The cable car project promoted by the Tourism Ministry seems to be on the ropes.
Envisioned as a solution to ease the traffic of tourists and pilgrims to the Old City, the project was – surprisingly – presented initially by the Tourism Ministry under Yariv Levin (Likud), today speaker of the Knesset, and not by the Transportation Ministry. The NIS 215 million budget has been approved by the local planning and construction committee and led by the Jerusalem Development Authority.
Opposition to the project has come from the Israel Association of United Architects; Council for the Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel; Moreshet Derech Tour Guides Union; 15 Minutes Public Transportation Alliance; Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights; and Emek Shaveh, an Israeli NGO working to prevent the politicization of archaeology in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A public statement against the plan was published by 70 architects, archaeologists, historians and intellectuals – among them, four Israel Prize recipients. Additionally, a letter signed in July by 35 leading architects around the world calls on the government to halt the plan, which they feel would be destructive to the historic city. This past week 3,000 Israelis added their signatures to a petition against the project.
Nevertheless, all indications were that the government was going to proceed with the project. Then, in addition to all of the above objections, the international Karaite community announced vehement opposition to the cable car line’s projected use of the premises of their ancient graveyard.
ON JULY 20, the High Court of Justice asked the state to explain why the cable car was approved by the National Infrastructure Committee as a tourism scheme despite being presented as a transportation issue. Following the High Court question, 75 architects and academics sent a letter to Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir, requesting that he take the opportunity granted to him by the High Court to cancel the plan.
Meanwhile, the municipality started the process of expropriation of more than 10,000 square meters of private land in the Silwan neighborhood, and a session of the local planning and construction committee was scheduled for September 9 to approve the expropriations. But the project suddenly attracted the attention of the haredim, probably because they discovered that the cable car line would run above a graveyard, preventing kohanim from using it. City councilman Yohanan Waitzman (United Torah) began to ask questions and planning and construction committee head Eliezer Rauchberger (also United Torah), on whose agenda the project issue was listed, agreed to remove the item from the last meeting.
Deputy Mayor Itzhak Cohen (Shas) angrily asked how a project that would exclude kohanim was promoted by a municipality in which council haredim are members, without consulting the Shas Council of Sages.
Officially, the issue was removed from the agenda on the premise that confiscations cannot be approved prior to the High Court decision. But with a clear majority for the ultra-Orthodox parties in the committee, it seems that more is involved than just implementing legal procedures.
“The prime minister and this government should not disregard our religious needs,” said a source close to the Shas city council list.
While Mayor Moshe Lion has been supportive of the project thus far, he cannot disregard the harsh reaction of the haredi city council members, even though a cancellation of the project will anger the Ir David – Elad association.
With the tourism industry reeling from the biggest crisis it has ever known and the ministry unable explain to the court how the cable car will bolster tourism, maybe the best thing to do is to quietly deep-six this project.