Tunnel to link J'lem's Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter synagogue
By Nadav Shragai, Haaretz Correspondent Last update - 15:28 02/11/2007
An underground passage is being planned in Jerusalem's Old City to link the
reconstructed Ohel Yitzhak synagogue in the Muslim Quarter with the Western
Wall tunnels in the Jewish Quarter.
The passageway, which is being planned by the Western Wall Heritage
Foundation, will utilize existing spaces created by archaeological
excavations beneath the Muslim Quarter. This would minimize the need for new
digging, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz told Haaretz.
The idea still needs approval from the government, security services and the
Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).
Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall, said the foundation signed an
agreement a few days ago with Cherna Moskowitz, who owns the Ohel Yitzhak
complex. Moskowitz is the wife of American Jewish tycoon Irving Moskowitz,
who has been active in settling Jews in Muslim areas of Jerusalem.
According to the agreement, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation will manage
and maintain both Ohel Yitzhak and the areas beneath it that the IAA has
excavated. The foundation plans to open an educational institute and museum
at the site, which will preserve the antiquities unearthed by the
IAA Director General Yehoshua Dorfman said that while he has not studied the
foundation's plan carefully, his initial impression is that it is a good
idea, assuming that the IAA's professional staff approves and that the
foundation complies with any conditions the IAA sets.
The foundation also presented the plan to security officials a few days ago
and gave them a tour of the site.
Contrary to claims already raised by the Islamic Movement, Arab Knesset
members and the Waqf (the Muslim religious trust that runs the Temple
Mount), the plan will not involve any digging within the Temple Mount
compound. The new passage will lie about 100 meters west of the mount.
Ohel Yitzhak was built in 1917 but was abandoned during the Arab riots of
1936. It was then blown up by the Jordanians, along with every other
synagogue in the Old City, after they captured the area in 1948.
About 15 years ago, the Moskowitzes bought the site. They then financed the
synagogue's reconstruction, based on old photographs plus remnants of the
destroyed building found at the site.
In 2004, the IAA began excavating under Ohel Yitzhak. The principal find was
a giant public bathhouse from the Mameluke period (the 14th century), which
occupies the entire site.
Its cloakroom was completely intact, and archaeologists also found remnants
of the ovens that produced the steam and the vents that carried the warm air
into the baths. According to IAA archaeologist Yuval Baruch, this is the
most complete relic of the Mameluke period ever discovered in Jerusalem.
Other relics found at the site come from the Roman, Byzantine, early Islamic
and Crusader periods.
The Western Wall tunnels, which were first discovered more than 20 years
ago, currently attract millions of visitors a year.
Muslims have repeatedly accused Israel of digging under the Temple Mount
with the goal of causing its mosques to collapse. But only once has an
Israeli dig penetrated the mount - and that dig, organized by the Religious
Affairs Ministry in 1981, was swiftly halted by then prime minister Menachem
Begin, and the opening into the mount was sealed.