The collapse of part of a stone embankment adjacent to Jerusalem’s Western Wall during a rare snowstorm prompted a dispute between Jewish and Muslim clerics as one rabbi called it a miracle no worshippers were hurt.
The collapse yesterday of an 800-year-old embankment next to where Jewish women pray at what is commonly known as the “wailing wall” sent people fleeing from falling rocks.
The Muslim authority for the area, the Waqf, blamed Israeli building work nearby for the problem; but an Israeli architect said construction by Arabs was making the wall unstable.
The Western Wall is the foundation of the Temple Mount – the holiest site for Jews where their First and Second Temples once stood.
“It’s a miracle nobody was hurt,” rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich was quoted by Reuters as saying. He blamed time and the weather for the collapse.
Engineers were also reportedly looking at whether a small earthquake last week might have played a part in the incident. Israeli police kept people away from the site today.
Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar said it was the fifth time in two years that parts of the walls had begun to crumble, buckle or crack as a result of what she called unsupervised construction by the Waqf – a charge the Muslim clerics deny.
“What concerns me most is the Temple Mount itself is in danger of collapsing. … The earthquake has certainly done more damage but nobody goes to check,” she told Reuters.
A comprehensive inspection of the stability of the Temple Mount compound and the surrounding walls is urgently required, Mazar said after visiting the site.
“A major collapse at the site, which would cause a major disaster, is only a matter of time,” she told Haaretz.
Mazar, who runs a Hebrew University project to publish the findings of archaeological digs on the Mount, is also a member of the Committee for Preventing the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount and a senior fellow at the Shalem Center.
On Saturday night, during a heavy snowfall, a 10-meter-wide section of the embankment’s supporting wall collapsed. The embankment, which leads to the Mughrabim Gate – one of the main entrances to the Temple Mount – runs between the prayer area in front of the Western Wall and the archaeological excavations at the foot of the wall, to the south of the prayer area.