Photo: Sebastian Scheiner, AP
JERUSALEM (AP) – The Israeli plan to build a cableway into the historic Old City of Jerusalem has united architects and Palestinian activists in opposition to a project they say is nonsense and corroboration to confirm Israeli control over the city's disputed eastern sector.
Programmers say the proposed project is designed to ease transport traffic and transport about 3,000 tourists per hour from the western sector directly to the Old City, in eastern Jerusalem. This is followed by a series of Israeli projects in the inflammating city that aroused the Palestinians.
The further complication of the issue is the linking of the project with the Elad Foundation, a group that has settled Jewish nationalists into the heart of the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. The final cableway will be integrated into the future tourist center run by this organization.
"The cableway will send unforgettable tourists flying over the heads of the Palestinians and flying them into the middle of occupied East Jerusalem, an eye storm, … the center of an Israeli-Palestinian conflict," said Betti Herschman of Ir Amim, a advocacy group promoting equality in the city. "This cableway sets new ground on the ground that undermines every possibility of the peace process."
Israel captured eastern Jerusalem, along with the city's limestone old town, in the Middle East war of 1967, and later annexed a move that was never recognized internationally. Palestinians claim that the eastern sector is the capital of the future, while Israel considers the entire city as its eternal, indivisible capital. Conflicting claims about East Jerusalem lay in the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and often spilled over with violence.
In the past few years, Israel has implemented a series of initiatives, which have been portrayed as development projects that have angered the Palestinians. Israel built a light railroad track through both parts of the city, rising to the Old City and shifting predominantly Arab settlements. The train is popular with the Arabs and the Jews, but it is the goal of the Palestinian rebels when tensions are rising.
Another proposed plan involves digging a railway tunnel beneath the Old City of Jerusalem, passing near the location of the holy Jews, Christians and Muslims. The proposed line would end up on the west wall, with a station named after President Donald Trump, who was greeted in Israel because he recognized Jerusalem as its capital city.
Outside the political opposition, the cable car faced protests from urban planners and architects.
"This project is outrageous, insulting our historical horizon," said Moshe Safdie, a renowned architect who filed a petition against the plan along with 70 Israeli figures from architecture, archeology and academia. "This Disneyland will be a sacred place. Imagine a huge lane that flying over the Vatican and throwing tourists in front of St. Peter, which is unprecedented."
No picture shows Jerusalem as a postcard of its Old Town – with its high walls, a western wall, and a bright dome of stone.
The cableway could run 1,400 meters (almost one mile), launching from the First Station, a popular food and cultural center in western Jerusalem, which sails across the ancient valley of the city, stopping on Mount Zion, a hill in front of the Old City, and passing through the Palestinian neighborhood Silvan before going to the tourist center.
Aber Zaiiad, a Palestinian resident of Silvan and director of the Women's Community Center, said he was afraid that a cableway flying over would jeopardize the privacy of tenants and that its construction could damage homes and local cemeteries.
"Our tombs will probably be damaged, not to mention our lives," she said. "And of course, they will still try to make Jerusalem the only Jewish city."
The destination of the cableway at the tourist center has raised concerns over the potential of the project to serve the interests of the settlers by promoting the exclusive Jewish narrative of the city of Elada.
"We believe this is an attempt to change the character of the city and its character … its culture and identity," said Adnan Husseini, the Palestinian Minister for Issues from Jerusalem.
The Israeli Ministry of Tourism denies any political motivation. It is said that the cableway represents an environmentally friendly solution for the crisis of congestion, accessibility and parking during the record tourist visits. The Old Town is the Israeli tourist destination number 1.
The Israeli National Infrastructure Board, which quickly monitors transport projects of national importance, approved the project. A construction permit should take place after a 60-day public review – a step that developers believe will be a formality.
In May, Israel allocated around $ 55 million for the project, and without major complications, cars should cross the valley by 2021, the Ministry of Tourism announced.
Amir Halevi, Director General of the Ministry, said he was sympathetic to the concerns about the sensitivity of the site, but claimed that rapidly growing rates of tourism require a dramatic response.
"There is always a question of how to balance development and conservation," he said. "But you can not stop the development."
Halevi added that the Ministry carefully mapped the line of lifts to "reduce" the evacuation and demolition of buildings.
He pointed out that the cable car would not enter the Old Town or cross its walls, but would only stop outside. "We are doing this to prevent the need for the construction of invasive things," he said.
Urban planning experts disagree that cable cars, which hold 10 people on the road, will solve urban traffic problems.
Salmah Milson Arad, director of the Jerusalem chapter of the Association of Architects and Urbanists, estimated that cable cars would ease only about 30 percent of the bus.
Other critics have questioned whether a massive venture would even appeal to customers.
"The Israelis are coming to the Western Wall in their cars, an ultra-Orthodox walk, the Arabs will not use it, and it's hard to imagine the tourists in massive buses heading for the first stop," said Giora Solar, an architect and former director of the Israeli Conservation Agency antiques. "So who will benefit?"