PA issued Ultimatum on Hebron Wheelchair Access

Israel vows to create disabled access visitors of all faiths, with or without PA approval.

14.7.19, 17:13
The Palestinian Authority municipality of Hebron has been issued an ultimatum to either work together with Israel to create wheelchair access to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs or Israel will built it on their own. 

A plan to create an elevator and ramp for handicapped access to the ancient holy site has been held up for years because the PA, which controls 80% of the city, is reluctant to let Israel make any changes. 

On Friday, the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, the Israeli body that oversees civilian life in Judea and Samaria announced, "the Ministry of Defense and the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories are working to find a solution for accessibility to people with disabilities to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and they see this as very important. A number of alternatives are being examined in order to provide an optimal response considering the complexity of the site."

Representatives of the Jewish community of Hebron praised the statement and added that a specific date should be set. "The Cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs belongs to the people of Israel, and the state must ensure that every person of every religion can pray there," they added. 

The 2,000-year-old structure was built by King Herod the Great as a memorial to the Biblical Matriarchs and Patriarchs buried in the Cave of Machpela underneath. Most of the structure is used as a mosque under the control of the Muslim Wafq. The other sections are used for Jewish prayer services. Each religious group is allowed ten days out of the years for exclusive access for holidays.

The PA has been forceful in its narrative that the site is called the Mosque of Ibrahim and should be accessible for Muslims only. Last year they petitioned the United Nations to declare the tomb a Palestinian Heritage Site in Danger.

אחת ההתמודדויות המתסכלות ביותר במערת המכפלה הינה קרוב ל100 המדרגות המובילות אליה. עבור אנשים שכוחם במותניהם מדובר בעניין שבשגרה, במטרד סביר לכל היותר. אך כאשר מדובר בנכה, בקשיש או במוגבל תנועה, העניין כבר נעשה אתגר כמעט בלתי אפשרי. לפעמים זה נגמר בפציעה של ממש, כמו שקרה במהלך צילום הסירטון של כאן. לאבסורד הזה חייבים לשים סוף. מנגישים את מערת המכפלה עכשיו. צפו ושתפו.

Posted by ‎חברון - מערת המכפלה‎ on Monday, March 5, 2018
The planned elevator would be available to Jews, Muslims and any of the over 700,000 visitors who come to the site every year. 

A wide variety of elected officials this year have joined the call to create access for the disabled. Mossi Raz, a former Member of Knesset from the left-wing Meretz party called for wheelchair access. Despite being an ardent opponent of the Jewish community, Channel 20 reported he sent a personal letter to the Palestinian Authority Minister of Religious Affairs and to the PA mayor of Hebron asking them to approve the permit.

The holy site is accessible by a steep set of stairs and wheelchairs bound people have resorted to using assistants to carry them up. Last year the former chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron was lifted up together with his wheelchair by several people up the 60 steps.

The Equal Rights for People with Disabilities Law requires every public structure to be fully accessible to the disabled, however it does not apply specifically to the Tomb of the Patriarchs. The plans for an elevator take the sensitive nature of the historic archtecture into account.
In October, a special Knesset session was held on the issue. 

Responding to the announcement of the ultimatum, the Btsalmo organization for disabled rights stated:

"The Tomb of the Patriarchs is for the people of Israel, and the State of Israel must ensure that every worshiper and visitor, regardless of his religion or limitations, can pray there." They warned that unless the ultimatum was carried out, the situation would revert to an endless cycle of rejections by the PA.

Member of Knesset Kati Shitrit stated, "in order to make the Tomb of the Patriarchs accessible to those who wish to pray there, we must act to strengthen our sovereignty over the site. The State of Israel is the sovereign and if the municipality of Hebron and the Waqf do not cooperate, unilateral actions should be taken in favor of all worshipers." She added, "I congratulate the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories for his appeal and undertake to back this action and similar actions in the future."

MK Hava-Etty Atia stated, "we must establish our sovereignty through unilateral actions, even if the municipality of Hebron and the Waqf do not cooperate -- for the sake of both Jews and Muslims."

Last week MK Osnat Hila Mark visited the site and happened across several handicapped visitors who struggled with their crutches to ascend the steps. She made an impromptu video vowing to advocate for the issue in Knesset.

The Jewish sections of the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriachs are under the jurisdiction of the State of Israel and local Jewish religious authorities. The Jewish population of the city who reside in 3% of the city are Israeli citizens while the Arab residents are part of the Palestinian Authority which has a separate municipality. 
An ultimatum to the Hebron municipality - Israel National News
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