses the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque, the third most holy site in Islam. The area is known to Jews as the Temple Mount.

The announcement of the plan drew sharp criticism from the Palestinians. “Any Israeli activities in the occupied part of Jerusalem are illegal,” Ghassan Khatib of the Palestinian Authority told the newspaper Haaretz.

“It’s not healthy as far as the peace process is concerned because peace would require the end of the occupation of East Jerusalem,” he said.
Jewish construction work around the area has triggered protests and violence in the past.

Jerusalem’s key Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites lie in and around the Old City, just on the eastern side of the “green line” or pre-1967 border. Israel captured and later annexed East Jerusalem in the Six Day War of 1967 in a move not recognised by the international community. — Guardian News & Media 2010