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tunnelThe Western Wall Tunnel

Western Wall Plaza

Jeusalem Old City

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The Western Wall Tunnel was opened onto al-Mujahideen St (Via Dolorosa) in the Muslim Quarter in September 1996. With typical Israeli sensitivity, the opening was broken through a wall in the dead of night, in a quasi-military operation. The riots which followed, caused by a widely held belief that the tunnel excavations threatened the foundations of the al-Aqsa Mosque, left 14 Israeli soldiers and 80 Palestinians dead, and over 1200 wounded.

The fears for the safety of Noble Sanctuary were unfounded. According to the Israeli authorities, the tunnel was ancient. The only new section to be excavated was the exit onto the Via Dolorosa. In any event, it did not go under the al-Haram al-Sharif complex, but under the residential neighbourhoods of the Muslim Quarter. The Holy sites of the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque wre never threatened, although homes and businesses may have been.

According to Gary Byers of Associates for Biblical Research, see http://www.christiananswers.net/q-abr/abr-a022.html, the tunnel was begun shortly after the 1967 War as a project of the Orthodox rabbis in Jerusalem in an attempt to find the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy of Holies. These rabbis didn't rediscover an ancient tunnel, they actually dug their own new horizontal mine shaft, starting from the Western Wall Plaza (the Wailing Wall) and running north along the outside wall of the Temple complex. This is the complex which was renovated by Herod the Great when he rebuilt the Second Temple. It is now the site of the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque. The project and its goals were religous in nature. Professional archeologists had no interest in this project and it was carried out with little government oversight.

Also according to Byers, in 1982 the rabbis broke through a sealed underground gate. While they were excavating the ancient section directly under Temple Mount, their digging was heard by Palestinian workmen. Entering a cistern to investigate the suspicious noises, they caught the group busily digging out passages and rooms under the mount itself. This triggered a riot which resulted in a number of serious injuries and caused the Israeli government to put a halt to all work beneath al-Haram (Temple Mount). However, excavations along the edge of the wall, under the residential area, were continued with Israeli government support. This is the tunnel which one can tour today.

No part of the tunnel system goes underneath al-Haram. However, the Israeli government's decision to open the north end of the tunnel without consulting the Waqf, the Islamic organization which administers the Muslim Holy Places on Temple Mount, has been perceived to be contrary to the intent of the Oslo Accords and a blatant unilateral declaration of sovereignty over East Jerusalem.

The complex including the Western Wall Plaza and the al-Haram Al-Sharif, is a constantly super-charged potential flash-point between Israelis and Palestinians. It is the holiest place in the world for Jews and the second holiest site for Muslims after Mecca/Medina. Palestinians and Israelis both have ancient and modern political and religious claims to the area. Given the current state of affairs with unresolved refugee claims, settler theft of Palestinian lands, Israeli apartheid legislation, and daily acts of violence perpetrated by both sides, resolution doesn't appear likely any time soon. Both sides need to learn to respect each other's concerns and exhibit some tolerance. Sadly, even that seems impossible for the foreseeable future.

To book a tour of the tunnel, go to the Western Wall Plaza, or telephone 972 2627 1333. To collect your tickets you will have to present a passport or other official identification.

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Some views of the Tunnel.

To view any photo at full size, click on the photo with the left mouse button.
mockup of old temple

Model of the temple complex in the time of Herod the Great.

Herodian stone work

Herodian stonework.

Herodian stonework

Herodian stonework.

arch

An bricked-up arch.

holy of holies

Closest approach to the Holy of Holies.

holy of holies

Closest approach to the Holy of Holies.

Herodian column

Herodian column.

herodian column

Herodian column.

herodian column

Herodian column.

Hasmonean stairs

Staircase from the Hasmonean era.

cistern

A medieval cistern, one of the many ancient cisterns from which Jerusalemites drew their drinking water until recent years.

Israeli soldiers

Israeli soldiers marching the tourists back to the Jewish Quarter so that the Palestinian merchants of the Muslim Quarter will not make any sales.

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Click on the link to visit the other pages in the Jerusalem section:

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Patti

This page was updated on 7 December 2007.

Contact me at: patti.primeau@sympatico.ca

This site was edited using Nvu and Style Master.

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