Archaeologists, architects petition High Court to stop Old City cable car plan

Group says caretaker government doesn’t have right to sign off on controversial proposal, says visual impact was underestimated and consultations were not thorough

The planned cable car to Jerusalem's Old City, as seen in a screenshot from a video by the NGO Emek Shaveh.
The planned cable car to Jerusalem's Old City, as seen in a screenshot from a video by the NGO Emek Shaveh.

A group of archaeologists, architects and researchers petitioned the High Court of Justice alongside the Emek Shaveh organization in an attempt to stop a controversial plan to build a cable car to the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The petitioners argued that the transitional government is not permitted to sign off on such a project and that projections of the visual impact of the cable car are not realistic, the Haaretz daily reported.

In addition, according to the Tuesday petition, the project was touted as helping resolve the capital’s transportation issues but the Transportation Ministry was not consulted on the plans.

“It’s as if the Tourism Ministry decided to set up a medical tourism hospital without consulting the Health Ministry in the planning process,” the petition reads.

An artist’s rendering of a station on the route of the future cable car that will stretch from Jerusalem’s First Station to the Western Wall in the Old City. (Courtesy Jerusalem Development Authority)

Signatories to the petition include Israel Prize winners Prof. Amihai Mazar and Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor, and Prof. Benjamin Z. Kedar, the former chair of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The petition came after a government committee gave final planning authorization earlier this month for the plan. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said the project was green-lighted by the ministerial committee on planning, construction, land and housing, known as the housing cabinet, which he chairs.

The cable car is billed as a tourism attraction as well as a solution to serious traffic congestion and pollution around the Old City walls, but critics say it is an eyesore that will contribute to the “Disneyfication” of the area around the ancient quarter.

According to the plan’s boosters, up to 3,000 people will be ferried per hour at peak time in up to 72 10-person cabins between the First Station commercial and entertainment area and the Old City’s Dung Gate, near the Western Wall.

Cable cars will pass through the the neighborhood of Abu Tor before sailing above the Hinnom Valley to a stop at Mount Zion, then continue over the Palestinian village of Silwan to their final destination — the still-to-be-built Kedem Center — a massive, multi-story complex that the right-wing City of David Foundation is planning to build on top of the Givati parking lot, near the Dung Gate, just outside the Old City walls.

The whole 1.5 kilometer (one mile) journey will take under five minutes.

Screen capture from a promotional video for the Jerusalem Old City cable car project showing an artist’s impression of cars passing over the Hinnom Valley. (YouTube)

The project is strongly backed by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, but is opposed by numerous experts who argue that it is obtrusive and politically irresponsible, and will not solve the traffic and other problems it purports to address.

Architects, academics, preservation experts and tour guides have called it a poorly thought-out idea that will scar the historic landscape with 15 massive pylons, sully unique views of the Old City and its walls — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — and do little to solve the city’s traffic problems.

The project was fast-tracked by the National Planning Council — a Finance Ministry body set up to handle major infrastructure projects such as gas and railway lines that cross local authority boundaries.

A 2016 government amendment to the planning law — apparently tailored to this specific project — added “tourist infrastructure” projects to the definition of “national infrastructure” ones, and specifically named tourism transportation systems.

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