Rightist NGO Appeals Ruling Barring It From Running Western Wall Archaeological Site

Elad's agreement to manage the archaeological park is opposed by pluralistic Jewish organizations.

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Archaeological excavations near the Western Wall in Jerusalem, 2012. The findings indicate that work on the new Roman city predated the Bar Kochba revolt.Credit: Emil Salman

The right-wing settlement group Elad-City of David Foundation is appealing a court decision overturning an agreement that would have enabled it to take over management of the Jerusalem Archaeological Park adjacent to the Western Wall.

The group filed a petition at the Jerusalem District Court against the decision by the Magistrate’s Court.

In that petition, Elad notes that its position is supported by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel. The petition also sharply attacks the State Prosecutor’s Office and the attorney general who, according to Elad, are not acting in good faith in this case.

The Archaeological Park and the Davidson Center, which is located south of the Western Wall plaza and adjacent to the southern part of the Western Wall, has for decades been under the control of the Company for the Development of East Jerusalem, which is a government corporation.

After a long legal battle, the compound was transferred to a government company, the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter.

In the context of assuming responsibility for the area, the company signed an agreement to the effect that Elad, which administers the City of David National Park adjacent to the site and is involved in settling Jews in Silwan, would also administer the Archaeological Park next to the Western Wall.

When news of the agreement was published in Haaretz, it was harshly attacked both by left-wing organizations, which oppose Elad’s activity, and by pluralistic Jewish organizations, since the site had been designated for the so-called third section. That’s a prayer area designed for the Women of the Wall and for worshipers who want to hold ceremonies in the spirit of Reform or Conservative Judaism.

Shortly after the report about the agreement was published, the State Prosecutor’s Office petitioned the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court against the agreement.

Although the court rejected a substantial part of the government’s claim — maintaining that there was no proof that the agreement was liable to constitute a security risk or to harm the country’s foreign relations — the judge ruled that the agreement restricts the government’s activity and was liable to prevent the preparation of the new prayer area.

In the petition filed last week in the District Court, attorneys Ze’ev Scharf and Avi Segal criticize the State Prosecutor, claiming that the prosecutors involved in preventing the agreement are doing so for “foreign and unacceptable motives,” since the government didn’t even discuss the subject and did not authorize the State Prosecutor to act.

Elad also claims that its success in managing the adjacent City of David National Park and its ability to raise money to develop the Archaeological Park give it an advantage in administering the park adjacent to the Western Wall. Elad also said it agreed to divide the Archaeological Park so the part in which the prayer area will be built will not be under its control.

But attorney Yizhar Hess, executive director of the Masorti (Conservative) movement, said in response that “two years of negotiations, with good intentions on all sides, are liable to go down the drain due to the attempt by Minister Ariel to grant control over the compromise [prayer] site to an Orthodox association, as though Orthodox control of one side of the Kotel isn’t enough.

“It’s no coincidence that the only minister in the government who voted against the Conversion Law is the one who is now working behind the scenes to encourage the government corporation under his control to submit this petition to the court in opposition to the government’s position. It’s not nonsense, it’s wickedness.”

The Justice Ministry said its response will be submitted to the court. Ariel declined to comment.

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