A long-discussed plan to build an elevator at Me’aras Hamachpelah to allow access by the disabled was officially inaugurated Wednesday, as the Civil Administration began planning the project, Yisrael Hayom reported. The planning includes taking an architectural assessment of the site to determine the best place to install the elevator.
A proposal to build an elevator was first set forth by Social Rights Minister Gila Gamliel in 2018. In a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and then-Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Gamliel said 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 minister for equal-opportunity issues, 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.”
About a million people visit the site each year, and the only access to the Me’arah is via a stairway consisting of 10 steps – meaning that entry is effectively impossible for disabled visitors who do not have someone to assist them. Officials have been considering the idea for years, and have attempted to work with the Muslim Waqf on the matter – but to no avail. Earlier this year, the government decided to move forward with the plan, with or without Arab cooperation.
Former Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee head MK Moti Yogev said that “we are definitely moving ahead with the elevator,” adding that “the refusal of the Waqf to cooperate is not a reason to postpone the project. “Making Me’aras Hamachpelah more accessible is essential to enabling many Israelis to visit this holy site. Any delay that is dependent on the agreement of the Waqf or the Chevron Municipality harms the interests and rights of Israeli citizens and Israel’s sovereignty over Me’aras Hamachpelah, a site that has been holy for Jews for 3,800 years. I call on the prime minister, who is also the defense minister, to end the shame and set a one-month time limit on the negotiations, moving forward with the project if the negotiations do not bear fruit. We have had enough of this embarrassment at Me’aras Hamachpelah,” he said.
At a visit to Chevron in September, Netanyahu promised that work on the elevator would begin in the near future. 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.