On Monday, December 12, 2011, Israel temporarily closed the single pedestrian walkway open to non-Muslims that leads to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Israel's Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which closed the walkway to the Mugrabi Bridge, cited the public safety of visitors who use the walkway as the reason for closure. The ramp is a temporary structure that is unstable, a fire hazard and prone to storm damage. It was built after an earthquake damaged the original ramp in 2004.
Israel wants to build a safer, permanent structure, but has been reluctant to do so because of the type of hysterical reaction of Arab officials that accompanied the brief closure of the current bridge. Egyptian, Jordanian, and Palestinian (Hamas and the Palestinian Authority) officials characterized the Israeli move as negative, and their statements range from calling it "illegal" and "unacceptable" to "a declaration of religious war."
Jordan's religious affairs minister Abdul-Salam Abbadi criticized the Israelis for "further Judaizing Jerusalem and changing the Islamic and Christian character in the Old City using baseless excuses." One PA Official called the decision "illegal unacceptable and provocative [because] Israel has no right running these sites in the occupied part of east Jerusalem." Hamas accused Israel of "provoking the feelings of all Islamic and Arab people."
Additionally, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights "condemns in the strongest terms the ongoing policies adopted by Israeli occupation authorities aimed at creating a Jewish majority in occupied East Jerusalem, the latest of which has been closing the wooden bridge of Bab al-Maghariba."
The outrage expressed over Israel's actions is less about the bridge than the underlying issue of who ought to have jurisdiction to control the gate to the Temple Mount. Palestinians insist this should be part of the capital of a future Palestinian state and Muslims argue they should control the area because it is the site of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. For Jews, the Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism, the site of the original holy Temple built by Solomon. Politically, it is also part of Israel's capital and subject to the government's authority.
The issue has nothing to do with freedom of religion or access to the Temple Mount. The Mugrabi Bridge is used primarily by non-Muslims. Muslims can and routinely do enter the Temple Mount from another of the several gates only open to Muslims.
Israel has demonstrated sensitivity to the issue by refraining from demolishing the bridge and building a more structurally sound one up to this point; however, the time is coming when public safety will have to take precedence over politics. The Mugrabi Bridge is unsafe and needs to be replaced. Providing this security to Muslims and non-Muslims alike who wish to visit the Temple Mount or pray in the mosque should be commended.
Mitchell Bard is the author of several books and is the editor of the Virtual Jewish Library.