Karaites Join Petitions Against Planned Western Wall Cable Car

Jewish community says project will pass over and thus desecrate its graves, rejects Jerusalem’s and state’s offer to pay to relocate the graves

Nir Hasson
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Illustration of the cable car crossing over the Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
Illustration of the cable car crossing over the Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
Nir Hasson

The Jerusalem Development Authority and the National Infrastructure Committee has offered to pay the Jewish Karaite community to move its graves so construction of the cable car to the Western Wall, which passes over them, can proceed.

The Karaites have rejected the offer and intend to petition the Supreme Court against the cable car plan.

This will be the third petition filed against the proposed project. The first one was submitted by the Emek Shaveh NGO of archaeologists. On Tuesday,the Israel Union for Environmental Defense also filed a petition against the construction of the cable car.

The plan to build a cable car to the Western Wall area was approved by the housing cabinet last month. It is expected to stretch from the First Station outdoor mall area, near Liberty Bell Garden, to the City of David National Park, not far from Dung Gate and the Western Wall.

Between these two stations there will be one more station, near the parking lot on Mount Zion. According to the Ministry of Tourism, the cable car will serve as the most significant conveyor of people in Jerusalem’s Old City basin. Construction of the cable car system was approved despite the objection of architects, archeologists and conservationists, who are concerned about destroying the look of the Old City.

One of the objections that was dismissed by planners was raised by the Jewish Karaite community, since the car cable would pass over its old cemetery. They claim that this would be a desecration of the graveyard, and would never have been considered if this were a mainstream rabbinical cemetery.

The original plan called for the construction of a roof over the cemetery so that kohanim (traditionally seen as descendants of the Temple priests) who use the cable car could do so without coming into contact with the dead, something they are prohibited from doing. In light of the community’s objections, this plan was shelved, and the roof will be replaced by signs warning kohanim against using the cable car.

The Infrastructure Committee proposed to the Jerusalem Development Authority, which is pushing to get things started, to keep negotiating with the Karaite community to find a resolution that would allow the project to move forward. In a letter sent by Yael Adoram, the committee’s lawyer, to attorney Ram Golan, the Karaite community’s legal adviser, she stated that the decision to forego the roof “showed a preference for the community’s interests over the interests of a large number of kohanim who will not be able to use the cable car system.”

After complaining about the lack of cooperation by the Karaites, Adoram writes that the Development Authority agreed to excavate and move graves from one of the plots in the cemetery, in order to clear a path for the overhead cable car. The Karaite community vehemently reject Adoram’s letter and will turn to the High Court of Justice for a ruling.

As noted, the Israel Union for Environmental Defense also filed a petition against the cable car, claiming that the National Infrastructure Committee is not the body authorized to discuss plans such as this one. “The plaintiff argues that this is not transportation infrastructure on a national scale, as defined by the law that regulates planning and construction” says the petition, which was filed by attorney Tal Granot.

One of the main arguments against the plan is that it is not a transportation project in any case, only a tourist attraction. Proof of this is that the Ministry of Transportation was not involved in any stage of the planning.

Granot also argues that an interim government is not authorized to take such an important decision regarding such a sensitive topic in terms of landscape, politics, history and religion. “No urgent or exceptional need in terms of transportation or tourism was proven, one which would require moving forward with this plan. This is certainly not a decision to be made by an interim government which has no majority in the Knesset. This is not like the approval of a housing plan which could be construed as an urgent matter. The fact that this is an exceptional plan, unique in the world, as well as the sensitivity and uniqueness of the affected area, makes the approval of such a plan something that exceeds routine business by the [transitional] government” says the petition.

The Jerusalem Development Authority said in response to this story that “as part of the process of including the public and hearing objections, several meetings were held with the Karaite community. Several options were presented, but all of these were rejected. Regrettably, representatives of this community leave no opening for dialogue – we hope that this changes soon, with some agreement reached.” The Infrastructure Committee declined to respond to this story.

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