After six years of efforts, on Sunday work finally commenced on making the Cave of the Patriarchs (Me’arat Hamachpeilah) in Hebron accessible to people with disabilities.
Following the authorization of the project by Defense Minister Benny Gantz (Blue & White), the renovation and reconstruction project began, overseen by the Planning & Construction department within the Defense Ministry and under the supervision of the head of archeological affairs in the regional authority.
Work is expected to continue for the next six months, and involves the construction of an access route from the parking lot up to the main plaza outside the complex, as well as an elevator and a bridge that will enable the disabled of all faiths to access the Cave.
Following the news, Shai Glick, director of “Betsalmo,” which spearheaded the battle to make the Cave accessible to all, said, “This is an historic day. The commencement of construction to make the Cave accessible is a victory for human rights. Everyone has the right to be able to enter this holy place and pray there at the burial site of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.”
“I would like to thank the former Prime Minister and also the present Prime Minister,” he added, “who authorized the project; and I would also like to thank the Defense Minister, who did not hesitate in ordering the site to be made accessible. We will continue to monitor the construction work until the project is complete, to ensure that everyone who wishes to enter the holy site may do so in a dignified manner.”
MK Itamar Ben Gvir, the head of the Otzma Yehudit party, stated, “It’s wonderful that work has finally begun, but it’s unbelievable how many obstacles we faced along the way, simply in order to make this holy site accessible to the disabled, and this is extremely concerning as well as a source of shame and embarrassment that in a sovereign state, people need to beg in order to be permitted to build an elevator for the disabled at a holy Jewish site where our ancestors are buried.”
Also responding to the news was Likud MK Keti Shitrit, who said, “I was so very moved this morning to see that construction is finally underway. From my first day in the Knesset I have been working toward this goal, and I said that I would not rest until we reached this endpoint of making the second most holy site in Judaism accessible to the disabled. Enabling free access to the Cave of the Patriarchs, where our holy Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried, is of unparalleled importance, as well as a significant humanitarian step to take for thousands of people who will now be able to enter the Cave.”
“I have been pressuring the government to approve the construction for over two years, using all the parliamentary tools at my disposal, in order to remove the legal and bureaucratic obstacles, and I am delighted that we finally succeeded. This is a great achievement and I am very excited to have been part of it.”
MK Ofir Sofer (Religious Zionism) responded, “Better later than never. After years of delays, the Defense Minister has finally authorized construction to make the Cave of the Patriarchs accessible to the disabled. As someone who was instrumental in putting this issue on the agenda and keeping it there, I congratulate the government on finally commencing the work, and would like especially to thank MK Keti Shitrit and Shai Glick of the Betsalmo organization for their contribution.”
The head of the Kiryat Arba Regional Council, Eliyahu Liebman, stated, “It’s just a shame that this basic issue of providing access to the Cave of the Patriarchs – a site that is visited by over a million people annually – should have taken so long to be resolved. It was tragic to see how, in the past, people in wheelchairs were unable to enter the Cave, and I am glad that the situation is finally being rectified.”
“After all the effort put into the battle to get the construction work approved, I am delighted that work has begun, but we are not celebrating now – we will only do so once the construction is complete. I hope that this will happen quickly without any further disturbances along the way created by those of our enemies who wish to leave things as they currently are. And I take this opportunity to invite all Jews to visit Kiryat Arba, the City of our Patriarchs in Hebron, to tour this area which is the very soul of the Jewish People’s history.”