Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli announced on Friday her opposition to a cable car project to the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City, saying it would cause more harm than good.
The High Court of Justice is set to hold a final hearing on petitions against the controversial project on Sunday. Michaeli's objection could endanger the whole project, as its orchestrators in the Tourism Ministry and the Jerusalem Development Authority, defined it as a transportation project and not a tourist attraction.
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The cable car plan has drawn widespread opposition from architects, local Palestinian residents and environmentalists who criticized the expected damage to the historic landscape of the Old City. Furthermore, the Karaite community has rejected the Jerusalem Development Authority’s request to build the cable's roof over the community’s ancient cemetery in the Hinnom Valley.
Responding to a query by Kahol Lavan lawmaker Alon Tal on the subject on Friday, Michali said that the project would have no significant transportation role and that "the damages will outweigh the benefits." She added that those implementing the plan should consider "the scenic damage the project will cause in the Old City and in our heritage sites, as well as the political and security ramifications of promoting such a project."
The controversial plan was approved by the government in 2019. The cable car is meant to hang over a 1.4-kilometer stretch with three stations along the way. The final stop would be the Kedem visitor center in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. The center is being built by the right-wing NGO Elad, which works to settle Jews in Silwan and runs tourist and excavation sites in the neighborhood. From the Kedem center, visitors would proceed on foot to the Western Wall.
The project has been promoted by the Jerusalem Development Authority and Tourism Ministry as part of a national infrastructure plan. According to those objecting to the plan, the project was advanced by the National Infrastructure Committee and not by the District Planning Committee in order to more easily fend off objections to the plan.
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Several petitions have been filed against the project. One of the arguments made by the petitioners is that the cable car is not actually a transportation project meant to solve accessibility issues around the Old City, as presented by backers, but rather a tourist attraction. The fact that the Transportation Ministry had no involvement in the project proves their claim, the petitioners say. However, while the ministry did not take any part in the project, it had not voiced any objection until now.
In a hearing held earlier in the year, justices addressed this claim and told the state to explain why it was approved by the infrastructure committee rather than through the usual planning approval process. As such, Michaeli's objection could carry weight in the upcoming hearing on Sunday.