The national planning council is expected within the next two months to consider a controversial plan for a cable car from West Jerusalem to the Old City, easing access to the Western Wall, in line with a Tourism Ministry plan to have the project up and running within the next three years.
The cable car, to run from the city’s First Station complex to the Old City’s Dung Gate — the main entrance to the Western Wall — aims to ease traffic in and around the maze of narrow streets in the ancient part of Jerusalem by whizzing visitors across the 1.5 km route (just under a mile) as the crow flies in just 3.5 minutes.
A Tourism Ministry statement Monday indicated the cable car will have three stops — the First Station, Mount Zion and the Dung Gate.
The plan will go straight to the national council, bypassing local and district planning committees, thanks to a successful legislative move by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) to have the project declared part of the national tourism infrastructure.
Levin told Army Radio on Monday that after approval and expected objections to the Supreme Court, the cable car would take 18 to 24 months to build.
“The tourist infrastructure is so behind,” he said. “The Old City and the Old City Basin [the ring of land around the Old City] are not accessible. There is no parking for buses and no good public transport.”
The cable car would not enter the Old City nor go over the Old City walls, but would stop just outside, he stressed.
Expectations are that up to 25,000 visitors will use the system on peak days, Levin said.
The cable car will not run on the Jewish Sabbath or religious festivals, but this would not deter overseas tourists, most of whom come for several days at a time, he said.
The project, the brainchild of the Jerusalem City Council and its Mayor, Nir Barkat, has stoked controversy because the route passes over parts of East Jerusalem.
Two years ago, the France-based utility giant Suez Environment said that, because of political sensitivities, it had decided not to take part in the project.
In August, Barkat reportedly told Likud Party activists that the cable car route would include a stop in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, so that passengers would “understand who really owns this city,” the Haaretz newspaper reported.
Daoud Siam, a social activist from the Palestinian village of Silwan, just below the Old City, told Army Radio that the cable car would pass over village homes, robbing residents of their privacy.
Urging the government to invest in the village first, he said, “millions [of shekels] go into the City of David [a tourist site on what is thought to be the original urban core of ancient Jerusalem, located on the western ridge of Silwan and today housing Israeli settlers] yet “not a shekel goes into Silwan.”
“Silwan has no pavements, no road, no infrastructure. Houses are falling down, there are no permits to build, just decades of [authority-ordered] demolitions. They [the authorities] want a village without residents,” he said.