Ministerial panel okays maligned Old City cable car plan

Housing cabinet chair Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon says final planning approval given for project, which has been criticized by experts as obtrusive and ineffective

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)
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)

A government committee gave final planning authorization Monday for a controversial plan to build a cable car to the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City.

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.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon hold a press conference with at the Finance Ministry office in Jerusalem, September 23, 2019. (Flash90)

Cabins 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.

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

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin at the Kfar Maccabia Hotel in Ramat Gan, on October 27, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

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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