Israel widens access to Little Western Wall


JERUSALEM – Israel has removed scaffolding which was limiting access to the Little Western Wall, a key Jewish site in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, residents and officials said on Friday. News of the move was first revealed in the Haaretz newspaper, which said it was geared towards improving access for worshippers to the site, which is considered holy by Jews.
The site is part of the same ancient wall that used to surround the Second Temple, and lies several hundred metres (yards) north of the Western Wall, one of Judaism’s most sacred sites. The scaffolding was located under an arch in the small courtyard abutting the wall. A number of Palestinian homes are built on top of the arch. An AFP correspondent confirmed the scaffolding had been removed, saying a small but steady stream of worshippers and tourists were visiting the site.
Sheikh Azzam Khatib, head of the Islamic Waqf in Jerusalem, confirmed the scaffolding had only recently been removed and said officials had put up a new sign identifying the location as “The Little Western Wall.” “We think they want to expand that place to let more worshippers in because only limited numbers can go there at the moment,” he told AFP, explaining that the scaffolding was installed to reinforce homes affected by digging in the area.
“When they were digging for the (Western Wall) tunnels, some houses were damaged and they put up this scaffolding to support the houses,” he said, referring to work ahead of the controversial tunnels which caused angry rioting and bloodshed when they were opened in 1996.
Locals confirmed the scaffolding and a number of metal support girders had been removed in the past few days, expressing fears it could lead to a collapse of the nearby buildings. “In the 1970s, part of the wall collapsed and it’s only a matter of time before it happens again,” Raaf Shaadi told AFP, saying his family had been living in the neighbourhood — also called Shaadi — for more than 300 years.
Shaadi said police and municipal officials had come to take down the scaffolding several days ago, telling locals the walls were stable and not in any danger of collapsing. The Haaretz report said the houses above the arch no longer needed the scaffolding support, but it was not immediately possible to independently confirm the report as the Jerusalem municipality was unavailable for comment.