Jerusalem approved on Monday a new comprehensive plan to improve facilities for an expected 15 million visitors to the Western Wall (Kotel) in the coming years.The number of visitors has increased five times in the last several years” and will continue to grow, Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz said.
The new project is aimed at providing better facilities—especially for women—and will include an information center and a stations for police and first aid.
Secular Jewish visitors, as well as non-Jewish tourists, have become more numerous at the Western Wall, which stands at the exterior end of the area that includes the Temple Mount, Judaism’s most sacred site. The Wall is not part of the Temple Mount itself.
“Teachers bring their classes to the Wall, not only to pray but also to pass on a meaningful experience,” according to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. “Parents of Bar and Bat Mitzvah children want to connect them with Jewish history, and groups of Israeli army soldiers and officers come to learn and discuss Jewish values,” it added.
The new project is designed to provide visitors with facilities where they can sit, discuss topics and learn during their visit.
The tourist center, which will not encroach on the prayer area, reflects the approach that ”archaeology is not dead stone.” It will preserve discoveries and “combine them into an exhibition space that envelops the visitors," Rabbi Rabinowitz said.
The new plan still has not come up with a solution for the crowded women’s area following the High Court’s rejection of plans to build a foot bridge for women visitors.
Muslims have charged that Israeli archaeological objects are a camouflage for underground work that allegedly is aimed at causing the Arab mosques on the Temple Mount to collapse. The Palestinian Authority also has aired prorams and sermons charging that there is no Jewish connection with the Temple Mount and that First and Second Temples never existed.