A city-wide project is underway to develop a cable car that will run from the Abu Tor neighborhood in Jerusalem to the Old City, with two stops along the way. Now architects, environmental activists and left wing NGOs are raising objections.
The tram would start near the Khan Theater and stop at Mount Zion and the Kedem Center by the Dung Gate. Two additional stops – one at the Gethsemane Garden and the other at the Mount of Olives – would be implemented at a later stage. As such, it will cover the whole historical and religious basin of the Old City – Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites.
The project is listed as a tourist plan, not a transportation plan, and is heavily backed by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin – who decided to give precedence to this project over others, defining it as a “national priority.” It was approved by the National Infrastructure Committee in October.
But representatives of Emek Shaveh – a left-wing NGO that focuses on defending cultural heritage rights and protecting ancient sites as public assets – said they were concerned. Emek’s founder and executive director, archeologist Yonathan Mizrahi, is working on several fronts to try to prevent the implementation of the cable car – or at least delay it until further clarification.
“This project will have economic, cultural and political implications for the Old City and the Historic Basin,” said Mizrahi. “The cable car will have detrimental effects on the residents, on preservation values and on Jerusalem’s multicultural character.”
During a guided tour for foreign press this week, Mizrahi showed the different points where the planned cable car is scheduled to run, and showed the harm he expects that the project will cause to the Jerusalem skyline close to the Old City and to several civil and religious sites.
Mizrahi explained that the cable car is slated to run 72 cars an hour and transport about 3,000 people. Yet, despite its scope, he said, “the project hasn’t been tested so far in the country.”
Mizrahi explained that its route to Mount Zion will cross the Ben-Hinnom Valley, with a section of the route running parallel to the southern wall of the Old City. Many support pillars will stand between the stations, causing unprecedented harm to the landscape of the Old City and the valley.
He said that conservation experts, architects and much of the general public are opposed to what they call the “Disneyfication” of the Historic Basin. So far, the government has not been willing to budge.
Asked if the NGO is focusing on the architectural and environmental aspect only or also on the political side, Mizrahi said that “since the focus on the environmental harm hasn’t so far changed a thing, perhaps it is time [to focus on] the political side.”
From a political perspective, Mizrahi said the cable car will shift tourists from entering the Old City and walking through the Arab marketplace to entering through the City of David/Kedem sites, which belong to the Elad Association, a right-wing Jewish organization. This will lead tourists who take the car to focus mainly on Jewish sites.
Levin responded to the complaints by noting that “the cable car will change the look of Jerusalem and will enable easy and comfortable access for tourists and visitors to the Kotel [the Western Wall].
“I praise this new step in the implementation of this important project.”