Cabinet ministers on Sunday approved a plan to build an elevator and an underground passageway from the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City to the Western Wall that would allow more accessibility to the holy site, as part of a series of measures relating to the capital.
In addition to the elevator and underground passageway, the cabinet was also set to approve a new cable car leading to the Old City’s Dung Gate from the First Station complex, as well as a five-year budget allocating additional funding to develop the area around the Old City and improve health services in East Jerusalem.
The weekly cabinet meeting was held at the Western Wall tunnels in honor of the 50th anniversary of the city’s unification in the Six Day War.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the projects would help “strengthen Jerusalem,” while also noting the Jewish people’s millennia-long connection to the site.
“Thousands of years have passed and the Jewish people have returned to their land,” he said, while noting that the cabinet meeting took place just outside of where the first and second temples once stood.
Echoing Netanyahu, Housing Minister Yoav Galant (Kulanu), who helped spearhead the plan, said the project was meant to “strengthen the Jewish presence” at the Western Wall and to reaffirm the Jewish people’s “unbreakable bond” to the site.
“Now, the State of Israel not only declares that the Western Wall belongs to it, but also invests resources in it,” he said.
The elevator and tunnel plan, which is estimated to cost NIS 50 million ($14 million), is aimed at making the Western Wall accessible to people in wheelchairs, others with disabilities and the elderly.
Currently, visitors must descend a series of steep and narrow staircases to access the site, significantly limiting accessibility to those with limited mobility who enter from Dung Gate instead.
The project was the joint initiative of Galant and Deputy Housing Minister Jackie Levy (Likud). It also received the backing of a number of other Likud ministers.
The plan, which will be funded by a number of government ministries, is aimed at further connecting the Jewish Quarter with the Western Wall, as well as encouraging tourism, according to a statement announcing the approval of the project on Sunday.
According to the plan, the elevator shaft will measure 33 meters from top to bottom, while a pedestrian tunnel leading from the elevator to the Western Wall security checkpoint will be 65 meters long. The project will also include an entrance hall to the elevator that will eventually house a number of stores, as well as an area for conferences and meetings.
Since last week, Israel has held a series of celebrations marking the 50th Jerusalem Day, which celebrates the unification of the city after the capture of the Old City and East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War.
Although Israel later annexed the Old City and East Jerusalem and declared Jerusalem its undivided capital, the move has not been recognized by the international community, as the city’s status is one of the most contentious issues in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, with the Palestinians claiming its eastern half as the capital of their future state.