Rioting Responds to New Tunnel Exit
Photo: Western Wall Heritage Foundation

September 24, 1996

A northern exit from the Western Wall Tunnel to the Via Dolorosa opens to the public, leading to three days of Palestinian riots.

The excavation of the tunnel began after Israel’s capture of the Old City in the June 1967 war. The tunnel is an extension of the Western Wall’s plaza in an area buried and covered by buildings in the Muslim Quarter. While the exposed plaza runs along 200 feet of the wall’s length, the buried portion extends 1,400 feet northward. The excavation exposes significant artifacts relating to the construction and understanding of the Temple Mount.

Until 1996, tourists entered and exited the Western Wall Tunnel from the plaza, making a U-turn inside when they reached the Struthion Pool. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorized a previously rejected plan to create the northern exit beneath a school, a decision that aided tourism but also demonstrated Israeli sovereignty over the entirety of Jerusalem. That expression of sovereignty angered Palestinians, who also saw the construction as a threat to Al-Aqsa Mosque atop the Temple Mount.

The day the exit opens, a protest begins with Palestinian youths on the Temple Mount throwing rocks and bottles onto the Western Wall plaza, and worshippers are evacuated while protesters are detained. The violence escalates and spreads, including fighting between the Israel Defense Forces and the Palestinian Authority’s security forces. Over three days, 25 Israeli soldiers and 100 Palestinians are killed in Ramallah, Nablus, Gaza and elsewhere.