The Regavim Movement on Tuesday filed a petition in Jerusalem District Court against the Jerusalem Municipality which has been concealing the existence of an underground tunnel dug illegally by the Abbey of the Dormition, one of the largest and most recognizable Catholic churches in Jerusalem.
The Abbey of the Dormition is located on Mount Zion, just outside the walls of the Old City, near Zion Gate, the highest point in ancient Jerusalem. It is included in the conservation complex known as the Jerusalem Walls-City of David National Park.
Following legal pressure exerted by Regavim for two years, the Jerusalem municipality was forced to map the route of the illegal, invasive tunnel which runs through public land in an area saturated with archeological remains. To date, the municipality has been ignoring Regavim’s request to release the tunnel documentation and enforce the law regarding the illegal tunnel.
Mount Zion on the outskirts of Old Jerusalem is recognized as a first-rate site of historical and archaeological importance to the three monotheistic religions. There are many archeological finds on the mountain area which are due to be preserved as part of the Jerusalem Walls program, the most famous of which are the identification of King David’s tomb, the city wall dating back to the Hasmonean period, and a wall from the First Temple period.
This did not hinder the Abbey of the Dormition from digging an illegal underground tunnel more than a hundred meters long connecting the abbey to another church compound known as the Beit Yosef.
The abbey later erected a massive gate that prevents access to the area above ground between the abbey and Beit Yosef, even though it is zoned as a public use area.
The existence of the tunnel was a rumor circulating among Jewish residents and institutions operating on Mount Zion, and in 2019, the Regavim movement appealed to the Jerusalem Municipality to verify the existence of the tunnel and measure the route of the tunnel to determine the extent of its invasion of public lands—since located as it is in the heart of ancient Jerusalem, the damage the digging may have caused countless remnants from antiquity is perplexing.
Last year, on Regavim’s insistence and after the Jerusalem municipality was forced to admit the existence of an “old tunnel,” the municipality carried out an underground measuring of the illegal tunnel, which has a cumulative length of about 150 meters.
The mapping revealed that along the route of the tunnel underground halls are containing many ancient remains and that it extensively invades public lands. The illegal tunnel was dug without a permit, in violation of the plans in force at the site, as well as in violation of the Antiquities Law, and with the complete absence of the required engineering and archeological supervision—which may have already caused damage to antiquities and historical finds.
Despite the findings, the municipality refrained from collecting property taxes from the abbey for the use of the illegal tunnel, while the rest of the city’s residents are required to pay property taxes, fees, and construction levies.
“After the details of the picture became clear, we repeatedly demanded that the Jerusalem municipality publish the documentation of its findings under the Freedom of Information Law, and take up supervision and enforcement proceedings against the tunnel to restore the situation to its former state, by sealing or demolishing it,” said Regavim attorneys Avi Segal and Yael Sinamon. “The petition was filed only after the referrals on our behalf were not answered at all by the municipality.”