Most Israeli holy sites are still off-limits to disabled – here’s why

Plans to add an elevator the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, which is partially used by Muslim worshippers, were opposed by Palestinian leaders. 

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

The vast majority of holy sites in Israel – some 90 percent – are effectively off-limits to disabled Israelis, with no wheelchair-accessible facilities, despite government requirements that state-funded sites provide such accommodations, according to a report from Israel Hayom.

MK Moshe Abutbul of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party and the B’tsalmo NGO commissioned the survey of Israel’s holy sites, which was carried out by the Knesset’s Science and Information Center.

Out of 130 sites for which the Israeli government’s Center for the Development of the Holy Places holds official responsibility, just 12 are accessible for disabled people.

Physically handicapped visitors to major attractions like Elijah’s Cave in Haifa find themselves out of luck, with no wheelchair ramps or mobility device-friendly options available to navigate the sites.

“From the day I entered the Knesset, I have repeatedly received requests from people with disabilities who wish to pray at the graves of the righteous with dignity,” Abutbul said in a statement on the heels of the report.

“The law requires this and I call on the Religious Affairs Minister to act and prepare a comprehensive plan that this year will make dozens of tombs of the righteous and religious sites accessible, so that within two years the entire list will be accessible just like any other public building in the country.”

Despite years of promises to upgrade the sites, overcoming bureaucratic hurdles around obtaining funding for projects and awarding tenders to contractors that carry out the work have slowed down the process.

And at holy sites in contested areas, projects to upgrade facilities and make them wheelchair-accessible have been met with backlash.

For example, plans to add an elevator the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, which is partially used by Muslim worshippers, faced major political obstacles.

Palestinian leaders alleged that the project was a subtle attempt by the Jewish State to disrupt the status quo and take over the site.

In August 2021, Palestinians protesting the construction clashed with Israeli security forces, with soldiers firing teargas and flash grenades to disperse the demonstrators.