Gov’t to Build Handicap-Access Elevator at Me’aras Hamachpelah

YERUSHALAYIM -
Me’aras Hamachpelah.

The government intends to build an elevator at Me’aras Hamachpelah, whether or not the Waqf cooperates, Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee head MK Moti Yogev was told in a meeting. Kobi Eliraz, an adviser on settlement affairs to the Defense Minister’s Office, said that after months of trying to work out a deal with the Waqf on the matter, the ministry was giving up, and would move forward with the project on its own.

The Committee is no longer meeting due to the breakup of the government, but Yogev had asked for updates on the matter. In an October letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Social Rights Minister Gila Gamliel expressed the need for an elevator to be installed at Me’aras Hamachpelah, to allow access by the disabled. About a million people visit the site each year, and the only access to the Me’arah is by climbing dozens of steps – meaning that entry is effectively impossible for disabled visitors who do not have someone to assist them. Gamliel’s ministry is authorized to install systems to allow for the access of disabled people to sites around the country.

In her letter, Gamliel wrote that “it has been 50 years since Yehudah and Shomron were liberated, and the time has come to enable access to Me’aras Hamachpelah for all, including the disabled. As the social rights minister, I see it as a great obligation to enable all those who wish to have access to the site to be able to enter. As soon as the project is approved, we will move forward with it.”

Yogev said that the elevator was one of several issues surrounding Jewish settlement in Chevron that the Committee had been in the midst of dealing with. “We need to consider issues such as the takeover of the water system in Kiryat Arba by water company Mekorot, the end of the mandate of the international peacekeeping force in Chevron, and access to Me’aras Hamachpelah for the disabled. We promised that the elevator would be ready by next Rosh Hashanah,” Yogev said.

That the Waqf has so far refused to discuss the matter is no reason not to enable disabled of all backgrounds access to the site. “We are definitely moving ahead with the elevator,” said Yogev, adding that “the refusal of the Waqf to cooperate is not a reason to postpone the project.”