The Israeli Defence Ministry has approved renovation work to make the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron accessible to the disabled, despite not securing approval by the local municipality.
The decision, approved by Defence Minister Naftali Bennett, is in violation of the Oslo Accords, which state that the authority to grant planning permissions for the Cave is held by Hebron’s local government.
The plan intends to make the holy site accessible to the disabled via the construction of a lift, a path from the entrance to the car park and a bridge, and will require the expropriation of land.
It is expected that Hebron Municipality and the Islamic Waqf, the Jordan-run trust that oversees Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, will object.
Samar Shehadeh, a lawyer who represents Hebron and the Waqf told Haaretz that they intended to object on the basis that “We think the step is prima facie illegal according to international law, Jordanian law and Israeli civil law.”
Naftali Bennett has instructed the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories General Kamil Abu Rukon, who is responsible for civilian coordination in the West Bank, to take all necessary measures to close the site to advance the project.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) was reportedly invited to join the initiative, but did not respond to the offer.
The PA has said that its strongly against any changes to the site, saying that Israel was “Judaising” it. Palestinian Media Watch also reported the PA as saying that the move was “an invasion of Hebron” and “a service for the settlers who want to strengthen the settlement in this area.”
The plan has been costed at around NIS 5m and will be paid for by the Israel’s ministries of tourism, religious affairs, heritage and defence. It is reported that the plan was green-lit in February in the Defence Ministry and that construction should take around a year.
The Cave of the Patriarchs is one of the oldest religious sites in Judaism and is reputed to bet the burial place of Abraham, son Yitzak and grandson Jacob. Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca and Leah, are also thought to be buried there.