Court: Settler Group Can't Run Part of Western Wall Compound

Previous decision to allow the Elad nonprofit group to manage the Robinson’s Arch section of the compound, slated to become a pluralistic prayer site, was overturned following opposition.

Emil Salman

The Jerusalem Magistrate's Court has forbidden the transfer of a section of the Western Wall compound in Jerusalem’s Old City to the management and/or operation of the Elad right-wing non-profit organization.

Judge Mordechai Burstyn ordered annulment of an agreement signed by Elad and the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. In so doing, he accepted the stance of the State Prosecutor’s Office, which had criticized the arrangement, stating that the latter (referred to as JQDC) could not transfer the southern section of the compound, which includes the Robinson’s Arch, to Elad without government approval.

The archaeological park located along the southern part of the Western Wall and the Davidson Center complex there had long been under the control of East Jerusalem Development, a government company. After a protracted legal battle, the entire area was transferred to JQDC. When assuming responsibility for the area, the latter signed an agreement stating that Elad – which manages the adjacent City of David National Park and actively promotes Jewish settlement in the Palestinian village of Silwan nearby – would manage the archaeological park near the Wall.

After being reported in Haaretz, the agreement was roundly criticized by left-wing groups, which are opposed to Elad’s work, and also by pluralistic Jewish religious groups, since the area was slated to become a prayer plaza for Women of the Wall and for worshipers affiliated with the Conservative and Reform movements.

Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit, who negotiated with the pluralistic groups about construction of the plaza, promised them that Elad would not be in charge of the area. This prompted officials in the State Prosecutor’s Office to oppose the agreement with Elad in court, although the JQDC had the backing of Housing Minister Uri Ariel, who supported the arrangement.

Judge Burstyn’s ruling rejected much of the state’s case. He wrote, among other things, that the area was a sacred site and that there was no proof that the implementation of the agreement would constitute a security risk or damage Israel’s foreign relations.

However, the judge still determined that the agreement restricted the government’s freedom of action in the area, and could thwart the plan for creation of a site for prayers by members of various movements.

In the concluding clause of the ruling, Burstyn criticized the fact that state agencies had not managed to settle the affair among themselves and had been forced to go to court.

Attorney Achva Berman of the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office was in charge of overseeing the case.

Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the executive director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, commented, “The Western Wall and the nearby historical sites are the property of the State of Israel and the Jewish people in all its streams, and as the court ruled, there is no place for handing them over to the management of a private non-profit organization.

"The court, rightly, gave decisive weight to the relationship between the state and the Jewish movements, and we hope that now the government will act quickly to make the Western Wall and its environs into a pluralistic space that provides room for expression for all groups and streams of the Jewish people.”

Attorney Yizhar Hess, the director of the Conservative Movement in Israel, said, “In a particularly poetic ruling, Judge Mordechai Burstyn has removed Elad from the management of Robinson’s Arch, for all practical purposes annulling Housing Minister Uri Ariel’s attempt to hand part of the Western Wall over to a private Orthodox non-profit group. While the judge's decision is founded on many reasons, the most prominent of them is the acknowledgment that handing the site over to Elad would cancel out any possibility of reaching an agreement with the various streams of Judaism that for many years were kept from having anything to do with the Western Wall. The court has had its say, and now the Israeli government must keep its promises and move forward with a new agreement right away.”