Tunnel Weighed As Solution to Street Closing Controversy

The adage “out of sight, out of mind” may provide a clue for resolving the controversy about whether to close a main Jerusalem thoroughfare on the Sabbath.

Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert this week reportedly suggested building a tunnel beneath Bar Ilan Street so that cars could pass unnoticed and unhindered underneath the religious neighborhoods that border the thoroughfare.

The project would cost an estimated $15 million, according to the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot.

The presence of Sabbath traffic on Bar Ilan has led to a series of often violent demonstrations in recent weeks.

Fervently Orthodox Jews want the street closed for the Sabbath; secular Israelis view its closure as an infringement on their freedoms.

The High Court of Justice is scheduled to hand down a ruling soon on a petition against closing the street.

This followed a decision by Transportation Minister Yitzhak Levy to order the closure of the thoroughfare during prayer times on the Sabbath and holidays. The court later suspended the order pending its own ruling.

John Seligman, an archaeologist in the Jerusalem district, said building a tunnel could unearth problems typically linked to building projects in Jerusalem, particularly if the archaeological excavations that are required before any such project uncovered ancient graves.

“I can’t say definitely that they would be there, but it is highly likely, especially given the proximity to Sanhedria, where the tombs of the Sanhedrin are,” he told Israel Radio.

“The area is also close to the Old City, so it is quite likely that this area, where the religious neighborhoods are built, could have been settled during First and Second Temple periods.”

Seligman said bones were found when the religious neighborhoods were initially built, but that a solution had been found to allow the construction to continue.

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