Israel is getting ready to start work on a £44 million cable car to take people from West Jerusalem to the Kotel. But there is disagreement over whether the project is a smart exercise in accessibility or a diplomatic disaster in the making.
The cable car will open in 2021, and run from the First Station in West Jerusalem via the Mount of Olives to the Dung Gate, which is less than five minutes’ walk to the Western Wall. It is designed to serve around 3,000 visitors an hour in each direction.
“The future cable car will change the face of Jerusalem, allow easy and convenient access for tourists and visitors to the Western Wall and serve as an exceptional tourist attraction,” said Israel’s Tourism Minister Yariv Levin.
He was speaking at a cabinet meeting held in the Kotel tunnels to mark the jubilee of Jerusalem’s reunification. “There is no more appropriate and exciting time than this, 50 years since the reunification of Jerusalem, to launch this revolutionary project,” Mr Levin said.
On a practical level, he expects it to ease traffic and particularly benefit tourists who have difficulties with mobility.
But Ir Amim, an Israeli organisation that critiques planning policies in Jerusalem, has claimed that the cable car would create “an amusement park feel” and represented the “Disneyfication of East Jerusalem”.
The organisation’s spokeswoman, Betty Herschman, complained in an interview that the plan was “disrespectful” to Palestinians as it will pass over their neighbourhoods despite their objections. It also increases the amount of Israeli infrastructure in areas of Jerusalem gained in 1967, further complicating any future attempt to divide the city in a peace deal, she argued. The cable car “undermines any prospects of a peace process by putting new facts on the ground,” Ms Herschman said.
She also claimed that the cable car would create a new tourist route consisting of a “constellation of settler-run tourism projects,” chief among them the controversial City of David. “The cable car is not just providing access but also normalising settler tourism,” Ms Herschman said.
Yonathan Mizrachi, head of the left-wing archeologists’ alliance Emek Shaveh, is concerned about the aesthetics of the project. “There is a gap between a small cable car, which is sometimes narrow and won’t disturb to view, and the reality of this which will involve pillars, stations and other infrastructure,” he said.
The Tourism Ministry did not respond to a request for comments but its planners are known to believe that the blueprints respect the aesthetics of the Old City.
The ministry takes the view that the benefits of the project are overwhelming and said in a statement it “will offer a solution to problems related to the inaccessibility of the Western Wall”. The ministry elaborated: “Access is currently via narrow, winding and very crowded routes. The cable car will provide easy, quick and convenient access to the approximately 130,000 tourists and visitors who converge on the site every week.”