EU blasts ‘settlement tourism’ near Jerusalem’s Old City

Report leaked to Guardian says City of David excavations and planned cable car risk ‘turning World Heritage site of Jerusalem into a commercial theme park’

Visitors walk at the City of David in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan on August 31, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Visitors walk at the City of David in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan on August 31, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A European Union report lambastes Israel for tourism development in and around the Old City of Jerusalem.

The report from the EU’s heads of missions in Jerusalem and leaked to British daily The Guardian, describes archaeological sites in and near the Old City, including in Silwan’s City of David and in a planned cable car from the First Station to Mt. Zion to the Old City’s Dung Gate, “as a political tool to modify the historical narrative and to support, legitimize, and expand settlements.”

That historical narrative the report says is being advanced by Israeli tourism development in the area was based on the claim of “historic continuity of the Jewish presence in the area at the expense of other religions and cultures.”

“East Jerusalem is the only place where Israeli national parks are declared on populated neighborhoods,” the Guardian quotes the report as saying, a reference to the growth and development of the City of David site atop the earliest known settlement areas in ancient Jerusalem. Critics say the development of the site, which is a popular tourist destination, is part of a process of displacing the Palestinian residents in the area, which is part of the larger Arab neighborhood of Silwan.

The report charges that the Elad organization, which runs the City of David Site, promotes “an exclusively Jewish narrative, while detaching the place from its Palestinian surroundings.”

The planned cable car, slated to be operational in 2020, will run from the city’s First Station shopping complex to the Old City’s Dung Gate — the main entrance to the Western Wall — in a bid to ease traffic in and around the maze of narrow streets in the ancient part of Jerusalem by whizzing visitors across the 1.5 kilometer (just under a mile) route as the crow flies in just 3.5 minutes.

A Tourism Ministry statement in March indicated the cable car will have three stops — the First Station, Mount Zion, and the Dung Gate.

The cable car would not enter the Old City nor go over the Old City walls, but would stop just outside, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said last year, arguing that the cable car was intended to facilitate access to the Old City and its holy sites.

“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.”

Authorities expect up to 25,000 visitors will use the system on peak days.

The EU diplomats warned in the report that the “highly controversial” cable car would, in the Guardian’s words, “contribute to the consolidation of ‘touristic settlements.’ The project also aims, in a second phase not yet approved, to extend further into East Jerusalem.’

The report adds: “Critics have described the project as turning the World Heritage site of Jerusalem into a commercial theme park while local Palestinian residents are absent from the narrative being promoted to the visitors.”

The report, which is published annually by the EU’s diplomats in Jerusalem, also argued, in the Guardian’s words, that “the overall situation in the city and the prospects for peace had worsened.”

According to the newspaper — which did not release the text of the report — “a record number of Israeli settlement proposals and the physical isolation of Palestinians under a strict Israeli permit scheme meant ‘the city has largely ceased to be the Palestinian economic, urban, and commercial center it used to be.'”

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