The staircase to the holy site, while impressive, is inaccessible to the disabled.
By Aaron Sull, World Israel News
The Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron will become wheelchair accessible despite lack of approval from the city’s Palestinian Authority (PA)-controlled municipality.
Since the year 2000, Israeli governments have attempted to advance plans for greater accessibility, preferring to do so with the cooperation of the PA.
“The time has come to move forward. We have green-lighted the elevator project to end the many years of discrimination at the site,” Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday.
“Every person, irrespective of whether or not they are disabled, should have the opportunity to visit the tomb, which is an important Jewish heritage site,” he added.
The staircase to the holy site, while impressive, is inaccessible to the disabled, the elderly and pregnant women, causing them either to forgo the visit or require assistance.
The elevator construction project was delayed due to political controversy, as the 1997 Hebron agreement states that modifications to the holy site require approval from the city’s PA-controlled municipality.
In order to push the project through, Bennett authorized the Civil Administration’s Higher Planning Council to take over authorization powers from Hebron’s municipality.
“Israel’s approval of the confiscation of Islamic Waqf land belonging to the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron is an egregious assault on Palestinian land and a grave violation of international law as well as signed agreements,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
“This is a provocative and irresponsible action that will stoke religious sensitivities,” she said.
The need to add an elevator for the disabled was highlighted in 2018 when Moti Ohayon, a wheelchair-bound resident of neighboring Kiryat Arba, died of injuries he sustained when he was being carried up the stairs and fell.
The three Jewish patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – and three of the four Jewish matriarchs – Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah – are buried in the Tomb. The matriarch Rachel was laid to rest outside of Bethlehem. The Tomb has approximately one-million visitors each year. There are two entrances – one for Jews and the other for Muslims.
Hebron, Judaism’s second-holiest city, is the site of the world’s oldest Jewish community, dating back to biblical times. King David reigned there for seven years before the kingdom was moved to Jerusalem.