Court to Hear Bid to Block Settler Control of Western Wall Section

The prosecution argues that transferring control of the site to a subcontractor - the settler organization Elad - will limit the government’s freedom to act in the holy site.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Israel Police Special Patrol Unit vehicles stationed near the Western Wall compound. February 25, 2014.
Israel Police Special Patrol Unit vehicles stationed near the Western Wall compound. February 25, 2014.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court is to hold a hearing on Tuesday on the attorney general’s request to cancel an agreement for the settler organization Elad-the City of David Foundation to manage the entire southern section of the Western Wall.

The agreement between the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem (JQDC), which owns the area, and the right-wing, religious group was meant to go into effect on Tuesday. The area in question includes the Jerusalem Archeological Park and the Davidson Center, as well as Robinson’s Arch, where a large wooden deck for egalitarian Jewish prayer was built several months ago.

Elad manages the City of David National Park just outside the Old City walls, which is connected to the Southern Wall area via an underground tunnel. The group also works to acquire Arab properties and settle Jews in the nearby village of Silwan. News of the agreement, first reported in late February by Haaretz, generated protests by left-wing groups and pluralistic Jewish groups, the latter expecting the Robinson’s Arch area to be developed into a plaza for liberal prayer services. After the agreement was reported, Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mendelblit assured the Reform and Conservative movements, as well as the Women of the Wall, that Elad would not get control of the site.

Last week, the Jerusalem District Attorney’s office, on behalf of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, petitioned the Jerusalem District Court to cancel the agreement. After Judge Ram Winograd refused, saying it was beyond the court’s authority, the state prosecution filed a separate petition for a restraining order against transferring control of the area to Elad. For the state to ask for a restraining order against itself (the JQDC is a government company) is rare. Magistrate’s Court Judge Mordechai Burstyn issued a temporary restraining order last week, and will conduct a hearing on the matter on Tuesday.

The prosecution argues that transferring control of the site to a subcontractor will limit the government’s freedom of action in the area, and in any case is illegal since it contravenes the opinion of former Attorney General Menahem Mazuz, as well as that of several High Court of Justice rulings, that such a religiously and politically sensitive site must remain under the government’s direct control.

“This is absurd,” said attorney Yizhar Hess, director of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement. “The government ... promises us that the pact with Elad will not happen, while another arm, a government company that answers to the housing minister, conducts a different policy as if there is no government in Israel.”

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