The National Infrastructure Committee Announces Route of Train to Western Wall

The plan’s Implementation will be deleterious to dozens of Palestinian families in Silwan, bolster settler-run tourist routes to the City of David, completely destroy archaeological layers around the Western Wall station and damage the Gihon Spring

Yesterday (Monday, February 17, 2020) the National Infrastructure Committee (NIC) announced the train’s route to the Western Wall. The plan was advanced by previous Minister of Transportation Israel Katz, who even declared that “Trump Station” would be established adjacent to the Western Wall plaza (see the map indicating the proposed route).

The Train’s Route

During a discussion conducted last June, representatives of the Ministry of Transportation presented a plan to extend the route of the Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem train to the Western Wall. The section of the plan to extend the route to the city center and the area of the Khan Theatre was approved in June, yet the request to extend the route underground via the Hinnom Valley through to the Western Wall, was rejected by a majority of eight against one representative from the Ministry of Transportation.

During the discussion yesterday (Monday, 17th February), the NIC approved the route, likely due to political pressures on behalf of the Ministry of Transportation and settler organizations who view the train as another means of directly connecting settlements and tourist sites in East Jerusalem with West Jerusalem. The train’s route includes a strip that runs underneath dozens of Palestinian homes in the neighborhood of Wadi Hilweh in Silwan, parallel to the southern wall of the Old City. These are the same residents over whom the cable car is scheduled to be built. Even though both these projects will not be situated on the residential level, it is clear that the ventilation, above-ground infrastructure, and more, will be constructed adjacent to, or even on, Palestinian residents’ territory.

The train to the Western Wall faces two primary obstacles:

  1. Archaeological damage – The entire route is located within a layer of bedrock, such that it will not contain antiquities. Yet the aboveground passage to the station will entail a near certain and complex encounter with archaeological layers.
  2. Damage to the ancient Gihon Spring – The spring is located in Silwan, in the Kidron riverbed, and it is highly likely that the excavation will pollute the water. The Gihon is part of City of David tourism complex and a holy site for Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

During NIC discussions, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority expressed total opposition to the plan and related to the fact that the cable car plan has already been approved, such that the train is unnecessary. In contrast, though there is no doubt that many antiquities will be found during the excavation of the train station (the adjacent Givati parking lot has been excavated for over a decade wherein important findings have been unearthed such as the remains of a Hellenistic citadel, a public structure from the Second Temple period, a Roman villa, a Muslim neighborhood, and more), the Israel Antiquities Authority has not opposed the plan.

Emek Shaveh’s response: Following the approval of the cable car plan to the Western Wall, the National Infrastructure Committee approved the advancement of the train’s route, which will further destroy the Western Wall area. It appears that government ministers are competing to see who will advance the most destructive transportation plan for Jerusalem’s Old City, which will ultimately serve the interests of a handful of settlers, to the detriment of hundreds of residents. The Israel Antiquities Authority, in its professional capacity, ought to prevent harmful development that will result in destruction of Jerusalem’s antiquities.