What was the Kotel Tunnel Incident at the Western Wall in 1996?
Armed clashes between Palestinians and Israeli Defense Forces began on September 23, 1996 over The Hasmonean Tunnel Incident, also referred to as, the Kotel Tunnel Incident. The Temple Mount remained under the control of Jordan from 1948 to 1967, after that, it was seized by Israel as a result of the Six-Day War. After the seizure, Israeli archeologists began excavating the tunnels which lie beneath the site from the antique times. Israeli historians attempted to find the Western Wall and reconstruct it, discovering Hasmonean Tunnel in the process. This Tunnel, which was actually a large aqueduct from the second century BC. was located along the northern edge of the wall. The Hasmonean Tunnel is an extended part of the Western Wall Tunnel and is 20 meters in length, running along the outside of the Temple Mount.
During the process of excavation, Israeli government allowed opening a new exit to the tunnel in the area as visitors can walk back from the tunnel only with tracing back their steps, and it sparked the Kotel Tunnel Incident. And so a new exit was opened in the Hasmonean Tunnel on the night of September 23, 1996. Palestinians were infuriated upon knowing what had happened and were particularly outraged discovering the proximity of the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque with the happening. Some claims were also made as to the damage done to the Al-Aqsa Mosque because of the excavation.
President of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, denounced this happening, stating the act of opening the tunnel an act of Israeli oppression against Islam. He called for a mass demonstration against the act throughout Palestine and a general strike. Claiming that opening the entrance was a “big crime against our religious and holy places”, Arafat, along with Waqf protested against Israel’s efforts to “Judaize” Jerusalem. It was followed by mass protestations against Israel publicly.
What began as public protests, turned into full-fledged armed battles between Palestinians and Israeli forces. The fighting which started on September 24 lasted till September 28 and it was quelled to some extent before dying down completely. The causalities of this fighting is said to be 100 Palestinians and 15 Israeli soldiers.
To make up for some of the damage done, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed the 1997 Hebron Protocol with PA. Under the agreement, Israel agreed to lift the occupation from Hebron, the city of West Bank, as was agreed in the 1993 Oslo Accords. There were some protests from Israeli people against the agreement, however, the majority conceded. Signing of this agreement was viewed as victory by the Palestinians as a result of protest of the Kotel tunnel Incident.