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Ministers inaugurate work on contentious rope bridge to Jerusalem’s Mount Zion

Opponents decry flawed approval process, warn that tourist facilities near Palestinian homes will turn historic site into theme park

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Old olive trees grow in the Hinnom Valley, Jerusalem. (Deror avi, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)
Old olive trees grow in the Hinnom Valley, Jerusalem. (Deror avi, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The City of David Foundation has further cemented its controversial foothold in the historic Hinnom Valley with a ceremony to lay the foundation stone for a rope bridge that will connect Mount Zion, just below the Old City walls, with the mainly Palestinian neighborhood of Abu Tor.

A ceremony to lay the foundation stone for the bridge was attended last week by Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov, and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion.

Elkin said the project, part of a wider initiative to turn the pastoral valley into a tourist venue, would strengthen the sense of “security and governance” in the area and help access to the Old City.

Lion said the bridge would allow “free and safe movement” between the ridges on either side of the gorge.

The project, costing an estimated NIS 20 million ($5.6 million), according to the Calcalist business daily, is opposed by the left-wing Peace Now, Emek Shaveh and Bimkom not-for-profit organizations, as well as Palestinians.

The first two unsuccessfully petitioned against the building permit for the bridge, arguing that it was given in an underhanded, fast-track fashion without any public consultation.

Sari Kronish of Bimkom — Planners for Planning Rights said the bridge would do nothing to address the pressing housing and other needs of local Palestinian residents.

The City of David Foundation’s symbol on the gate of an educational farm in the Hinnom Valley below Jerusalem’s Old City. (Courtesy Emek Shaveh)

The suspended bridge will join a growing list of other facilities in the valley advanced by the right-wing foundation, which works to increase the Jewish presence in and around Jerusalem’s Old City Basin, and is known in Hebrew as Ir David and by its acronym, Elad.

These include an educational farm, a campsite, and a visitor’s center. The latter is still under construction, next to the parking lot of the Jerusalem Promenade at Armon Hanatziv.

Down in the valley, much of which is part of the Jerusalem Walls National Park, paths have been built, along with low walls to support new terrace agriculture, and trees have been planted with drip irrigation systems.

The City of David Foundation works closely with state bodies such as the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

INPA projects run by Ir David include the City of David archaeological site just outside of the Old City’s Dung Gate, which includes Warren’s Shaft, part of a Bronze Age water system; educational excavations on Mount Zion; and the archeological dirt sifting project on the slopes of Mount Scopus.

Aerial view of excavations at the Givati parking lot over which the Kedem Center will be built. (From plans to the National Planning Council)

Between the City of David site and the Dung Gate, over an archaeological dig beneath the former Givati parking lot, Ir David and the INPA are planning on building a four-story, 16,000-square-meter (172,000-square-foot) visitors’ center to be known as the Kedem complex. Among other things, the center will host the terminus of a cable car designed to whisk visitors from the First Station food and entertainment complex in Talbiya over the Hinnom Valley to Mount Zion and on to the Old City.

On the southern side of the Hinnom Valley, Ir David has opened an event hall for weddings and other functions. Advertising for Beit BaGay (the House in the Valley) places it “adjacent to City of David National Park, which is adjacent to the Western Wall,” with no mention of the fact that the building is steps away from Palestinian homes in Abu Tor.

Inside the neighborhood of Silwan abutting the City of David site, the foundation is one of a number of groups that have obtained homes to settle dozens of Jewish families, who live under heavy security among their Palestinian neighbors.

An Israeli security guard (background) looks away as a Jewish resident sits on the roof of Beit Yonatan, a building in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, February 8, 2010. (Flash90/Kobi Gideon)

The INPA maintains that many areas in the east of the city, such as the Hinnom Valley area, “have become waste sites that have suffered from arson every summer, to this day.” It told The Times of Israel last year that it “sees it as a duty to rehabilitate damaged areas and develop them for the benefit of visitors and the residents of the area.”

This has raised the ire of local Palestinians, who say they have been cultivating rainfed olive trees for generations.

“We are the landowners and we clean up this land and pick the olives that are here every year,” said Ahmed Somrin, whose family owns property in Abu Tor and Silwan.

Emek Shaveh said facilities such as the rope bridge, combined with the cable car, would turn the valley’s biblical landscape into a theme park.

Nurit Malkin contributed to this report.

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