Petition by Emek Shaveh and Palestinians against plan to build lift at Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron has been Rejected

On November 19th, the Judea and Samarea central Planning Committee rejected petitions by Emek Shaveh and Palestinian residents of Hebron against the plan to build a lift for disabled people at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

The Tomb of the Patriarchs is the most significant historical structure in the West Bank (outside East Jerusalem)  dating back to the first century BCE, the period of King Herod. The structure as we know it today was formed over many centuries.

For twenty years, the settlers tried to advance the construction of a lift in the compound, unsuccessfully. However on the eve of the formation of the 35th government’ several days before Naftali Bennet, then Minister of Defence left his post, he signed a permit to construct the lift, despite the fact that the responsibility for construction lies with the City of Hebron and the area belongs to the Islamic Waqf.  Benny Gantz who replaced Bennet as Defence Minister in the new government continued to advance the project at record speed.

The planned lift will constitute a massive structure which will be foreign to the ancient site. Not only is it a modern structure that does not dialogue with the architectural character of the tomb, it will also conceal parts of the historic structure. Despite the fact that the Tomb of the Patriarchs is a unique structure from an archaeological, religious and cultural point of view, and arguably the most important in the West Bank, the planners did not prepare a documentation file and the Staff Officer for Archaeology at the Civil Administration was not involved in the plan, two preconditions necessary for any construction at an antiquities site. Despite these flaws, the petitions were rejected and the plan was approved.

Emek Shaveh’s response: Following a prolonged process which revealed that the plan to build a lift at the most important ancient site in the West Bank was approved without serious attention to the historical, archaeological, and architectural aspects, the Civil Administration has decided to approve the plan.

The frequent statements by politicians that they had instructed the planning bodies and the Civil Administration to approve the plan as soon as possible, and the speed of the approval process do not leave any room for doubt that political motivations were driving of this decision. The decision to violate the status quo of the fragile arrangements between Israel and the Palestinians may have long-term implications. Unfortunately what happens in Hebron does not remain in Hebron. Often, the dynamics at the Tomb of the Patriarch correspond with developments at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem. The approval of the plan and the involvement of politicians in the planning processes could constitute a precedent that will impact other sites.

We have looked into our legal options and decided not to pursue a petition to the Jerusalem District Court. In the past, petitions pertaining to the West Bank were discussed at the High Court of Justice, but this is no longer the case. It is our understanding that a hearing at the Jerusalem District Court will not improve our chances of reversing the plan and may even create a dangerous precedent for building at holy sites.