|17) EXIT||Real Audio|
Archaeologists were able to connect the Western Wall and aqueduct tunnels nine years ago. Since that time, the Tunnel Tours have been hoping to allow people to exit the tunnels from here, instead of having to return all the way back to the beginning of the tour.
However, this request was repeatedly denied by the Moslem religious authority. Logistically, this severely limited the number of people who come through the tunnels since most places on the tour are only large enough for one-way traffic.
Three years ago, construction began to open a small tunnel leading up to the Via Dolorosa. In September 1996 the exit was opened, enabling thousands of additional tourists access to the Tunnels.
We are all aware of the days of violence that followed--sparked by angry Palestinian claims that the Tunnels had excavated under the Dome of the Rock.
Having been through the Tunnels yourself, you can see that this simply is not the case. The Tunnels are not located under the Temple Mount or any Moslem holy site.
Nevertheless, the opening of an exit to this wonderful site was cynically used as yet another excuse to criticize Israel in the eyes of world opinion. Tragically, many people on both sides died because of this lie.
But for a few more moments you are still in the dark calm of the Tunnels. You begin to hear the strange, modern sound of the exit turnstile, which chimes like a bell as people go through--as if each tone were counting the centuries forward as you move closer to the outside world....the First Temple, the Second Temple, the Hasmonean Jews, the Romans, the Mamelukes, the Crusaders, the Moslems, the Turks and the British....all of them have come and gone, literally building on top of one another...and still the Jewish people remain.
As you near the metal of the turnstile, the "clack, clack" of its turning so strangely out of place amid all these ancient stones and dreams, you can't help but marvel at the modern miracle of the Jewish people's return to their land, and the wonderful opportunity we have, in our own time, to connect to our heritage, to learn about our people, in the holy city of Jerusalem...
You emerge in the bright sunlight of the Via Dolorosa, with the quick and earnest thought that you would like to go back, back to the Kotel, right now, and take a few moments more to gather your thoughts in prayer...
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