Alert: High Court Green Lights Jerusalem Cable Car Plan Condemning Historic City to Irreversible Damage

This morning, Sunday, May 15th, the High Court of Justice ruled that the plan to build a cable car in Jerusalem’s historic core can go ahead thus bringing to an end a three-year legal battle over one of the most controversial projects that has ever seen the light of day.

The plan was approved despite original reservations by the court in reference to the highly irregular planning process and to the hundreds of objections by architects and planners from Israel and abroad who have criticized the plan as extremely destructive to the historic city and its multicultural character. In its decision the court has proved once again that it is a political actor and that it is willing to ignore the importance of due process and the public interest to approve a plan that will cause irreversible damage to one of the most sensitive sites in the world and a unique World Heritage Site.

The cable car serves only one interest group: the Jewish settlers of East Jerusalem. The cable car will create a whole new route for tourists visiting the ancient city. Instead of entering the city via Jaffa Gate and the Muslim and Christian Quarters tourists will now be funneled through the settler-controlled City of David Site in Silwan.

The cable car plan was approved by the Israeli government in 2018 and drew strong public opposition from the outset. According to the plan, the cable car will be suspended from cables held by 15 massive eight-story-high columns along its route, which will spoil the historic landscapes of the Old City Basin. The cable car will travel from the First Station complex to Mount Zion, passing over the Valley of Hinnom. This historic valley has never undergone modern development and a cable car would destroy the timeless landscape. From Mount Zion, the cable car will continue along the Old City walls to the Kedem Compound, a large visitor’s center which the Elad Foundation plans to build across the street from Dung Gate, and is also predicted to compromise the view. The controversial plan was promoted by the Ministry of Tourism which advanced it through the National Infrastructure Committee (NIC), a process which precludes public objection, in contrast to standard planning procedures.

A group of organizations opposing the cable car formed the “Coalition for the Preservation of the Historic Basin”. The coalition includes professional organizations from all relevant fields, including environmental organizations (the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Adam Teva V’Din); the Israel Association of Architects and Urban Planners; the Israel Association of Landscape Architects; the Israel tour guides organization, Moreshet Derech; the Public Transportation Alliance, 15 Minutes; Karaite Judaism; the Arab Center for Alternative Planning; and the heritage rights organization, Emek Shaveh.

Approximately 70 intellectuals, academics, archaeologists, and architects signed a public statement against the plan, and 35 of the world’s leading architects had sent a letter to the Israeli government calling to halt the project that will dramatically harm the Old City Basin, which constitutes a heritage asset for all of humanity.

In February 2021, the High Court issued an Order Nisi for the cable car project and demanded that the state provide an answer as to why the plan was advanced through the NIC as opposed to standard planning procedures.

Emek Shaveh: 
We had hoped that the HCJ would also see the failures that we have noted all along, and will save Jerusalem from a cable car over the Valley of Hinnom and along the Old City walls.

In its decision the court has proved today that the real masters of Jerusalem are the settlers who want to displace the Palestinians and create a whole new historic identity for Jerusalem which imposes an exclusive Jewish narrative and marginalizes Christian and Muslim symbolic assets in the holy city.

Israel’s intentions are now laid bare: On the one hand the State seeks to expand the Jerusalem Walls National Park to the Mount of Olives claiming the need for historic preservation. On the other hand, the State is promoting development projects which will cause irreversible damage to the ancient city’s skyline preserved for millennia. This is a blow not only to residents of Jerusalem but to people all over the world who hold Jerusalem as a multicultural, multifaith historic city dear.

Emek Shaveh is determined to continue the fight against this insidious plan in the public arena.