Israel plans zip line for ancient Jerusalem

JERUSALEM – A scenic ridge in Jerusalem steeped in ancient history is a favorite with visitors who come to take panoramic photos of the ...


JERUSALEM – A scenic ridge in Jerusalem steeped in ancient history is a favorite with visitors who come to take panoramic photos of the domes and spiers of the Old City across a forested valley below.

The ridge is believed by many to be the site of the Hill of Evil Counsel, where, according to Christian tradition, Judas plotted to betray Jesus. In the not-too-distant future, if the developers are successful, visitors will be able to descend from this perch on a zipline into the verdant valley known as the Peace Forest.

The zip line is one of many planned attractions promoted as a tourist attraction and a way to facilitate access to sites of historical interest. The developers also envision a cable car, pedestrian bridge and visitor centers, as well as an already constructed model farm.

But the ridge and valley below run along the very delicate seam between predominantly Palestinian East Jerusalem and the predominantly Jewish western flank of this contested city. They are part of the historic sight around the walls of the old city known as the Sacred Pool, a land dotted with archaeological ruins and shrines to the three main monotheistic religions.

Critics say the planned projects will turn what remains of the open, hilly landscape around Old Town into a kind of Disneyland and spoil the iconic skyline.

Opponents also see the plans as part of a larger political strategy to erase the line between East and West Jerusalem and bolster Israel’s claim to sovereignty over all of Jerusalem. They say the intention is to emphasize the Jewish history and culture of areas loaded with religious and political sensitivities, and downplay their Muslim, Christian or Palestinian character.

The involvement of a private organization of Jewish settlers only fueled these concerns.

“Nobody is saying there’s not a lot of Jewish history here,” said Uri Erlich of Emek Shave, an Israeli advocacy group that opposes the exploitation of cultural heritage as a political tool in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “But it depends on the story you want to tell.”

The developers insist the plans – some of which have been in the works for years – will bring life back to areas long neglected, hard to reach, overrun by drug traffickers and prone to vandalism and arson.

But they could also upset the delicate balance of Jerusalem, always unstable. The last month has seen a rise in tensionespecially around the old town.

And most projects have been approved by government committees without extensive public scrutiny, so there has been little discussion of the possible impact.

Much of the land in question was until now open green space with little or no development.

As well as the zip line, plans include a pedestrian suspension bridge across an unspoilt green space beneath the Old City walls known as the Valley of Hinnom, or Wadi Rababeh in Arabic, the site of ancient sacrifices and burials. .

The model farm is already at the bottom of the valley. the very controversial cable car is planned to transport visitors through the valley to the Old City and the Western Wall, a Jewish holy site.

Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war and later annexed it, although most countries still consider it occupied territory.

A private organization of Jewish settlers, the City of David Foundation, or Elad, its Hebrew acronym, partners with local and national government agencies to help develop attractions. These organizations provide much of the funding.

Elad is dedicated to developing what many experts believe to be the biblical City of David – the royal home town of Israelite King David 3,000 years ago – and surrounding areas. Its flagship project was the management of the City of David Archeological site in Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

Over three decades ago, Elad began acquiring properties around the site, where excavations began over a century ago, and move Jewish families in the houses there.

Doron Spielman, the vice president of Elad, said his group works for the benefit of Jews, Christians and Muslims in Jerusalem. Its mission, he said, was “to bring tourists, education and archaeology, so that someone can step into a whole biblical landscape and can connect to their historical identity and their roots, to its DNA”.

Mr. Spielman said groups opposed to the development preferred “to keep this area of ​​Jerusalem in a state of disrepair and neglect, so they can continue their narrative that Jews and Arabs cannot prosper together under sovereignty. Israeli”.

By bolstering Israel’s presence in East Jerusalem, the group also hopes to prevent any future division of the city, as the Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state.

The half-mile-long zipline is expected to start from a point on the ridge where Elad acquired a dilapidated old building years ago and is now setting up a visitor center. The ride will end near a camping and activity site run by Elad in the vast Forest of Peace.

Some critics have called the projects a “tourist settlement”, due to Elad’s involvement and what appears to be his evolving strategy – cementing Israel’s claims to the holy pool by bringing in thousands of Israeli tourists and foreigners in the area.

“It’s not Elad’s usual way of focusing on historical, religious, ideological and archaeological aspects,” said Aviv Tatarsky, of Ir Amim, an anti-settlement advocacy group that works for an equitable solution for Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem. He said the group was changing course, trying to appeal to the masses with entertainment to change the character of those areas.

The zip line and cable car could still take years to complete, stalled by legal, bureaucratic or funding issues, with multi-million dollar budgets.

Local Palestinians claim ownership of part of the land currently being cleared and developed in the Valley of Hinnom, which was declared part of the Jerusalem Walls National Park in 1974. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority, which s is partnering with Elad to reshape the valley, says ownership of the disputed land has not been determined.

Shadi Sumarin, a Palestinian living on one of the ridges above the Valley of Hinnom, said he had documents dating back hundreds of years that prove his family owns some of the land where the Israelis are now building terraces, paths and walls.

“Thieves!” he shouted as Israelis cleared the land recently. He urged a Palestinian tractor driver working for them to return home.

Ahmad Awad Sumarin, 47, a distant relative and spokesman for families claiming land in the Hinnon Valley, said he and his relatives have been harvesting family olive trees there since he was 5 years old. Everything now created in the valley was wrong, he insisted.

“It’s not our culture,” he said.

The families are appealing to the courts to stop the alterations to the land, which has always been open to visitors. The lawyer representing them, Mohannad Jbara, called the takeover of the land claimed by his clients “delusional”.

Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, deputy mayor of Jerusalem in charge of the city’s tourism portfolio, described the suspension bridge and cable car as green and practical solutions for a long-crowded and neglected historic district.

“Tourism is a very important part of our city’s income,” said Hassan-Nahoum. “The tourism industry is one of the biggest employers in the city, especially for residents of East Jerusalem.”

Hagit Ofran, of Peace Now’s settlement monitoring unit, said that in the past, Israel felt it had a responsibility to the world to preserve the natural green spaces and multicultural character of the holy pool.

“They don’t see it that way in recent years,” she said, “but as an Israeli Jewish area in which Muslim and Christian sites are like islands.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Israel plans zip line for ancient Jerusalem
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