Plans to build a cable car to the Western Wall in Jerusalem passed a major stage in the approval process Monday after the National Infrastructure Committee rejected all remaining objections to the controversial plan.
Opponents fear the project would mar Jerusalem’s Old City and bolster the Jewish presence in the Arab neighborhood of Silwan.
The cable car is being promoted by the Tourism Ministry and the Jerusalem Development Authority. The line would include three stops, the first at the First Station complex at the end of Emek Refaim Street across from Mount Zion.
The plan will now be submitted to the government for approval.
The committee said after the approval that the “plan offers a true solution to the difficult problem of access to the southeast basin of the Old City and will provide an answer to sightseers, residents and tourists,” referring to the area near the Western Wall, City of David and Dung Gate.
The proposed 1.4 kilometer cable car line will begin at the First Station compound, passing over the neighborhoods of Abu Tor and the Valley of Hinnom, then through the Mount Zion parking lot and from there to its last stop, the Kedem visitor center in the Silwan neighborhood. From the Kedem center, visitors will proceed on foot to the Western Wall.
The cable car will be part of the public transportation system and would make the Old City more accessible, its proponents argue, obviating the need for dozens of tourist buses that enter the area each day. The gondolas will be able to fit up to 73 passengers at a time and it is estimated that the cable cars can transport up to 3,000 people each hour.
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The plan has drawn widespread opposition form architects, local residents and environmentalists who criticized the expected damage to the historic landscape of the Old City. In addition, critics say the cable car won’t solve the area’s transportation and access problems.
The committee rebuked such concerns in a statement, calling the project an “upgrading of the physical infrastructure in the area of the Western Wall and improvement of the problematic public transportation.” The statement further insisted that the project does not call for large scale work in the area due to “sensitive and delicate” historical, religious and cultural boundaries.
“The main goal of carrying out the project is to enable the improvement of access to the Old City, and as a result to significantly reduce the insufferable traffic congestion that is routine today, and even more so during holidays,” the committee said, adding that the project is not the only solution to provide relief for the traffic in the area and is only part of an integrated transport system.
A special investigator who examined the objections to the cable cars did take into account the Karaite community’s rejection of the plans regarding the Jerusalem Development Authority’s request to build a roof over the community’s ancient cemetery in the Hinnom Valley.
According to Orthodox Jewish tradition, Jews who are kohanim — descendants of priests — are not permitted to enter cemeteries and it is expected that rabbinical authorities would ban them from using the cable cars if the line passes over an unroofed Karaite burial ground. Instead, a large sign will be placed at the entrance to the cable cars recommending to kohanim who strictly follow the laws of impurity to avoid using the cable cars and find others ways to reach the Western Wall.