Israel Expands Western Wall
the wall fell down flat…they utterly destroyed all that was in the city—Joshua 6:20-21
“Diskotel” was coined by Yeshayahu Leibowitz by merging “kotel” with “discotheque.” In Hebrew, “kotel” means “wall,” and is the short referral form to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. “HaKotel HaMaaravi”—the Western Wall—is the full name. Using this phrase, Professor Leibowitz, an Orthodox Jew, made fun of the Jewish veneration of old stones in that site.
According to his view, Orthodox Jews swaying in front of the Western Wall in pretentious prayer are nothing but dancing to a pagan idol. Jesus referred to their abysmal ways in Matthew 6:5 And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. Make no error, Professor Leibowitz was so well regarded that, in 2005, he was voted the 20th-greatest Israeli of all time, despite his definition of the Western Wall as a funky, open air, discotheque.
Jerusalem Old City Map Click on picture to enlarge
Western Wall Esplanade
Two millennia of debris had changed the landscape of Jerusalem. Old City is the name of the area enclosed by an Ottoman Empire Wall, which by local standards cannot be considered truly old; it is not even middle-aged, it was built in 1538 by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Biblical Golgotha is within its walls; within them everything is quite flat, to the extent that it is difficult to imagine the Via Dolorosa as the steep way Jesus walked to His crucifixion.
Until 1967, this newish version of the Old City was divided in six parts. The Armenian, Christian, Jewish, Moroccan and Muslim Quarters were all dwarfed by the Temple Mount, Haram Al-Sharif in Arabic, Har HaBait in Hebrew. The Dome of the Rock on it dates back to the 7th Century, to the Umayyad Caliphate, and is one of the oldest surviving structures in the city. Following the 1967 War, the Moroccan Quarter, which was located in front of the Western Wall—the largest reminder of the Jewish Second Temple—was removed by the IDF in order to create the large esplanade existing nowadays in front of the Wall. The remaining area of this quarter was annexed to the Jewish Quarter. The religious/ethnic definition of the quarters is true historically, but not enforced by the different civilian authorities that controlled the area in recent centuries; all the quarters had mixed populations.
Showing how weak the Israeli presence in the area is, the Old City was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site only in 1981, by petition of Jordan. Similarly, Bethlehem’s Nativity Church was awarded the status by a petition made by Palestine. This is due to a simple fact; once the site is registered as a World Heritage Site, it must be restored and faithfully kept. Israel doesn’t want to keep it, but to recreate Biblical Jerusalem. Accordingly, one year after it was awarded the prestigious status, the Old City was defined as “endangered site.” This is true also in 2013, when Israel started expansion works.
The 1967 Expansion
The Mughrabi Bridge leads from the Western Wall plaza to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Temple Mount. It is the only access point to the Temple Mount open for non-Muslims. Most Orthodox Jews forbid entrance to the Temple Mount, though a significant group of rabbis claims otherwise. One of the most prominent is Rabbi Shlomo Goren (former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel and closely related to the IDF), who says that Jews are even allowed to enter the Dome of the Rock, according to Jewish Law of Conquest.*
Moroccan Quarter and Western Wall Streetwise Jerusalem
Yet, in a place with such a long and complex history, things are multi-layered. The name of Morocco in Arabic is al-Mamlakat al-Maghribiyyah, which translates as The Western Kingdom; the Hebrew parallel is HaMamlakha HaMaaravit. The similarity between the Hebrew and the Arabic names is evident, even with the restrictions imposed by the use of Roman characters. This name is usually shortened to Al-Maghrib (The West). Thus, “Mughrabi Bridge,” can be translated also as “Moroccan Bridge.” This is a reminder that a smallish Moroccan Quarter existed there; it had been established in 1193 by Saladin, as a waqf (Muslim charitable trust) dedicated to Moroccans.
The Moroccan Quarter was destroyed by Israel after the 1967 war. According to Etan Ben Moshe, the IDF officer in charge of the crime, several persons died following their refusal to leave their homes. One woman from the quarter was buried beneath the rubble; her body was found the next morning under the ruins of her home. These unjustifiable acts of violence were perpetrated by the IDF to open a path to the Western Wall. Then, on April 1968, the Israeli Ministry of the Treasury officially expropriated the land of the quarter for public use, along with the adjacent Jewish Quarter. Following the destruction, the section of the Wall dedicated to prayers was extended southwards.
This doubled its original length from 28 to 60 meters while the original facing open area of some four meters grew to 40 meters; the small 120 square meter area in front of the wall became the vast Western Wall Plaza, covering 20,000 square meters over the ruins of the Moroccan Quarter. The site of the former quarter is now a large open plaza leading up to the Western Wall, which serves as an open-air synagogue. An often overlooked change was the deepening of the plaza which is clear in the image below. It has been deepened in order to expose more of the Wall’s Herodian level; the paratroopers picture following their conquest of the site shows a dwarf wall compared to the current site.
Judging by the site’s current situation, the soldiers seem to be standing on the air, next to an upper level of the Wall Streetwise Jerusalem
Western Wall 2013 Expansion Plan Click on picture to enlarge
The 2013 Expansion
In the picture, the different levels of the existing Wall are marked. They clearly show that expansion works are not new. Yet, what Israel is planning now is a redesign of a historical site with no relation to its original shape. Three main projects are about to change the place.
Across the esplanade from the Wall, Beit HaLiva, the Core House, is being constructed. It will include offices, a museum, and a study center. It belongs to The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which belongs to the Israeli government and is involved in physically maintaining and renovating the area of the Western Wall. The three-storey building will block the view of the site.
On the northern side of the site, the Strauss House is being erected. It would include a police station and additional offices. These two projects are changing the Muslim Quarter area to the extent that the historical division of the quarters would be redefined afterwards. In May 2013, this projects are moving ahead with the support of Netanyahu’s new government.
The large image above (click on it for further enlargement) shows the Israeli Government new plan. At its center, the actual esplanade can be seen. The reconstructed Mughrabi Bridge marks its southern side. Further south is what sometimes is called in Hebrew “Kotel B,” the “Second Western Wall.” Until now, this was just an archeological site separated from the religious one. Until 1967, this area was a pile of large rocks from the old wall. The relation of both sites to the Second Temple is weak; they were part of its external wall. After removing the Moroccan Quarter, Israel conducted an archeological research in the area, exposing what now is known as the Robinson Arch.
When this area was exposed, it started to attract new groups. The formal Western wall is divided in two areas. 4/5 of it are kept for Jewish men, the remnant 12 meters are kept for the women. In recent years, a group of transvestite Jewish women (see When Judaism marries Feminism), who couldn’t pray on either side, started to pray in the southern area, from where they are regularly evicted by the police. The new plan wants to enlarge the Western Wall to include the southern continuation by creating a large floating floor over the archeological site. Israel is creating a new Western Wall for North-American Jews as it is being presented by local media. The Waqf, the Islamic authority responsible for the mosques atop the site, has not reacted to Israel actions publicly.
Meanwhile, the Moroccan Quarter is gone and the Muslim Quarter is disappearing. Israel’s plan to build the Third Temple, is one esplanade closer to becoming reality and with it, a Third World War.
* Gilat, Israel Zvi, ‘Conquest by War’ in Jewish Law: The Beautiful Woman Case (November 17, 2009). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1507654 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1507654
Roi Tov is a graduate—among others—of Tel Aviv University and the Weizmann Institute of Science. In addition to his memoir, Tov is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Molecular Physics and other scientific journals. He won various travel writing and photography awards.
In his writings, he tries to reveal life in Israel as a Christian Israel Defense Force (IDF) officer—from human rights violations to the use of an extensive network of underground agents. He was recognized first as a refugee and subsequently as political prisoner of Bolivia.