JERUSALEM (VosIzNeias) — Israel’s Housing Cabinet approved Monday a controversial 1.4 km.-long cable car project which will enable visitors to access the Western Wall without suffering the present traffic congestion. The 220-million NIS project will include 73 cable cars with the capacity to transport 3,000 people in both directions from the First Station in Emek Refaim over the Ben Hinnom Valley and via Mount Zion until the Givati parking lot adjacent to Dung Gate near the Western Wall.
The attempt to improve access to the Old City has been met with significant opposition from both political and naturist elements. The Old City is one of the flash-points for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and any building project is almost routinely condemned by the international community and the Palestinians. However NGO Emek Shaveh, which works to preserve cultural heritage, has opposed the project on environmental concerns as well. Its CEO, Jonathan Mizrahi, said that the group plans to appeal the decision to the High Court of Justice, noting that a project of this importance should not be approved by a transitional government.
“The appeal to the High Court is intended to prevent the destructive impact that a cable car will have on the Old City landscape and on the fragile political situation in Jerusalem,” Emek Shaveh said in a statement.
“The government has not been able to approve budgets for the disabled and for health, yet it manages to approve a budget of NIS 220 million for a tourism venture,” the NGO added. “This indeed summarizes the priorities of the outgoing government.”
However the NGO did not provide any alternatives for solving the congestion in the Old City basin, which draws an average 135,000 visitors a week. During festivals this number soars close to a million and with only three narrow access roads the congestion is overwhelming.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon explained that the project goes far beyond transportation and tourism: “The Western Wall is not currently accessible enough to the public at large For 2,000 years we waited for the Western Wall and it shouldn’t be that crowding and congestion will prevent people from reaching the Western Wall to pray, stroll around and take part in military and national ceremonies. The cable car will make the Western Wall accessible to the masses who currently want to come there but simply can’t. We are talking about a national project that transcends transport infrastructure and tourism and is a social project that will make the Western Wall accessible to everybody who wants to go there.”
Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin added that, “This is a strategic project to promote tourism in the Old City. Step by step, we are transforming a vision into a new reality.”