Two astronomers. Separated by only 22 degrees, 58 minutes of latitude, 33 degrees, 29 minutes of longitude, yet seemingly worlds apart. Their common goal: figure out the very nature of the Universe and its womenfolk.

Monday, February 12, 2007

When Israel builds a ramp ...

The mayor of Jerusalem today has ruled that the controversial re-building of a walkway leading up to the temple mount will be temporarily halted, until a "more transparent" civic debate has run its course. The announcement a few days ago by the municipality that it was begining archeological excavations in anticipation of pending construction caused riots, the buring of efigies, and international condemnation across the arab and muslim world.

However, in cases like this it always best to be well informed. Three points are salient here:

1. the walkway they want to build is OUTSIDE of the temple mount. The archelogical excavations that preceed any constructions in Jerusalem also do not threaten the structural integrity of the temple mount as they are taking place a good 20-30 meters away from the retainig wall (in a city like Jerusalem or Rome with a rich history all construction must be preceeded by an archeological dig to see if any artifacts are uncovered). Also, this walkway is not a wholly new structure. It is a permanent bridge built to replace a temporary walkway set up after the collapse of the original one in 2004.

2. This walkway needs to be built out of respect for the palestinians who, according to religious edict, do not permit non-muslims to use any other of the 8 entrances to the temple mount. Israel respects this and uses only the designated entrance. The reason israel demands at least one entrance into the compound is because after east jerusalem was captured in 1967, the then prime minister declared that the old city would be open and free for all who wish to enter. No discirimination based on religion would prevent worshippers from freedom of movement throughout the old city (while under jordanian control pre-1967 christians and jews were banned from having free pasage through many parts of the old city). Unfortunately due to the high risk of riots and violence, this pledge has - from time to time - been suspended as potentially dangerous demographics have been denied entry.

3. We are talking about a small walkway here. Its not exactly a 40 floor sky scraper. Its a little more than a permanent scafolding. The newspapers say that the load it should be able to carry is no more than 30 armed policemen at a time.

While it is true that Israel could have tried and obtained a consensus with the WAQF that controls the temple mount, and it was perhaps a bit on the provocative side not to even try, it would probably have been futile as in situtions like this any dialogue is usually met with flat out rejection. However the status quo dictates that any change to the status quo needs to be agreed on by all sides; if it isnt your probably going to have riot or two on your hands (its simply a matter of luck that these riots were met with stun grenades and mace rather than live bullets). Perhaps due to the temporary suspension of construction the weekend riots have subsided, however entering Jerusalem this morning took longer than usual as my mini-van taxi/bus shimmied through a bottle neck caused by an armed checkpoint.


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