Famed Canadian-Israeli architect appalled at plans to “Disneyfy” Jerusalem with proposed cable-car

cable car jerusalem

“A total outrage against a fragile city,” says Haifa-born architect Moshe Safdie, of a proposed cable-car for Jerusalem.  The cable car project is promoted by Israeli settler groups who want to reinforce the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem. It would allow visitors to visit Jewish sites without encountering Arabs. It has faced opposition not only from Palestinians whose neighbourhoods will be defaced, but also from many Jews both inside and outside Israel. Read more.

A proposed cable car, announced by Israel’s tourism minister Yariv Levin in the runup to last April’s election, has provoked apprehension among Palestinian Jerusalemites, and horror in the architectural and conservation communities. Thirty-five leading international architects and historians have joined their colleagues and conservation societies in Israel to express their vehement opposition to the project.

cable car map

The proposed route of the cable car would allow Israelis and other tourists to visit Jewish holy sites in East Jerusalem while gliding over crowded and underserviced Palestinian neighbourhoods

Among those expressing opposition is famed Moshe Safdie, an 83 year old Canadian-Israeli born in Mandate Palestine before the creation of the state of Israel. The cable car is (…) flashy, vulgar and aggressive,” he told the New York Times. Its aggression suggests not strength, but insecurity and weakness.” In another interview, he declared “A cable car system, running close to the Old City walls …will provide a precedent that, without doubt, will spark international opposition and criticism.”

Those reservations about the project join formal objections submitted by Palestinian residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan – over whose homes the cable car will run – as well as by architects, tour guides and archaeologists, noting the material damage the project would cause and exposing its political motivations.

The Palestinians have found an important ally in Michael Kimmelman, architecture critic for the New York Times. Kimmelman argued in a front page NYT column that the idea behind the cable car is above all a political project. It promotes a Zionist worldview promoting “a specifically Jewish narrative of Jerusalem, furthering Israeli claims over Arab parts of the city” he wrote.

“The idea behind the cable car is above all political in nature…  with the purpose of hiding the city’s universal character, so that it curates a specifically Jewish narrative of Jerusalem, furthering Israeli claims over Arab parts of the city.”

Michael Kimmelman, NYT Architecture Critic

Who benefits?

“Arabs will supposedly benefit from using the cable car,” Jawad Siyam, a Palestinian resident of Silwan, told Ha’aretz.  “But the cable car is not about solving problems for us. It’s about creating them.” 

Mr. Siyam maintains that if Israeli authorities really want to benefit Arab residents, they should repair the busy, rutted, narrow, dangerous, often impassable road that is the only way in or out of Silwan for thousands of Palestinian residents.

The project would in fact create new barriers to Palestinian access, in addition to the expropriations and demolitions of Palestinian properties required to build it. If constructed, the Palestinians of Silwan would find themselves in the unique situation of facing Israeli occupation, not only on all sides, but above and below as well as “City of David” excavations are actually digging tunnels under Silwan.

It remains to be seen if the cable car will ever see the light of day. It has significant backers among extremist religious groups and the Israeli government has designated it a “national infrastructure project,” limiting the public’s ability to object.

But according to Haaretz, it has also created a broad opposition movement including architects, conservationists and of course, the Palestinians, who see yet another step in Israel’s attempt to “judaize” Jerusalem by converting a multicultural and multireligious city into an overwhelmingly Jewish one.

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6 comments

  1. Most Israelis are trying to pretend that there was nobody else in Jerusalem and the rest of Palestine when they had control in Biblical times. If you work with them, you will see that they are trying to pretend that there is nobody else there now. This project is an attempt to make it easier to keep up that self-deception.

  2. Overall most Israelis been brainwashed for decades. On one hand to believe that they are the actual victims, so there will be no sympathy toward the Palestinians, by inflicting atrocities in the process of taking over the land. Also it helps them to ease their conscience because deep down they know that a lot of injustices are done. On the other hand they are drunk of their power and greed.
    So I think that it really does not matter what Israel will or will not build, which further will oppress the Palestinians because in the long run, they will take over Jerusalem one way or another. They’ll device many ways to limit the Palestinian population and reduce it, but will leave a small enclave to show the world as to how they live side by side in order to limit criticism.

    1. Hey Jake, perhaps you are right. But don’t forget there are MORE PALESTINIANS in the area that was “Mandate Palestine” than there have ever been in history. They are not about to disappear.

  3. I agree that this is a terrible project, the objection to the project is not running along Palestinian/Jewish lines but rather along the same lines that you can see here in Ottawa in regard to the proposed plans for the Château Laurier

    The famed Canadian-Israel architect, Moshe Safdie can pride himself with much of the post 1967 development of the old city, after ‘67 he moved with his family from Montreal to the Jewish quarter and lived there for many years

    1. Hey Ahik,
      It seems that the Palestinians are almost unanimously opposed to it, and the Jews are divided. Is that not right?

      I believe Safdie still lives in Jerusalem though I am not sure.

  4. There are few engineering firms in the world with the expertise to design and build cable car systems of this scale. The contract is currently held by Cable Neige Amenagement, a French company. Its predecessor, Safege, also a French company, withdrew in 2015 “to avoid any political interpretations,” according to a company spokesperson.

    That, and the more recent decisions by Alstrom of France and Bombardier Rail of Germany not to bid on the Jerusalem light rail expansion project in East Jerusalem, suggest that potential exposure to legal and reputational risk is becoming part of the calculus of Western-based companies when contemplating involvement in Israeli projects in the occupied territories.

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