Project to make Cave of the Patriarchs handicap-accessible
Project to make Cave of the Patriarchs handicap-accessible צילום: א. סטודיו בשיתוף קזס אדריכלים

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (Blue and White) on Tuesday ordered the advancement of the project to make Me'arat Hamachpelah (the Cave of the Patriarchs) handicap-accessible.

The instruction came at the end of a discussion between Gantz and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the defense system's legal adviser, the Judea and Samaria legal adviser, the National Security Council, IDF representatives, and Shabak (Israel Security Agency).

The project includes both an access ramp and a wheelchair lift, allowing handicapped visitors to access the site.

Gantz scheduled the discussion for just prior to July 15, which signals the end of the period during which the public is allowed to submit complaints protesting the decision. At the end of the meeting, he ordered the advancement of all processes, including legal processes, examination of complaints regarding the plans, and summaries of the sources of funding. Following the completion of these processes, Gantz ordered that a tender be issued for the construction itself.

"It's unthinkable that as important site for both Jews and Muslims as the Cave of the Patriarchs should not be accessible to those who are handicapped or have disabilities," he said.

The Tourism Ministry has promised a budget of 2.5 million NIS ($727,245) for renovating the Cave of the Patriarchs and making it accessible. These funds will be transferred to the Defense Ministry to allow the project to move ahead.

B'tsalmo, the organization leading the battle to make the Cave of the Patriarchs accessible, responded, "We praise the decision. Minister Benny Gantz has shown leadership when faced with the officials' decisions, and understood that it is obligatory to advance human rights in every place and at every time. We will continue to fight until the accessibility becomes reality."

Earlier this year, former Defense Minister Naftali Bennett (Yamina) approved the plans to renovate the Cave of the Patriarchs, after the much-delayed proposal received the green light from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.