Cable cars over Jerusalem? Some see “Disneyfication” of the Holy City

The view from the Jewish cemetery of Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem’s Old City. Israeli authorities have approved a plan to build a cable car network across the Old City. (photo: Thomas Coex / AFP / Getty Images)
The architecture of occupation: A planned cable-car network to Jewish holy sites bypasses Palestinians and furthers Israel’s claims over East Jerusalem.

By Michael Kimmelman | The New York Times | Sep 13, 2019

Israel’s current government seems to hold preservation less sacrosanct than previous ones — eroding, for political purposes, the protections on landscape and heritage that make this city a global icon of faith and history, much as the Trump administration in the United States has been loosening protections for national monuments and endangered species.

At a glance, Jerusalem’s Holy Basin still looks pretty much as it must have looked centuries ago. The Old City’s yellow walls still read in silhouette against an ancient landscape of parched hills and valleys. The skyline is still dominated by the city’s great Muslim and Christian shrines: the gold, glistening Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Jesus was said to have been buried.

But this is about to change. Israeli authorities have approved a plan to build a cable car to the Western Wall, the holiest site in the Jewish world, by 2021.

It’s the first phase of what Nir Barkat, Jerusalem’s former mayor and now a Likud member of Parliament, describes as a long-term vision to install a fleet of cable cars crisscrossing the basin.

Trumpeted by right-wing Israeli leaders as a green solution to the challenges of increased tourism and traffic in and around the Old City, the plan has provoked howls of protest from horrified Israeli preservationists, environmentalists, planners, architects and others who picture an ancient global heritage site turned into a Jewish-themed Epcot, with thousands of passengers an hour crammed into huge gondolas lofting across the sky.

‘The Old City is ecumenical, uncontrollable, multicultural public space. It is historical Jerusalem. The cable car, with its Disneyfication of the city, expresses the failure of Israel today to dominate this public realm.’
— Ronnie Ellenblum, a sociology professor and historical geographer at Hebrew University

‘[The Western Wall] is a ruin, humble, an ancient site of sadness and loss. It is the true heart of Judaism. The cable car is the opposite, flashy, vulgar and aggressive. Its aggression suggests not strength, but insecurity and weakness.’
— Moshe Safdie, Israeli architect

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