Jerusalem cable car could damage ancient Karaite cemetery - report

Proponents say it will help tourists get to the Old City, but the Karaites join environmentalists, archaeologists and watch-dog groups in petitioning against the cable car project.

March 10, 2019 12:44
2 minute read.
Hinnom Valley

A view of Jerusalem's Valley of Hinnom with Hebron Road in the foreground and Mount Zion in the background taken from near the First Station complex. (photo credit: BEN BRESKY)


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Some say it will be an eyesore. Others say it will create a traffic nightmare. But the latest voice in opposition to the proposed Jerusalem cable car is the Karaite Jewish community.

Famous for their rejection of Judaism's Oral Law in deference to strict adherence to their own interpretation of Torah, the Karaites say their 2,000-year-old cemetery will be damaged if the cable car to the Old City gets built.
The project hopes to allow pedestrians to be ferried from the First Station complex at the edge of busy Hebron Road across the Hinnom valley to Mount Zion. The proposed route would create another alternative to walk down and up the hill past the Sultan's Pool. Buses, taxis and private vehicles are a current option, but rush hour traffic can make the commute tedious.

"It will not be possible to build the cable car line without causing critical harm to the Jewish-Karaite faith, the grounds of the cemetery and bereaved families of the dead from the past and future," stated Shlomo Gaver, director of the Universal Karaite Judaism, in a letter to the Jerusalem Development Authority. "It is impossible to move the cemetery that has been used to bury Karaites since the ninth century and we will not agree to have it pass over our land. There will be no choice but to divert the cable car line to another route." The cemetery is still in use today.

Making matters more complicated, according to Jewish law, a kohen is not allowed to enter a cemetery, except for immediate relatives. The number of cemeteries, both contemporary and ancient in the area, poses a problem for any kohen wishing to use the proposed cable car. Modern cemeteries in Israel have special sections outside the cemetery grounds to allow a kohen to attend funeral services.

The JDA proposed building a roof over the cemetery as a compromise, something the Karaite community flatly rejected as contrary to religious practice. "No one would dream of building a cable car over the Har Hamenuchot Cemetery or any other cemetery,” he said as quoted by Haaretz in an article on the controversy.

Last Monday, a meeting was held at the Ginot HaIr community center, where opponents of the plan met to present counter argument to the Jerusalem Development Authority, the governmental body that initiated the cable car project
Yossi Saidov of the "15 Minutes" public transportation group argued at the meeting that residents of nearby neighborhoods will suffer due to the project, especially in the event of the planned light rail extension. He made the comments during the meeting as reported by Kol HaIr, a local Jerusalem newspaper. 

Archaeologists and environmentalists have also opposed the $55 million cable car project.

"The problem with the cable car is that they are presenting it as a transportation project, and in reality it is a tourist project," said Prof. Ronnie Ellenblum, professor of Historical Geography and Environmental History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The cable car will harm the lush green landscape of Hinnom Valley, mentioned in the Bible and filled with antiquities, he said during the meeting according to Kol HaIr. "The Ministry of Transportation is not involved in this project, so this is just an attraction," he argued. 
Avi Yefet, a member of the Karaite community told the Associated Press, "they’re coming and trampling an entire community of 40,000 people and erasing them."

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