After years of neglect, Hezekiah's Pool in the Old City of Jerusalem is finally being cleaned up. The work is being done by the Jerusalem Municipality, the Environmental Protection Ministry and Jerusalem Development Authority. As with anything in Jerusalem, the cleanup may cause a diplomatic crisis with Egypt and Jordan - and a conflict with the Waqf Muslim religious trust and the Coptic Church.
Hezekiah's Pool, also known as the Pool of the Pillar, is located in the Christian Quarter, not far from Jaffa Gate. It is ancient and covers over three dunams (three-quarters of an acre ). But it is completely hidden from the public, with stores and homes surrounding it. Thousands of tourists coming through the gate and the Arab market pass right by it without having a clue that the historic site is nearby.
The pool was used at least from Second Temple times and was an important part of Jerusalem's ancient water system until the 19th century.
However, over recent decades, the pool became an unofficial garbage dump for neighborhood residents, who used it to dispose of tons of trash.
In winter, water still collects there, and some Christian Quarter residents use parts of the ancient water system as an improvised sewage system.
Hezekiah's Pool has turned into a serious health hazard in a densely populated area.
At least three different bodies claim ownership of the pool: the Islamic Waqf, the Coptic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church.
The municipality has been holding talks with the three claimants for a few months in a bid to force them to clean up the pool. The Waqf finally agreed to the cleanup, said sources involved in the matter. But after the religious trust did not do anything to clean up, city hall decided to do the work itself. Aside from the cleanup, the city is planning drainage and plumbing work to prevent a repeat buildup of water and sewage in the pool. The cost will be about NIS 3 million.
The Waqf says it had intended on doing the cleanup job, but was stopped by the police for fear of possible conflicts with the Copts.
The city reached an agreement with a store owner whose shop borders the pool on Christian Quarter Road and tore down the store's rear wall to allow small tractors to enter the pool.
Workers began to pile up the garbage in huge mounds.
The city wants to send the bill to the Greek Orthodox and Coptic churches and the Waqf - and they are furious.
The Egyptians are involved as patron of the Copts, and the Jordanians see themselves as the protector of the Waqf. The two governments are expected officially to ask Israel to stop the work.