The Knesset Interior Committee on Monday visited the “Small Western Wall” (Hakotel Hakatan), an extension of the Western Wall that is accessible through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. After the tour, Committee chairperson MK Miri Regev demanded that the site be upgraded, and that several concrete pilings and construction trash that have been eyesores over the years – after having been placed at the site in 1972, during a previous attempted upgrade effort – be removed.
“This area must be cleaned up and people must be given free access to it,” Regev said, adding that she had spoken with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who had agreed to remove the scaffolding.
The problem, she said, was with the police, who, despite promises and prompting by politicians, refused to allow the area to be cleaned up, with police officials claiming that the matter is a political issue.
The Western Wall is a supporting wall of the Temple Mount complex, the holiest site in Judaism on which the two Holy Temples were built approximately 2,850 and 2,350 years ago, respectively. Though it is technically outside the Temple area, it has a special sanctity; the rabbinic Sages taught that the Divine Presence would never leave the Western Wall.
Of the nearly 500 meters of length of the Western Wall, roughly 200 meters of the southern end [to the right of the worshipers] are easily accessible today - but the remainder is just as sacred. Another 100 meters or so are included in a tour of the Western Wall Tunnels. Above these tunnels, near the Iron Gate entrance to the Temple Mount and on Temple Mount floor level, is an open area facing a short segment of the Wall. This is the area known as the Kotel HaKatan, or "Small Kotel".
Though it is off the beaten track, the Kotel HaKatan is actually slightly more holy than the familiar Western Wall plaza, because of its closer proximity to the Holy of Holies of the ancient Temples. However, one would not know this upon visiting it - for it is hard to get to, has no trappings of a holy site, and is not even protected 24 hours a day.
Mati Dan of the Ateret Cohanim Foundation said that the scaffolding in question was placed at the site by the municipality at the advice of engineer in 1972, who feared that an adjacent house would collapse. Today, however, that fear has been allayed. One of the several scaffolding placed there has been removed, with no ill effect. “There is a great deal of leftover building materials that has been here for years, but police do not allow their removal,” he said.
National Police Commander Yochanan Danino said that “since the scaffolding and material have been there for so long, removing them now would be seen as making a material change in the city. The government is the only body that can make that decision, which is likely to have political implications,” he said.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Kotel and the Holy Places, said that the Small Kotel was part of the Big Kotel. “Actually, we had worked out an arrangement to clean up the area with police, but the municipality entered the picture and asked to take responsibility for the work several years ago. So far they have done nothing.”
MK Jamal Zahakha (Balad) said there was a good reason the scaffolding has not been removed. “In 1967, Moshe Dayan promised that the status quo for worship in the Old City would not be changed. What concerns Muslims is the situation at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the surrounding area. This site was never used for worship by Jews in the past, and police want to keep it that way, which is why the scaffolding have not been removed. Doing so would pave the way for it to be turned into a place of worship for Jews, a change in the status quo.”