In a surprising new move, a one kilometer zip line and cable car have been approved in Jerusalem to take tourists over the historical Old City, causing outrage in some circles.
The ambitious urban redevelopment project, sanctioned by local and government officials along with wealthy private settler institutions like the City of David Foundation , is threatening to disturb the fragile peace in Palestinian East Jerusalem and the city’s western Jewish flank.
The project sanctioned during the regime of Benjamin Netanyahu had not only been flagged as a potential melting point in the Israeli occupation of Palestine, but also as a serious budgetary and environmental concern. The project includes the long zip line, a pedestrian suspension bridge, and a cable car, reports The Art Newspaper . They also want to add a sound and light show to the fray, in what critics have termed ‘Disneyfication’, though this is yet to receive administrative approval.
Local Israelis and history enthusiasts find the entire project extremely intrusive, stating that the planned redevelopment would cause irreversible damage to the distinctive architecture of this part of the historic place, known colloquially and historically as the ‘Old City’.
Temple Mount panoramic view in the old city of Jerusalem at sunset, including the Western Wall and golden Dome of the Rock. ( lucky-photo / Adobe Stock)
The Zip Line: Vested Interests and Historical Blasphemy
The zip line is slated to begin from a ridge overlooking the Old City, all the way into the Peace Forest. This ridge lies in a tricky zone between Israeli Western Jerusalem and Palestinian Eastern Jerusalem. The forest itself is part of the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, which has long been on the radar of City of David, and thereby, Elad, who now run an allegedly flagship archaeological project there.
The Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan. ( Miroslav110 / Adobe Stock)
National Post reports that the narrow walls that fall below the zip line area contain a population of 40,000 people in a hilltop enclave. While the Old City lies on one end, the Hinnom Valley lies on the other. The Hinnom Valley is a beautifully preserved green space, with ancient sacrifices and burials that date to prehistoric times. A lot of these burials are also claimed by the local Palestinians as part of their identity and heritage.
The Cable Car Project: An Environmental Hazard
The plan to construct a cable car to the Western Wall, a significant Jewish holy site, has also caused a great deal of backlash. In an interview with New York Times in 2019, globally renowned Israeli architect Moshe Safdie expressed his dismay. Safdie has previously worked on several projects in the Old City, and called the cable car project “an aesthetic and architectural affront… flashy, vulgar and aggressive.” The Western Wall, according to him, expressed the humility and purity of Jewish values.
There are other issues with this commodification of the Western Wall – a singular destination presents a one-sided Jewish narrative. Within the limestone walls of the Old City are some of the world’s most revered sites of Muslim and Christian worship, not just Judaism – this leads to this area being called the “holy basin”. Even Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli admitted in December 2021 that “the damage will outweigh the benefits”, a rare statement from a public official.
Despite all of these concerns, the project greenlit during Netanyahu’s re-election bid has gathered sufficient steam, and is slated to begin.
Top image: A controversial redevelopment plan could cause irreversible damage to the Old City of Jerusalem . Source: Horváth Botond / Adobe Stock
By Sahir Pandey