In breakthrough, Cave of the Patriarchs to be made accessible to disabled

The Cave of the Patriarchs is finally to be accessible to all. 

By Sheri Oz, World Israel News

After nearly two decades of paralysis, the Cave of the Patriarchs will be made accessible to those who cannot climb the steps to the religious site revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims.

For security reasons, Israel had been reluctant to proceed without Palestinian participation. Efforts by Israel to reach out to the Waqf, the Muslim Religious Trust, as well as the Hebron municipality were ignored.

Israel hoped to make both the Jewish and the Muslim entrances accessible to those who cannot climb the steps.

The staircase to the holy site, while impressive, is impassable to the disabled, the elderly and pregnant women.

But it appears that Israel has pushed through the impasse and construction of an elevator is scheduled to be completed, at least for Jewish visitors, by early April 2020 in time for the Passover holiday.

On Nov. 3, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee informed a number of Knesset members and the CEO of the human rights organization, B’tzalmo, that:

“Following committee meetings dealing with the topic, and after requests from the committee to the implementing bodies to speed up the process in a way that would allow it to be completed by Passover 2020 at the latest, we are reporting that the committee has been updated once more regarding details of progress, the range of challenges concerning the issue, and the impression is that implementation is expected to meet the schedule as defined by the committee. [bold added]”

The last time the committee had discussed the accessibility project was in June 2019. Committee chairman Deputy Defense Minister Avi Dichter expressed his hope then that the elevator would be completed by Passover 2020.

During a visit to Hebron before the September 2019 elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his intention to ensure accessibility to the Cave of the Patriarchs. However, there was confusion regarding whether or not the project would, in fact, proceed as deadlines had been set and postponed many times over the past few years because of the particular sensitivity of the site.

Those who couldn’t climb the steps had resigned themselves to being unable to enter. In some cases, people have been injured struggling to make the attempt. Last year, Israeli citizen Moti Ohayon died of injuries he sustained when he was being carried up in his wheelchair and fell.

Shai Glick, CEO of Btzalmo, which has been leading the Cave of the Patriarchs accessibility campaign for the last few years, expressed his satisfaction.

“We will not let this be an empty promise and we want to see tractors at the site,” he said.

Members of Knesset who have pushed hard for the elevator to be built are Keti Shitreet (Likud), Gideon Saar (Likud), Michael Malchieli (Shas), Moshe Abutbul (Shas) and Dichter (Likud).

The Cave of the Patriarch is the burial place of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives, Sarah, Rivka and Leah. Jacob’s wife Rachel is buried outside Bethlehem.