Cable car will ruin Jerusalem's Old City, conference claims

The planned cable car will run from the First Station complex to a visitor’s center near the Dung Gate by the Western Wall at the entrance to the neighbourhood of Silwan

 An illustration of the planned Jerusalem cable car (photo credit: JERUSALEM DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY)
An illustration of the planned Jerusalem cable car
As Jerusalem pushes one of the most controversial building plans since the chords bridge at the city’s entrance, architects, artists, activists and politicians came together to discuss a planned cable car project that would bring about 3,000 visitors an hour to and from the Old City of Jerusalem.
The conference was organized by the Emek Shaveh organization that works mostly in the Jerusalem area and focuses on human rights and making Jerusalem a more pluralistic city. The European Union and the New Israel Fund sponsored the event.
The planned cable car will run from the First Station complex to a visitor’s center near the Dung Gate by the Western Wall at the entrance to the neighborhood of Silwan. Eventually the cable car will be extended to reach other sites such as the Mount of Olives. The moderator of the conference, Prof. Nurit Lissovsky from the Technion’s Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning, and other speakers at the event expressed the fear that the station, which will be built on top of the Kedem Center, will present a one-sided political perspective of the city’s history and present.
In a press release from 2017, Emek Shaveh stated that the purpose of the Kedem Center is to “Judaize Silwan and prevent a political solution for Jerusalem.” Silwan is also the location of the City of David archeological site.
Despite the political opening statements, the conference itself was largely apolitical. Most of the speakers focused on the aesthetic, historical and spiritual issues with the project, with only occasional references to the political issues surrounding the project and the Emek Shaveh conference itself.
Lissovsky stressed that while developers of the cable car system have used comparisons to other cities around the world, they fail to realize that Jerusalem is not just another city.
Architect Rivka Gutman from the Israel Association of United Architects and other speakers brought up the central idea of Jerusalem as a place of “aliyah la’regel” (a spiritual and physical idea of ascending, usually to a holy place). The idea that the cable car would cause people to, in a way, come down – descend – to the Old City, troubled many of the speakers. The speakers did not mention that most of the Old City and the city west of the Old City is higher up than the area surrounding the Temple Mount. The only place where people actually go up to the Old City is either from the direction of Silwan or the Mount of Olives.
Some of the speakers focused on the complex nature of the city that requires the cooperation of the many different cultures and people located within Jerusalem and how the city must always be sanctified, treated as separate and different from average places. Gutman and Prof. Michael Turner, the UNESCO Chair in Urban Design and Conservation, stressed that Jerusalem has a base structure and character that must be the basis of all further development and that change cannot simply be forced upon the city. Turner focused on Hinnom Valley: the necropolis located in the valley, the water systems, the area of the historic city and the open areas within it. He also pointed out that the journey to the Old City is just as important as the arrival itself.
Prof. David Cassuto, a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem who is against the cable car project, and Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, a current deputy mayor of Jerusalem who supports the project, both spoke out against the fact that the EU and New Israel Fund are financing the event. Cassuto stressed that he would not have participated had he known this beforehand and that only an Israeli entity has the right to “state support or opposition for a project that is Israeli at its foundation.”
Nahoum, who was shouted down multiple times, claimed that Emek Shaveh models of the cable car project are exaggerated and that the project will be much less noticeable than has been portrayed. Lissovsky later stressed that models serve whoever is presenting them and that the municipality’s models are misleading and Gutman added that discussing technical details is irrelevant since no technical details will be final until a company is chosen to develop the project.
Cassuto said that part of the Jewish character of Jerusalem is the need to “conquer through physical effort that expresses the will and drive for this conquest to get to the holiness of the city.” The deputy mayor used the term “kibush” to describe conquest, a term that is often used to mean “occupation” in modern Hebrew. The cable car would remove the physical effort and going up involved in the classic, spiritual idea of the city, according to Cassuto.
Attorney Sami Ershied, a human rights activist, was the only speaker who spoke at length from a non-Jewish perspective, addressing the fact that the cable cars will pass over Silwan, a largely Arab neighborhood. Ershied stated that, to him, that reflects the approach of the Israeli government towards the Palestinians: transparent cars passing over transparent people.
Ershied stressed that residents of east Jerusalem whom he represents almost always refer to Jerusalem within the reference of “occupation,” and pointed out that the cable car will bring people to and from the Western Wall, Dung Gate and City of David, not Silwan or the other Arab neighborhoods it will pass over.
A few of the speakers mentioned the feeling that the project was forced upon the public against their will and is being implemented by using loopholes in the law to get away with plans that wouldn’t normally be approved.
Some speakers pointed to the fact that the city asked the Karaite community of Jerusalem to move their ancient burial grounds for the sake of the cable car, as showing that the city is forcing the project at the cost of the public and the character of the city.
Similar feelings of being helpless before the will of the municipality have been expressed by the residents of Har Nof who have fought against attempts to change the name of the neighborhood and residents throughout the city about multiple transportation projects, including extensions of the light rail.
The conference, in general, largely avoided discussing the practical aspects of the cable car system, focusing instead on the impact on the city’s character and natural layout, an argument similar to the one posed when the city began building the Harp Bridge located at the entrance to Jerusalem. Nahoum, meanwhile, focused more on practical aspects and largely avoided discussing the impact the project would have on the character of the city. The project was approved by the housing cabinet in November.