Israeli Zoning Board Approves Controversial Western Wall Cable Car

Developers call it a solution to the Old City’s traffic jams, but opponents say the goal is to bolster Israeli control of East Jerusalem neighborhoods

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Simulation of Jerusalem cable car, 2019.
Simulation of Jerusalem cable car, 2019.
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

The National Infrastructure Committee has approved the plan to build a cable car to the Western Wall, a project whose opponents fear would mar Jerusalem’s Old City and bolster the Jewish presence in the Arab neighborhood of Silwan.

The public will now have 60 days to file objections before the project can receive final planning approval.

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.

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From First Station, the line would pass over the Abu Tor neighborhood, where a storage facility for the cable cars would be built. The route would then turn and pass over the Valley of Hinnom, and proceed to the Old City area.

Simulation of Jerusalem cable car, 2019.

The second stop would be on Mount Zion, where a parking lot currently sits. From there the car would follow the Old City wall, ending just outside Dung Gate at the new Kedem visitor center in the City of David.

From there, passengers could walk to the Western Wall, either through Dung Gate or through the restored ancient underground passageway.

The planners say the cable car would help solve the severe traffic problems around the Old City, especially the heavy tour-bus traffic near the Western Wall. Cable cars are a cheap way of moving large numbers of people in an area of many hills, the Jerusalem Development Authority says.

Opponents say the Transportation Ministry is not involved in the project.

They add that the Jerusalem Development Authority has not released the project’s economic feasibility report as a public transportation project. The authority says it makes no sense to publish the financial data at this stage because a bidding process must be held to build and operate the project.

The authority, however, has promised that a cable car ride will cost the same as a bus trip or a ticket on the capital’s light-rail system.

Other objections concern the Old City landscape.

“As far as I know, and I’ve researched the topic, there is no other historical city in the world that allowed a cable car to be built within the visual core of its historical heritage,” Moshe Safdie, a renowned Israeli architect, wrote in an analysis of the project last year.

But the project’s architect, Mendy Rosenfeld, said the damage to the landscape would be minimal. The cable car is lower than the Old City walls, and far enough away that it would not be noticeable, he said.

Also the cable cars would only hold up to 10 people, allowing the support towers to be kept small as well, Rosenfeld said, adding that the structures at the stops would be transparent and without advertising.

Aner Ozeri, who is responsible for the Old City at the Jerusalem Development Authority, said the opponents have no better solutions, adding that the cable car is the only technology that would not damage the natural scenery.

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