ATFP urges U.S. and Worldwide Intervention to restore Holy Sites Status Quo, Prevent Israeli Construction of Expanded Accesss Bridge

By ATFP (American Task Force on Palestine), February 09, 2007

ATFP views with the utmost gravity construction that commenced yesterday on the Mughrabi Gate bridge leading up to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem. Israel plans to construct a new and massively-expanded access bridge to the compound to replace the wooden structure that had been built in 2005 after the exisitng earthwork ramp had collapsed. Given the extremely heightened religious sensitivities regarding the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound as well as the unresolved political status of Jerusalem, any construction in this area should be strictly limited to restoring the status quo ante. Yesterday, the U.S. State

Department has urged that great care be exercised “when deciding whether and how to engage in any activity near sensitive religious sites.” Jordan’s King Abdullah II also said yesterday that the excavations are “a blatant violation that is not acceptable under any pretext.” The king said the activity “will only create an atmosphere that will not at all help in the success of efforts being undertaken to restore the peace process.”

ATFP believes that building the expanded access bridge is illegal, dangerous and irresponsible on a number of levels:

  • According to letters written by the Inspector General of the Jerusalem Municipality and in the possession of Ir Amim, a non-partisan Israeli organization dedicated to an equitable sharing of Jerusalem between Israelis and Palestinians, it is illegal to grant a building permit in this area without first undertaking a protracted process to obtain a new zoning plan for the area. Such a process would include making the plans subject to public review. No such process has been undertaken and no new zoning plan for the area has been approved.
  • The plan is unsound from an archeological standpoint, prompting 18 leading Israeli archeologists in March 2006 to notify Israeli authorities of their objection to the plan. They warned that the plan, as presently envisioned, will cause grave damage to one of the most important archeological sites in Israel and the world. They argued that a plan of this importance and magnitude should be subject to public review, including, and especially, review by objective and politically disinterested archeological experts.
  • Of all of the gates providing access to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, the Mugrabi Gate is the most sensitive. While the keys of the other gates remain in the hands of the Waqf, the Islamic administrative authority responsible for the Haram al-Sharif which also control access to the Temple Mount/Haram compound, since 1967 the direct control over the Mugrabi Gate has remained with the Israeli authorities. It is through the Mugrabi Gate that, contrary to police orders, Jewish extremist organizations continue to attempt to illegally access the area.
  • The design of the new bridge differs considerably from both the pre-collapse earthen ramp and the temporary wooden structure. The original (collapsed) ramp was approximately 170 feet long, extending from the base of the Mount’s containing wall in the Western Wall plaza to the Mugrabi Gate. The new (planned) bridge will be approximately 450 feet long and will extend from the Southern Wall excavations near the Dung Gate. All this goes well beyond a return to the status quo that existed between 1967 and 2004.
  • Since the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, all Israeli governments have adhered to the political/religious status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. The construction of a radically expanded bridge is a major deviation from this status quo and risks inflaming the passions of over 1 billion Muslims and 1/4 of a billion Arabs.

ATFP acknowledges the need to renew customary access for Israelis to the Mugrabi Gate in the manner customary since 1967. However, engaging in radical changes to the status quo outside of the framework of understandings with the Islamic Waqf authorities would enhance access to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount by Israel’s most extremist national/religious elements.
Commenting on the construction, ATFP president Dr. Ziad Asali said that “an extremely provocative measure of this nature hits at the core of serious political attempts at resolution and strengthens the argument and appeal of those seeking to transform the conflict from a national one to a worldwide religious one with all the attendant dangers to domestic, regional and global stability.”
http://www.miftah.org

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