With court to debate controversial Jerusalem cable car, ministry voices opposition

Transportation Ministry says harm from controversial project will outweigh any benefits

The planned cable car to Jerusalem's Old City. (Screenshot/Emek Shaveh)
The planned cable car to Jerusalem's Old City. (Screenshot/Emek Shaveh)

The High Court of Justice will convene on Sunday to consider petitions against the controversial construction of a cable car in Jerusalem that would ferry passengers into the Old City.

Ahead of the session, the Transportation Ministry said it opposed the plan. In a statement Friday, the ministry led by Labor’s Merav Michaeli said: “Our position is that the cable car has no significant transportation role, and the harm [it causes] will exceed the benefits.” It noted the “great sensitivity to the harm the project will cause to the landscape.”

Building the cable car will require the construction of huge pylons along the route, with critics warning it will irreversibly alter the city’s unique, historically significant skyline.

The Jerusalem Municipality backs the project, asserting it will alleviate road blockages in the area and will be a draw for tourists.

The project was greenlit by a previous Likud-led government in 2018. Preliminary excavation works began in April of this year, despite the court still considering the petitions.

The cable car, for which the government has already budgeted NIS 200 million ($55.2 million), is planned to stretch from the First Station cultural complex in the south of the city to the Old City’s Dung Gate, which is the closest entrance to the Western Wall, Judaism’s most venerated prayer site. Mount Zion will host the only station along the way. A maintenance depot is to be built in the neighborhood of Abu Tor.

The project’s backers insist that this will be a tourist attraction and will help relieve traffic gridlock caused mainly by tour buses.

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)

But the plan’s critics say the cable car will turn Jerusalem’s most precious historic vistas into a theme park. An analysis of traffic data released in July of last year appears to undermine the other major claim made for the cable car — that it will relieve traffic congestion along the Old City walls. The analysis suggests that an increase in shuttles would be a better, faster, and cheaper way of ferrying tourists from southern Jerusalem to the Dung Gate.

In a last-ditch attempt to stop the project, opponents petitioned the High Court. The court responded by ordering the government and all the other bodies involved to detail the “factual basis” on which the cable car meets the wording of the planning law — whether it really will “serve as a tourist attraction” and “make a real contribution to tourism in the area.”

Sue Surkes contributed to this report.

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