Right-wing MKs blast freeze on disabled access project at Cave of the Patriarchs

Defense Minister Benny Gantz reportedly cited security concerns in making the decision not to sign the construction order.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Right-wing and human rights groups attacked Wednesday Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s decision to freeze the building in Hebron of a handicapped-accessible entry to the Cave of the Patriarchs even though all legal authorizations are in place.

According to Arutz 7, his decision was made because of the security situation in the country, even though the 11-day battle between Israel and Hamas in Operation Guardian of the Walls has ended and Arab and Palestinian rioting has largely died down.

Gantz’s office itself made no official response to the report.

Gantz himself had ordered the project’s go-ahead last July, saying, “It’s inconceivable that a site so important to both Jews and Muslims like the Cave of the Patriarchs should not be accessible to the disabled and handicapped.”

The Cave is considered one of the holiest sites in Judaism, as the burial place of the forefathers and foremothers of the Jewish people.

MK Matan Kahane (Yemina) attacked Gantz on Twitter for his “unethical” decision.

“Making the Cave of the Patriarchs accessible is an important humanitarian act,” he said. “The decision … is mistaken and unethical. I’ve just asked the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee for an urgent discussion and call on the defense minister to reconsider and immediately advance [the project].”

MK Itamar Ben-Gvir (Religious Zionist Party) who lives in Hebron, said that in making such a decision, Gantz had “folded” to the Muslim Waqf, which fiercely opposes any changes being made to the site.

“Shame on Benny Gantz for bowing to cheap politics instead of caring for the handicapped public,” he added.

Shai Glick, head of the human rights group Betzalmo, which was active in seeking the building of a path and elevator to allow entrance to the area currently accessed only by dozens of stairs, also criticized the move.

“This is a surrender to terrorism,” he said. “It’s inconceivable that the sovereign State of Israel should be afraid of carrying out a humanitarian accessibility project in the Cave of the Patriarchs so as not to upset Hamas. I call on Defense Minister Benny Gantz to reverse this shameful decision and sign the building permit today … for immediate construction on the site.”

The issue of making the holy site accessible to the disabled has been kicked around for a decade and a half. By last year, all the planning commission permissions and technical details had finally been resolved, and the Supreme Court rejected a petition by the Arab part of the Hebron municipality to stop the work, clearing the way for the building to begin.

The lockdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the run-up to the eventually-canceled Palestinian elections, and the Ramadan violence and Hamas attack all prevented the work from getting started before Gantz’s recent decision.