An Archaeologist's Nightmare: NGO Petitions High Court Against Jerusalem Cable Car Plan

Emek Shaveh challenges transition government's jurisdiction to decide such a monumental and expensive project

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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The cable car in the area of Mount Zion, Jerusalem as simulated by observation surveys.
The cable car in the area of Mount Zion, Jerusalem as simulated by observation surveys.Credit: From the Treasury website
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Archaeologists, architects and scholars have filed a High Court petition against the plan to build a cable car line to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, contesting the authority of the nation’s interim government to decide on carrying out such a significant project. The petition also alleges that planning bodies have not seen realistic simulations of how the cable car line will look against the backdrop of the Old City.

Three weeks ago the ministerial committee on housing approved the blueprint for the cable car, planned to connect the Jerusalem train station at the end of Emek Rephaim Street, with Mount Zion and the City of David National Park, not far from the Dung Gate and the Western Wall. The project was approved by the National Infrastructure Committee over the objections of archaeologists, architects and conservation activists, who fear the cable car line will damage the historic landscape.

The petition was filed by the NGO Emek Shaveh, and joined by Israel Prize laureates, archaeologists Prof. Amihai Mazar, Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor, and Prof. Benjamin Kedar, a former head of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and many other academic figures and architects.

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The petition, written by attorney Itay Mak, argues that a government in transition must “act with proper restraint” when it comes to steps that are “not essential in the period of transition, especially actions that involve significant budgetary outlays.”

According to the petition, the results of the two past elections show that the government has lost the confidence of the people and it would be improper to force a controversial project at a cost of hundreds of millions of shekels on the next government at a time when it will have to grapple with making budget cuts across the board.

The petition also questions the planners’ failure to involve the transportation ministry in a project, which developers, the Jerusalem municipality and tourism ministry say would resolve traffic problems in the Old City. “This is as if the tourism ministry decided to build a hospital for medical tourism without involving the health ministry in the planning,” Mak wrote.

A third reason to deny approval of the project are lingering questions about what impact and damage the cable car could do to the areas’s landscape.

According to the plan, “huge pylons will be installed with massive cables running between them along which dozens of cable cars will move every hour” – citing the figure of 72 cable cars per hour and as many as 41 cars simultaneously, the petition said.

The simulations of the cable car line are “completely misleading,” and “do not show the dozens of cars in constant movement, which will dramatically increase their visibility and impact on the ancient and historic scenery…and will create the atmosphere of an amusement park,” the petition said.